Wilkening medals in final state meet
FORT DODGE — Though the beginning of Saturday threatened to make the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships almost miserably cold, the sun eventually came out and warmed up both the runners and fans in attendance, especially once the races had started.
By the time the Class 1A girls took the course at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course, it was a downright pleasant afternoon, and GMG senior Kyla Wilkening used that beautiful weather and her knowledge of the course over the last few seasons to finish her Wolverines cross country career with a 10th-place finish in state with a time of 19 minutes, 42 seconds.
Surrounded by her friends and family after her race, Wilkening said she easily had her best performance of her career on Saturday afternoon.
“I think this was the best race I’ve ever ran in cross country in my life. Ever,” Wilkening said with a smile a mile wide.
In her first two state meets, the first ever state qualifications for a GMG runner, Wilkening finished in 40th place in 2015 and 22nd in 2016. She said her goal was to medal in her senior season, meaning she wanted a top-15 finish, but halfway through the race she said that goal quickly changed.
“My goal was top-15, I wanted to get top-15 no matter what,” she said. “The first mile I took it slow, just nice and easy, and I just worked my way up and passed some people. By mile two I was in the top-15 spot but I knew right then I wanted more so I just booked it to the end. I just thought ‘there is no way anyone is passing me at the end.'”
With her experience running in state in the two previous years, Wilkening said she was able to come up with a good game plan to make sure she accomplished her goals.
“I’ve had a couple of experiment years so I knew once I got to the hilly part over there I knew to start working it and start picking people off,” she said.
Wilkening started a trend with her running the last few seasons. Her team has climbed up to almost qualifying for the state meet, finishing fourth at the state-qualifying meet this season, and she hopes they continue that growth over the coming years.
“I think more than anything, these girls and this team is like my family. I am so proud of them and everything that they’ve done,” Wilkening said. “We got fourth place at the district meet against three ranked teams and I am beyond proud of them. I want them to go to state as a team next year and all the other years.”
Junior Aubrie Fisher from Iowa Falls-Alden had the second-best finish for area runners, coming in 25th in the 3A girls with a time of 19:45.
Last season, Fisher was the lone representative for the Cadets at state, but this season she was joined by teammate Ellie Meyer, who finished in 123rd with a time of 21:46.
Fisher said having Meyer along for the meet was much better than being the only IFA/AGWSR runner last year.
“It’s always nice to have a teammate up here with me because last year it was a little lonely warming up by myself,” she said. “I am really happy for Ellie, she ran well and she’s been working hard all season.”
Fisher has made state in all three of her years running, and she said she’s gunning for a top-15 finish in her final year. In fact, she said she wants the whole team to qualify for her senior state meet, and she has a plan to make sure that happens.
“Right now we are going to work on getting more girls to run over the summer so we can build a stronger team and hopefully we can get a team up here,” she said.
Two teams had individuals in action in the 2A girls race, as Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck and West Marshall each had two girls competing.
Spartans junior Lily Ehlers was the best finish in the race, taking 35th with a time of 20:49. Reegan Zinkula was the other GC/G-R runner, coming in with a time of 22:30 to finish 106th.
Coach Andy McQuillen said he wanted the girls to get off to a good start, and they did that so he was happy with how they ran.
“Our focus was to get out quicker, obviously Lilly was able to hold it a little longer than Reegan was,” he said. “Our district had two teams in the top half of the state, then throw in a couple of other teams that we see throughout the year and it’s a tough field.”
Sophomore Avril Sinning was the top finisher for West Marshall, taking 51st with a time of 21:10, and junior Grace Girard finished in 75th by running a 21:46. Girard said she was happy to just be in state after overcoming a season filled with injuries last year, and she loves having Sinning to train with.
“I was training really hard all season, I had a disappointing last season because I was hurt for a good half of the season, so this year I worked really hard over the summer and I just made sure I was working hard in practice,” Girard said after completing her race. “I tried to stay with Avril as long as I could most races and she made a really good training partner, so that was a lot of help.”