Middle school girls bring home state cross country championship

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The MFL MarMac Middle School girls cross country team won the Class 1A Eighth Grade Girls State Championship in Ankeny on Oct. 19. Runners included Kaylee Walch (left), Ayla Gerndt, Evelyn Ruff, Clare Grau, Tricia Bacon and Ava Kishman, who are pictured with coach Ashley Simon. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The MFL MarMac Middle School girls cross country team won the Class 1A Eighth Grade Girls State Championship at the Washburn Classic in Ankeny on Oct. 19. The achievement was a first in school history and came just a few days after the team claimed the Upper Iowa Conference title.

First-year head coach Ashley Simon admitted state wasn’t even on the team’s radar when they started the season.

“We never even knew about it until another athletic director came up to me at a meet and said, ‘I’ve been seeing your times. Are you going to state?’” she shared. 

The opportunity was open to any team in the state, Simon said, so they gave it a try. All six runners who participated finished in the top-29, including a sixth-place result for Clare Grau. Seventh grader Evelyn Ruff finished 13th, while eighth graders Ayla Gerndt and Kaylee Walch were 23rd and 26th, respectively, and seventh graders Tricia Bacon and Ava Kishman came in 28th and 29th. (Seventh graders were able to compete in the grade level above.)

Simon said one of the factors that made the difference for the team this year was that they were highly coachable. She kicked off the season by bringing in Dr. Jonathon Moser, who led a running clinic.

“There is actually a right way to run,” she explained. “They took his advice and kept running and making goals.”

Midway through the season, she watched the girls jump higher and higher in meets—from third to second to first. The boys, too, who finished just one point shy of the conference title and were sixth at state, continued to move up.

“We came in not really knowing what to expect, but we were really competitive,” Simon noted.

She’s been thankful for the support of the runners’ families, as well as the school and communities.

“Some schools don’t support cross country, especially at the middle school level,” she said. “So this has been fun.”

As a coach, Simon said the greatest reward has been helping her runners believe they could not only run a two-mile race, but do it well.

“I hope it instills in them that, if you work hard, you can see success,” she said.

Hopefully, that success will carry over into the students’ potential high school cross country careers, or any of the sports or activities in which they compete.

“We’re seeing more cross athletes,” who are choosing to focus on multiple sports throughout the year rather than just one, she said. “That builds all our programs.”

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