Saturday’s Heartland Classic at Central College in Pella provided a big challenge for the Ankeny boys’ cross country team.
Competing against 27 other squads, including six from out of state, the third-ranked Hawks placed sixth overall with 225 points. By comparison, they finished 10th a year ago in a field of 37 teams with 320 points.
“The Heartland is one of the biggest cross country meets in the country, so it was really fun to have the opportunity to compete there,” said Ankeny coach Jon Lindaman. “Our varsity learned a lot of valuable lessons from this meet that will help us down the road. The team place was certainly not where we wanted to be. It was not because we didn’t run well or from lack of effort.”
Gilbert, the No. 1 team in Class 3A, claimed the title with 169 points. No. 2 Dowling Catholic–the defending champion–was second with 183 points, finishing one point ahead of Gardner Edgeton (Kan.).
No. 6 Waukee Northwest (191 points) and No. 12 Pleasant Valley (209) were the other teams that finished ahead of Ankeny.
“In a meet this size we needed to pack it up, race together, and lean on our teammates,” Lindaman said. “We didn’t do a good enough job with team racing, and that ended up being the difference between first and sixth place. In a meet this size–with this level of competition–it was really beneficial to be able to work through some of those ‘big race nerves’ athletes tend to experience.
“It is also nice to get through homecoming, as all the fun activities involved with the week can be a bit of a distraction,” he added.
Juan Gonzalez of Fremont (Neb.) won the 5k race in a time of 15 minutes 4 seconds. Ethan Zuber of Ankeny was the runner-up in 15:11, marking his first loss in three races this season.
Still, Lindaman called it Zuber’s best performance ever. The previous course record of 15:25 was held by former Dowling star Jackson Heidesch.
“Not coming away with the win was tough for Ethan, but the Gonzalez kid he raced is one of the best in the country,” Lindaman said. “Ethan learned a lot about race strategy that will benefit him moving forward. It was a two-man dog fight for 3 miles. This is an extremely challenging place to run, and on most other courses this effort would be well below the 15-minute mark, which puts him in some pretty elite company.”
The Hawks also got top-25 finishes from Ike Smith and Jake Bosch in the field of 199 runners. Smith placed 21st in 16:22, and Bosch was 24th in 16:26.
“Our top three continue to impress week in and week out,” Lindaman said. “They are racing as well as any other team’s top three. Our 4-7 runners are doing everything right and training really well. They just have to find the race plan that works for them to tighten up some of our gaps.”
Ankeny’s Tate Brownsberger took 81st in 17:11, while Abel Squires was the fifth scoring runner–finishing 97th in 17:22. Aidan Farrell placed 102nd in 17:24, and Justice Rathje was 150th in 18:06.
Ankeny also competed in the Rich Engel Classic on Thursday at Birdsall Park in Cedar Falls. The Hawks entered a lineup comprised mostly of junior varsity runners.
The Hawks placed 10th in a field of 18 teams. They finished with 243 points.
No. 1 Cedar Falls defended its crown by scoring 64 points. The Tigers edged No. 10 Cedar Rapids Kennedy by five points.
Jaden Merrick of Cedar Falls easily won the race in 15:47. He finished 19 seconds ahead of Urbandale’s Tommy Hensley.
Nick Robie led Ankeny with a 23rd-place finish. He was clocked in 17:14.
Zach Riley placed 42nd in 17:47, Levi Stember was 48th in 17:56, Jackson Kaiser took 64th in 18:10, Brennan Lesko was 75th in 18:23, Jake Dalmer placed 90th in 18:40, and Noah Yaeger finished 98th in 18:48.
The Hawks will travel to Lawrence, Kan., on Saturday for the Rim Rock Farm Classic.