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Bobcat harriers ready to hit the ground running

On Thursday, the Marshalltown cross country season begins in Ames. For the boys and girls teams, it will feel like a debut that’s long overdue.

In the COVID-19 era, it has meant that the Bobcats find themselves in the odd position of starting meets before school is in session. Bobcats boys’ head coach Chad Pietig said it’s thrown off the team a little bit in the early parts of the season.

“We’ve had some good practices, I’m happy with the progress we’ve made,” Pietig said. “I think the biggest thing is not being in a routine yet. Normally, by now they would be getting up at the same time, eating lunch at the same time. I think that’s a little different, because they aren’t getting in that routine, and so I’m looking forward to them getting in that routine next week.”

Marshalltown knows that, as part of the CIML Conference, meets will often feature ranked teams and make it difficult to pull off team wins. But Pietig said the most important thing will be using those teams as a measuring stick for the growth of the Bobcats as the season progresses.

It’s a smaller group for Pietig this season with only 15 runners but junior Connor Smith is a returning leader for the team. Smith posted the team’s best score in districts with a 17:26.0 time. Sophomores Jason Strand and Anthoneih Kopsa return, as do seniors Ethan Benscoter, Freddy Ross and Noah Hermanson.

“There are nine ranked teams out of the top-15 in the state,” Pietig said. “It’s okay to run against that competition, you can’t shy away from it. If you want to be a good runner, you have to run against good competition and the important thing is to use that.”

As the season starts, the Bobcats are itching to get going after last week’s home meet was canceled due to extreme heat. Pietig said it was frustrating but definitely the right call.

Pietig said with a roster full of players who had spring seasons canceled, it has given the team more drive to compete. Two of the starters were track runners and the rest of varsity were supposed to play soccer or tennis in the spring.

“They’re looking to get back to some normalcy and compete,” Pietig said.

For the girls’ cross country team, a lot of the Bobcats’ hopes rest on junior runner Phoebe Hermanson — a two-time state competitor who is coming off the first top-15 finish at state for a Marshalltown girls’ runner since 2008. Named All-State, Hermanson is carrying a lot on her shoulders after being ranked No. 8 in Class 4A by the Iowa Association of Track and Cross County Coaches. The team has shown it can hold its own in the CIML conference. Joining Hermanson in the lineup is senior Makenna Ainsworth, junior Rachel Smith, senior Odaly Flores and sophomore Hannah Seltman — all returners from the 2019 roster.

Both teams get underway today at 4 p.m. at Iowa State University Cross Country Course.

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