Royal girls turn in another standout season in cross country

Joe Randleman, Sports Writer
Junior Alexis Britten had another great season in helping the Colo-Nesco girls' cross country team return to state in 2016. Britten was an all-Iowa Star Conference runner and individual state qualifier.

The 2016 cross country season saw another strong showing from Colo-Nesco as the Royal girls and one boys’ runner returned to state.

With quality depth and experience, the Colo-Nesco girls managed to match last year’s showing by winning the Iowa Star Conference meet and making it to state. The Royal girls were more consistent in their performances than a year ago and in the end, they managed to outdo their 2015 effort at state.

“I think all the girls grew this year,” Colo-Nesco head cross country coach Tony Stalzer said. “With the success we had last year, that really fueled them to be even better this year.”

During the regular season, Colo-Nesco finished in the top half of the majority of its meets. The Royal girls won the Madrid Invitational, placed third at West Marshall and fourth at the Gilbert, Panorama and Roland-Story meets.

An injury to freshman Lauryn Hill — a regular top-three runner for the Royals — slowed down Colo-Nesco in the second half of the regular season. But even with Hill not back at 100 percent, the Royals still came on when it mattered most.

Colo-Nesco won the ISC meet, then qualifying for state with a runner-up effort at the Class 1A state qualifying meet in Ankeny. The Royals edged GMG by eight points to take the ISC meet and at the qualifying meet, they upset No. 10 West Fork to place second behind No. 8 Newman Catholic.

At state, Colo-Nesco finished with 286 points to place 14th. In 2015, the Royal girls came in 15th with 418 points.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better year,” Stalzer said. “The girls always came to practice to get better with the intent of repeating as conference champs and qualifying for state.”

Individually, Colo-Nesco was led by junior Alexis Britten. Senior Angela Brinkman came on late to be the Royals No. 2 runner at state and sophomore Faith Vincent was always a top-three runner.

“Alexis had an outstanding year being our No. 1 runner — her goal was to qualify for the state meet as an individual and lead this team back to state as well, and she did that,” Stalzer said. “Angela had an outstanding senior year and has gotten better over the past four years. Faith improved on a quality freshman year to have an impressive sophomore year.”

Hill ran in the top three until her injury midway through the season. She still scored points at most meets after her injury.

“Lauryn was having an outstanding freshman year until an injury slowed her,” Stalzer said. “She showed me a lot of toughness at the end of the year, trying to fight through a hip injury and still contribute to the team the best she could.”

Senior Grace Stalzer was the other runner to consistently score points for the Royal girls.

“Grace had a solid senior year running as our fifth,” Tony Stalzer said. “She had a huge hand in getting this team together over the past five years.”

Junior Shelby Smith was a reliable sixth runner for Colo-Nesco. Senior Stephanie Norris and freshman Hailey Anthony each ran multiple varsity meets as well.

Britten, Vincent, Brinkman, Grace Stalzer, Smith and Anthony all ran their best 5-kilometer races at the ISC meet. Britten took fourth in 21:37, Vincent came in fifth at 21:44; Brinkman placed sixth in 21:45, Grace Stalzer was eighth in 21:54, Smith finished 18th in 24:04 and Anthony ended up 25th in 24:37.

Hill turned in her best outing at Madrid with a ninth-place time of 22:17. Norris saved her best for state with a time of 24:59.

Britten came in 65th at state in 21:54. She ran under 22 minutes in each of her final three races.

Brinkman completed the state meet in 22:21 and Vincent ran a 22:37. Stalzer finished in 23:39, Smith in 24:27 and Hill in 25:29.

Next season Colo-Nesco will have to make some adjustments after losing Brinkman, Grace Stalzer, Norris, Peyton Shaw and Rachel Vincent.

“I am going to miss this group of seniors,” Tony Stalzer said. “They have been the reason this team has grown as a competitive team. As freshmen, this group of seniors beat one team at one meet that whole season. That speaks volumes about this group of girls and how they kept working hard and getting better.”

But the Royal girls will still figure in the hunt for a conference title and another state berth, thanks to the return of Britten, Vincent, Hill, Smith and Anthony.

“We bring back a very competitive group of girls with Alexis, Faith, Lauryn, Shelby, Hailey, Emily Brinkman, Emma Stalzer and Makayla Cobbs,” Tony Stalzer said. “I look forward to this group building off of their success these past two years.”

On the boys’ side, Colo-Nesco had to adjust to life without two individual state qualifiers from last year in Jordan Combes and Steven Cutler. But the Royals got one runner to return to state in junior Caleb Cobbs.

With a lack of experience and an injury plaguing Cobbs for much of the season, the Royal boys struggled to be competitive in most meets. But they still made progress and Cobbs was able to recover just in time to make it back to state.

“I felt we had two areas of growth,” Tony Stalzer said. “One, our upperclassmen working really hard to improve. I had two returning runners in Caleb Vaughn and Ashton Graddick and then newcomer Christian Norris. Caleb and Ashton hadn’t been called on in the past to be one of our top five runners, but we needed them this year. I felt they did a tremendous job of taking on the challenge of stepping up and being in our top five. I was happy with the addition of Christian to our team and he progressively improved throughout the season. Caleb Cobbs and Cole Dulaney were our top two runners this year. They put together very competitive seasons. We had a group of first-time cross country runners and they did a fabulous job of learning how to run a 5k and to race at different types of courses.”

The Colo-Nesco boys’ best showing was a fourth-place effort at the ISC meet. The Royal boys took 13th at the qualifying meet.

Cobbs ran his best 5-kilometer time of 17:04 at the qualifying meet, where he placed fourth to qualify for state. Cobbs took third at both the Madrid and ISC meets and he placed 24th at state with a time of 17:27.

Dulaney placed 11th at the ISC meet and his best time was 18:32 at the qualifying meet. Vaughn took 26th at the ISC meet with a season-best time of 21:30 and Graddick peaked with a time of 22:15 at the qualifying meet.

Norris’ best time was 25:12 at Greene County. Shawn Gilbert ran a 21:51 at the qualifying meet and Scott Miller’s top time was 24:55 at the ISC meet.

Next season, Colo-Nesco loses Graddick, Vaughn and Norris to graduation.

“I will miss these three seniors and and the contributions they made to this team,” Tony Stalzer said.

But the Royal head coach said he is optimistic about what the boys’ team can accomplish next season.

“I feel the outlook for this team is going to be good,” Tony Stalzer said. “We have a good core of runners that are willing to get better and make their team and themselves better.”