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Meineke’s state run, boys' HOIC title highlight successful cross country season at Nevada

Joe Randleman
Nevada Journal
Eleanor Elliott-Rude had a strong senior season for the Nevada girls' cross country team in 2020. Elliott-Rude made all-HOIC with a sixth-place finish at the conference meet and she took 33rd at the 3A qualifying meet in Pella.

The Nevada girls’ cross country team had a groundbreaking individual achievement and the Cub boys hit a big team milestone in 2020.

Freshman runner Tori Meinecke became the first Nevada girls’ runner to qualify for state since the girls went to a 5-kilometer race in 2015. She was the first Cub runner to compete in Fort Dodge since Caitlin Dewell ran the 3.1-mile (4k) race in 2013. 

“Getting Tori to state was a big highlight for the season of course,” Nevada head coach Shawn Crain said. “That will help encourage others to set bigger goals going into next season.”

As a team the Nevada girls placed fourth at the Comet Invitational in Alleman, fifth at the Nevada Invitational and Pella Invite, sixth at the Ballard Invitational and eighth at Humboldt. The Cubs stepped up their game at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet by placing third and they went on to finish sixth at the Class 3A district meet in Pella.

“I thought the season went great, all things considered, as we dealt with the new COVID-19 guidelines,” Crain said. “The practices were positive and went great, and the competitions went well with no real cancellations due to weather or COVID. The team continued to set new PRs throughout the season, which is the main goal each runner sets for themselves and that's the best payoff for all of their hard work.”   

At the HOIC meet Meinecke placed second in 21 minutes, 15.50 seconds and senior Eleanor Elliott-Rude also made all-conference by placing sixth with a 22:11.47 showing. Sophomore Allison Kruzich fell just short of making all-HOIC with a 14th-place time of 23:33.36.

The qualifying meet saw everyone raise the bar for Nevada.  All five scored Cub runners ran their best times of the season and three individuals set PRs at the meet.

“Having everyone run their best times of the season at (the qualifying meet) was another great high point for the team,” Crain said. 

Meinecke ran the fastest 5-kilometer time ever for the Cub girls at the qualifying meet after crossing the finish line in 20:23.88 to place 14th and punch her ticket to state. Elliott-Rude set a PR in 22:02.96 to place 33rd and freshman Bridget Cahill ran her fastest time ever of 23:36.69 to place 57th.

Kruzich ran her best time of the season at 22:30.15 to place 41st at the qualifying meet. Senior Grace Cahill also turned in her fastest time of 2020 at the qualifying meet with a 23:55.37 showing to place 66th.

Bridget also placed 21st at the HOIC meet in 24:22.98 and Grace was 29th in 24:54.97.

Hannah Fritz and Natalie Barber also ran at the qualifying meet finishing 74th and 75th with respective times of 24:38.34 and 24:39.26. Barber also took 31st at the HOIC meet in 25:17.84 and Briar Crain was 35th at conference in 25:38.05.

At state Meinecke ended her season with a strong 44th-place finish among 131 runners in 3A. She fell just shy of her PR time in Fort Dodge after crossing the finish line in 20:28.6.

 “It was awesome to see all the support she received from so many - having pretty much our entire team in Fort Dodge to support her was awesome,” Shawn Crain said. “She had a great time with it and handled it so well. She will be an important leader over the next few seasons to continue to get us to the next level as a team. And I know Tori will continue to challenge herself to improve.”

The Cub girls will miss Elliott-Rude, Bridget Cahill and the rest of the senior class next year.

“Our seniors this year did an outstanding job of leading this team,” Shawn Crain said. “COVID limited the activities they could get together and typically do. But they were dependable leaders at practice and at meets. They took great pride in leading this team and making everyone feel comfortable and as a valued team member. It was definitely a group I could rely on and will miss. Each senior contributed to the varsity squad most all of the season, which was really great.”  

But Coach Crain is excited about the future of his program.

“I see the competition getting more competitive for those varsity spots,” Shawn Crain said. “We had some injuries from a few that will be back to challenge and a great incoming freshman class that is excited for the offseason. We have runners from each class returning that ran at the varsity level this season. Offseason work coming in will be key. We have a nice schedule that lets us see great teams at every meet. Our goals will be winning the conference, placing higher at (the qualifying meet) and a return to state.”

Nevada head boys’ coach James Mills was just glad his team got the chance to run in 2020.

“I think the word that sums it up is gratitude,” Mills said. “I'm grateful for the opportunity to complete a full season in the midst of COVID.  I'm grateful for everyone who accepted the COVID-limitations with grace and understanding. I'm grateful to my veteran runners who did a fantastic job of welcoming a large freshmen class to the team. I'm grateful for the effort of my team to push themselves and each other to new achievements.”

