The Nevada girls turned in three top-four performances and the Cub boys steadily improved throughout the season in 2019.

The Cub girls got stronger throughout the season under the direction of first-year head coach Shawn Crain.

After placing eighth in Class A at the Gilbert Invitational to start the season Nevada took seventh at the Pella Invitational and again in Class B at the Mike Carr Invitational in Huxley. The Cubs then placed fourth in consecutive meets at Roland-Story, North Polk.

The Nevada girls turned in the third top-four finish in a row at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet in Alleman on Oct. 14. On Oct. 24 Nevada wrapped up the season by placing sixth at the Class 3A state-qualifying meet in Pella.

“I felt the season went very well for my first season working with the program,” Crain said. “I had 20 of the best athletes I could ask for and everyday the team worked hard and was dedicated to getting better. We had several PRs this season, and may have been better for some if we didn’t face a number of meet cancellations. Overall, I was extremely pleased to work with this group and help them reach goals they set for themselves and as a team.”

Crain coaches distance running in track. He brought a different approach to how the girls trained this season and he was impressed by how well his runners adapted to the changes.

He also was happy with how his runners dealt with the adversity of having several meets cancelled during the season.

“The biggest challenges for the season was of course the weather,” Crain said. “It started off very warm and humid for the early meets. Then we hit a number of rain cancellations and missed a number of meets right in the middle of the season. It’s a time where the runners are building strength and really competing. So losing meets really hurt on the competition side. But the team practiced very hard through those, and when they got their chance they made the most of it.”

The biggest highlights for Crain came at the end of the season.

“As a team you want to compete your best where competition is the strongest,” Crain said. “We were really working hard for a top-three finish at conference and came very close, finishing fourth by just six points. The (qualifying meet) gave us a great finish to the season. I thought we had a strong performance from our top three runners.”

“For the first time since the varsity girls starting running a 5-kilometer distance we had three runners in the top 25,” Crain said of the qualifying meet. “The previous top place for a Cub runner was 32nd. We also had three runners in the 21-minute range which, was also a first for our program at the 5-kilometer distance.”

Senior Eliana Hornbuckle, sophomore Elie Tuhn and freshman Allison Kruzich were the most consistent runners for the Cub girls during the season.

Hornbuckle made all-conference by placing sixth at the HOIC meet with a season-best time of 21 minutes, four seconds. She took 25th at the qualifying meet in 21:39.82.

Tuhn placed 11th at the Roland-Story Invite with her best time of 21:20. She 14th at the HOIC meet in 21:45 and led Nevada at the qualifying meet with a 21st-place time of 21:26.76.

Kruzich peaked at the qualifying meet with a 22nd-place time of 21:28.16. She also came in 13th at the HOIC meet in 21:43.

Eleanor Elliott-Rude also consistently scored points for Nevada. Elliott-Rude peaked with a 28th-place time of 22:27 at Roland-Story and she took 22nd at the HOIC meet in 22:35 and 48th at the qualifying meet in 23:53.

Grace Cahill, Bridget Cahill, Taylor Conrad, Natalie Barber and Meredith Harter also ran varsity for the Cub girls.

Grace Cahill peaked with a 48th-place time of 23:40 at the Roland-Story meet and Bridget took 38th at the HOIC meet with a 24:05 showing. Bridget ran a 25:05.37 and Grace a 25:45.66 at the qualifying meet.

Conrad also ran at the qualifying meet and took 69th in 26:50.55. Her best time was 24:13 at the HOIC meet,

Barber ran 25 minutes flat both at Roland-Story and North Polk. Harter’s best effort was 25:32 at the Gilbert Invitational.

“What I really enjoy is watching all team members work together and support each other,” Crain said. “It didn’t matter what your personal goal was, everyone encouraged each other at each practice and meets to finish strong. We had excellent work efforts from all as they went after goals that were set. It’s always great to work with a group that cares how everyone on the team does.”

Next year Nevada must adjust to life without Hornbuckle, Harter and the rest of the seniors on the team - Samara Sharp, Madison Davis, Amelea Jones, J.J. Williamson and Claira Miller.

“This group led by example all season of what a program should look like,” Crain said. “I knew I could always count on this group to be a positive influence for our team. I couldn’t thank them enough!”

But the Cub girls expect to continue getting stronger in 2020.

“Next season we have a great returning squad,” Crain saidl “Elie Tuhn, Allison Kruzich, Eleanor Elliott-Rude, Grace Cahill, Bridget Cahill, Natalie Barber and Taylor Conrad give us core group that has varsity experience. But we will have tough competition for those varsity spots with JV runners working hard and an incoming class. So the balance of grades will still give us a well-rounded group. The intensity of the offseason work coming in will make it a more challenging position to earn.”

The Nevada boys had to go through a rebuilding phase after losing most of their top runners from a year ago. Like the girls, the Cub boys also had to adjust to a new coach as James Mills took charge of the boys’ program after Nevada decided to go to two cross country coaches for the first time.

“I think the team’s biggest challenges was adjusting to new expectations of a new coach,” Mills said. “The weather was also not very cooperative this season; we had four meets that were cancelled. I had to constantly adjust the workout schedule.”

But the Cub boys persevered and made strides during the season.

“I’m very proud of how my team grew over the season,” Mills said. “I had a large number of new members to the varsity team who exceeded their own expectations for their first year.”

The Nevada boys took 10th at the Gilbert Invite, ninth at Pella, 11th in Class B at the Mike Carr Invite and again at Roland-Story, fourth at North Polk and third at the HOIC meet.

“The biggest highlight was our team’s third-place finish at the conference meet,” Mills said. “We had a very tight pack of runners that helped to squeeze a few extra points out from other teams.”

At the qualifying meet the Cub boys finished ninth.

The top individual runners for the Nevada boys were Owen Freeman, Elliot Frideres, Luis Lopez, Dean Check, Caleb Pawlovich, Nicolas Frideres and Jacob Joe.

Freeman was the fastest Cub at the qualifying meet with a 36th-place time of 18:36 and his fastest time was 18:22 at conference, where he came in 18th. Elliot Frideres peaked with a 17th-place time of 18:21 at the HOIC meet and he took 42nd at the qualifying meet in 18:51.

Lopez placed 43rd at the qualifying meet in 18:52. He took 20th at conference with a season-best time of 18:27.

Check’s fastest time was 18:47 at the North Polk Invite and he came in 25th at conference in 18:48 and 65th at the qualifying meet in 20:02.

Pawlovich ran an 18:34 at the HOIC meet to take 22nd and he ended up 51st in the qualifying meet with a time of 19:18. Nicolas Frideres peaked at the qualifying meet with a 54th-place time of 19:27 and he ran a 19:53 at the North Polk Invite.

Joe ran his best time of 19:17 at the HOIC meet then just missed it at the qualifying meet with a 19:19 showing.

“Most of my varsity team were new to high school cross-country,” Mills said. “Owen Freemen was a good middle school runner who didn’t really know what he was capable of at the 5-kilometer distance. I think he surprised himself this season. Also, transfer student Jacob Joe hadn’t run cross country before and surprise a lot of us at the end of the season.”

Nevada must replace two of its top varsity runners next season in Check and Pawlovich.

“I’ll definitely miss their leadership on the team,” Mills said.

But with everyone else back, the Cubs should take a big step forward in 2020.

“We will return five of our top seven and have three middle school boys who were consistently finishing at the front of their meets this year,” Mills said. “That’ll add more depth next year, with more guys battling for the seventh spot on the varsity roster or filling in if injury happens. I hope to be very competitive in our conference and improve on our (qualifying meet) finish.”