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Smith gets first taste of state meet

Bobcat junior places 58th in Class 4A action

T-R PHOTO BY NOAH ROHLFING - Marshalltown junior Conner Smith (983) runs along the state cross country course at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge on Friday. Smith placed 58th as the Bobcats’ first state qualifier since 2011.

FORT DODGE — State cross country is a vibrant, huge experience. With large crowds gathering at the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge Friday morning in anticipation of the Class 4A state championship races, there was one duo who was new to the party as participants — Marshalltown junior Conner Smith and head coach Chad Pietig, who both joined in their first state meet.

Smith finished 58th out of 121 runners with a time of 16:59.9, 88 seconds behind the winning time from Jaysen Bouwers of Sioux City North.

The value of such an experience was not lost on Pietig.

“I think it was a great first race,” Pietig said. “First Bobcat in nine years, first time the red and blue has been here in nine years. Pretty proud of that and pretty proud of his effort and all the work he’s done. Now he knows what to expect next year so that’s the cool thing, is he’s got another shot at this. He is the type of runner that will learn from this and put it in his memory bank.”

Smith qualified for the event by finishing in the top-15 individually in last week’s district meet held at Marshalltown Community College. It was the culmination of a season full of improvements for Smith, ones that got him to State despite the Bobcats having a difficult season as a team.

But against the best of the best Friday, it was hard for Smith to get a strong start once the race began. This was partly due to his starting box being in the middle of the track, which makes it difficult to get into the lead back with runners on either side converging heading into the first turn.

“The outside kind of closed in, and I was trying to stay in the top third,” Smith said. “If you look, The outside people are going to curve [right] and if you’re in the middle then they’re just going to be in front of you and you won’t be able to pass them.”

Smith said he got stuck in the middle pack as a result of the bottlenecking by the runners on the edges who got good starts, making advancing his position harder as the packs separated. He was careful not to overrun the start of the race and risk fading back later in the event, something Pietig said they discussed in his warmups.

Ultimately it left Smith kind of stuck in his spot for a large portion of the race, but he still set one-mile and two-mile season highs, Pietig said.

“Everybody in the pack has the same ability, because it’s the State meet,” Pietig said. “What normally worked last week won’t necessarily work this week because everyone around you has the same ability.”

The track was fast and streamlined, noticeably without the frequent hills and undulations that are characteristic of the MCC course Marshalltown runs every practice. Smith said it was a different course but one he was happy to get the chance on against the best competition Class 4A has to offer. While the finish wasn’t as high as he hoped coming in, Smith said getting this challenge under his belt will be a boost to his drive to make it back in 2021 and finish higher in the pecking order.

“I think this’ll help me out, because I’ll know what to expect,” Smith said. “Not bad for the first time at State.”

TYYNISMAA RUNS IN 3A

South Tama County freshman runner Tommy Tyynismaa competed in the Class 3A boys’ state championship race Friday afternoon. Running a time of 17:55, Tyynismaa finished 96th out of 134 participants in the event. It was the freshman’s first attempt at state and the culmination of a strong year for the Trojan head coach’s son.

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