FORT DODGE — Getting out fast at the state cross country meet is paramount. It’s so hard to gain ground with around 140 other competitors racing alongside you.
Well, it’s hard for every except Lynnville-Sully freshman Greenlee Smock.
Smock took off from the starting line at her usual pace and made her customary rally throughout the Class 1A girls’ 5K race at the Iowa High School Cross Country Championships on a cold and windy day at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course on Saturday.
Smock was in 34th place after the first mile but stayed at around a 6:25 pace throughout the rest of the race and finished her first state meet in 10th place, finishing in a career-best time of 19 minutes, 49 seconds.
“I just wanted to stay in the top 30 in the first mile. I didn’t want to start out too fast. That does not work for me,” Smock said.
“I tried to push myself during the second mile and then whatever I had left in the third mile was what I would give. I was able to finish strong.”
The top 15 finishers medal and earn all-state distinction in each race. L-S coach Darin Arkema is unsure when the last Hawk harrier medaled at the state meet, but it is the first all-state finisher in his 17 years as head coach.
“Greenlee had the race of her season today, executing a great race strategy,” Arkema said.
“Our theme for this season was to challenge our limits and Greenlee optimized that motto today.”
Smock, who came into the weekend ranked 16th, was the only area runner to bring home a state medal. Logan Berg ran in the 1A boys’ 5K race and placed 50th, while Prairie City-Monroe freshman Paige Steenhoek and Colfax-Mingo senior Abbey McConeghey competed in the 2A girls’ race and finished 44th and 45th, respectively.
Smock used her strong kick to win the South Iowa Cedar League meet earlier this season. That kick was on display again at the state meet.
Arkema said Smock moved from 34th after the first mile to 17th after the second mile to put herself into medal contention. She ran the second mile at a 6:29 pace.
Smock was in a pack of six runners down the stretch and passed three of them to move into the top 10.
“She put together an amazing freshman season, and it all started this year with her summer training and mileage and making the weight room a priority,” Arkema said. “She steadily progressed as the season moved on and put the icing on the cake so to speak at the state meet.”
Smock’s two goals entering the weekend was to finish in the top 15 and finish with a time under 20 minutes.
“I did everything I wanted to do. I am glad I got to come here,” Smock said. “This was an amazing opportunity and a good experience.”
The 1A girls’ winner was Tri-Center junior and top-ranked Peyton Pogge, who finished in 18:45.4. Smock was the third fastest freshman in the field.
Berg was running in his fourth state meet. But his final race at Lakeside was not his best. Berg does not run well in cold weather, and it once again caught up to the Baxter senior.
Berg, who came into the race ranked 26th, finished the 1A boys’ race in 50th with a time of 17:43. The final all-state spot came in at 16:49. The boys’ 1A winner was Nodaway Valley senior and top-ranked Joshua Baudler, who finished in 16:11.
“I felt really good coming in. We tried to prepare for the weather,” Berg said. “Then I get here and feel cold. I start losing distance and then it’s all mental from there.”
Like every other runner who marches through the state course, the end results won’t define Berg’s career. He’s a four-time state qualifier who plans to run in college. His best finish at state was 17th last season.
“I am frustrated right now, but I am definitely happy I am even here,” Berg said. “Some don’t even get that opportunity. I got to do it four times. I plan on running in college so I will redeem myself there.”
Steenhoek and McConeghey were both upset at their finishes, too.
The two area harriers changed positions with each other throughout the 5K race. No. 28 Steenhoek ended up one position better in 44th with a time of 20:53.1. No. 19 McConeghey finished 45th in 20:55.6.
“She is the fastest 5K girl we’ve ever had,” PCM coach Eric Karr said about Steenhoek. “She broke 21. That’s what we were looking for. She ran well. I am very proud of her.”
Steenhoek enjoyed her experience and plans to return to the meet next season.
“The experience was awesome. Just to be able to run here was really cool,” Steenhoek said. “I am not happy with the race. I didn’t do what I wanted to do so that’s frustrating. But I am not taking any time off this offseason. I am going to train harder before next year.”
The 2A girls’ race had an extremely fast start. McConeghey said she did her best to stay with the lead group but fell back before the first mile. She made a move with about 800 meters to go and passed a handful of runners but had to slow down after feeling a sharp pain in her side.
“I am a little upset that I didn’t run my best time,” McConeghey said, “I got out fast. I tried to stay up there, but it was tough.
“The side ache hit me bad with about 800 meters to go. I should have just sucked it up and went for it but didn’t. I slowed down a lot.”
Karr thought Steenhoek could have gotten out a little faster but it’s an experience his freshman runner will learn from.
“The pace was fast. The leaders got out really fast. I think Paige could have gotten out a little faster, but this is just a different race,” Karr said. “It’s a fantastic experience for her though.”
Colfax-Mingo co-head coaches Jacob Crouse and Zach Tomas are happy with how McConeghey ran in her final race. Just getting back to the state’s biggest stage after battling back from an injury was a huge accomplishment.
“She ran really well. We told her to borderline sprint at the start. And then see what you can do after that,” Crouse said. “We are still proud of her. This is where she wanted to end her career. This is a very positive outcome.”
Top-ranked senior Marie Hostetler of second-ranked Mid-Prairie won her third straight 2A state title. She finished her final prep race in 17:58.2. And her team won the 2A girls’ team title by one point over Williamsburg.
The final all-state position in the girls’ 2A race finished in 19:46.1.