The Nevada boys constantly finished in the top half of the field in each race this season. They placed in the top five at four meets and came in sixth in their other three races.

The Cub boys came in sixth at Pella, fifth at Ballard, sixth at Humboldt, third at the Nevada Invitational and fourth at North Polk. The Cubs used those meets to set up a tremendous showing at the HOIC meet held at the Saydel High School course on Oct. 12.

Nevada dominated the meet to bring home its first team conference title in several years. The Cubs had four top-10 runners and scored 36 points to beat Greene County by 25 points for the conference championship.

“Our biggest highlight was four medalists at the HOIC meet,” Mills said. “Also running through the mud and rain in our home meet at Hickory Grove and the pickleball tournament in my backyard.”

At the 3A qualifying meet in Pella Nevada placed sixth out of 13 teams in a loaded field that featured three top-10 teams earning the three state-qualifying spots.

Nevada performed at a high level despite COVID and injuries taking a toll on the team.

“We had just a few injuries and a COVID-quarantine that prevented us from finishing our top seven (runners) at full strength,” Mills said. “As the team continues to grow, I believe we will have more depth to substitute in another great runner in those times.”

Mills said the situation with COVID actually helped bring his runners closer during the season, which helped them perform better.

“We had consistent workout pods that really created small groups within the team,” Mills said. “Each pod had its own personality, and I think that that helped them bond well with each other.”

The top runners for Nevada this year were sophomore Owen Freeman and senior Luis Lopez.

Freeman took 11th at the home meet, second at conference and 27th at the qualifying meet. He ran a 17:45.64 at the HOIC meet and 17:44.15 at the qualifying meet.

Lopez finished 10th at the home meet, third at conference and 26th at the qualifying meet. His conference meet time was 17:52.14 and he clocked in at 17:431.31 at the qualifying meet.

“This year was Luis Lopez's second season of cross country,” Mills said. “He committed himself to preparing for this season and his year-over-year growth really shows the impact of pre-season work.”

Freshmen Carter Holland and Rhett Harter were the top newcomers for the Cub boys.

Holland took 19th at the Nevada Invite, seventh at conference and 34th at the qualifying meet. His conference time was 18:43.98 and he completed the qualifying meet in 18:03.87.

Harter finished 18th at the home meet, eighth at conference and 36th at the qualifying meet. He ran an 18:48.70 at conference and 18:04.99 at the qualifying race.

“I think Carter Holland and Rhett Harter's finish at the qualifying meet in Pella really stands out,” Mills said. “Times were fast for all runners there, but theirs were significantly faster than their previous races.”  

Sophomore Nick Frideres also was a consistent scorer for Nevada. Frideres finished 28th at the home meet, 16th at conference and 54th at the qualifying meet - running a 19:35.24 at conference and an 18:52.58 at the qualifying meet.

Senior Elliot Frideres battled health issues for most of the season. He took 23rd at the Nevada Invite, 24th at the NP Invite, 23rd at conference and 70th at the qualifying meet.

“I really appreciated Elliot Frideres' leadership this season,” Mills said. “He was the primary organizer of team runs and activities when COVID prevented me from doing anything.  He welcomed in the new freshmen and gave them great encouragement throughout the season.  He battled injuries throughout the season, but handled them with grace and determination.  It was a great example for all who suffer the same way.”

Injuries may have prevented Nevada's Elliot Frideres from turning in the season he wanted running for the Cub boys' cross country team in 2020, but he still was an invaluable presence all season for the team thanks to his tremendous leadership.

Freshman Rowan Steele was also a regular varsity contributor by the end of the season.

Steele took 43rd at the home meet, 62nd at North Polk, 20th at conference and 61st at the qualifying meet. He clocked in at 19:41.29 during conference and 19:13.75 at the qualifying meet.

Austin Kruzich and Korin Kenealy were the other senior leaders on the team. They were the leaders of the ‘C-pod’ according to Mills.  

“Both had a positive, lasting impact on the attitude of the JV team,” Mills said. 

Lopez and Eliot Frideres leave a big gap on the varsity roster and Kruzich and Kenealy’s leadership will be hard to replace. But with Freeman, Nick Frideres and the three freshmen leading the way the Cub boys have a chance to do even better in 2021.

“I think we will be a team to keep your eye on,” Mills said. “We will return five of our top seven for the next two seasons - two are sophomores and three are freshmen. I'm confident in our place at the HOIC neet, but what we really want is to compete at the state meet.”