Nevada boys win HOIC and push runner through to state, girls show growth in 2021

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Owen Freeman (468) gave the Nevada boys' cross country team an individual state qualifier in 2021. The Cub boys had a successful season that included another Heart of Iowa Conference championship.

Getting a runner through to state and winning a conference championship made the 2021 season a success for the Nevada boys' cross country team.

The Cub boys repeated as Heart of Iowa Conference champions and sent junior Owen Freeman to Fort Dodge.

"From preseason work in the summer — our team camp and endurance run — to midseason homecoming relay run from Gilbert to our pep rally in Nevada —  to the team continuing to work out with our solo state qualifier in the post season, those will be some of the memories that characterize this season," Nevada head boys' cross country coach James Mills said. "I will have a lot of great memories from this season."

Nevada won the HOIC meet in impressive fashion Oct. 11 at Jewell. The Cubs scored 32 points to beat Greene County by 39 points after beating the Rams by 25 points for last year's conference championship.

The Cub boys also placed seventh at the Class 3A qualifying meet in Pella Oct. 20. They finished with 170 points and five of the teams that placed ahead of them were ranked.

Freeman gave Nevada a state runner for the first time since the Cubs made it as a team in 2017.

But several other things stood out to the runners during the season.

"When I ask my team about their favorite highlights I have yet to have any mention our HOIC championship," Mills said. "I suppose it was just an expectation that they were able to meet. Instead, many would highlight our preseason team camp and enduro run in southwest Iowa.  Others have highlighted our homecoming relay from Gilbert to our pep rally.  My biggest highlight was seeing my team support Owen at the state meet. "

Nevada's top runners at the HOIC meet were Freeman, Rhett Harter, Rowan Steele, Carter Holland and Brian Rhode. Freeman placed third in 17 minutes, 35 seconds, Harter fifth in 18:09, Steele sixth in 18:25, Holland seventh in 18:26 and Rhode 11th in 19:16.

At the qualifying meet Freeman placed 13th in 17:28.62, Harter 32nd in 18:08.23, Rhode 40th in 18:26.22, Holland 42nd in 18:31.03 and Steele 43rd in 18:36.82.

Freeman came in 84th at state in 17:55.27. His best time of the year was 17:29.

Harter peaked at 17:59, Steele 18:25, Holland and Rhode both at 18:26, Frank Engstrom 19:15, Nicholas Frideres 19:17 and Luke Mills 19:36.

Marcus Nelsen, Gavin Skaggs, Ian Thomas, Ryan Wessels, Will Bauman, Caleb Gilchrist and Ryne Erickson were also valuable contributors to the team.

"Owen had the best performances late in the season and qualified for the state meet," James Mills said. "But I would also point out that Will Bauman dropped almost two minutes off of his personal best from last year.  Caleb Gilchrist designed our poster and produced a homecoming video while were still running the relay.  This season, more than the past two seasons, we had guys find a role to play on the team." 

Gilchrist is the only senior Nevada lost after the season.

"Caleb was never a top runner, but he was a spirit leader on the team," Mills said. "He led the team prayer before each race.  He worked hard every practice and finished his final race (HOIC) with a new personal best.  It was a special race for him and we were ecstatic to celebrate with him afterwards."

That means the Cubs will be poised to make a run at qualifying for state as a team in 2022.

"I believe we will be a team to watch going into the state qualifying meet next year," Mills said. "We will return all of our varsity squad and they are determined to work in the offseason to grow next season.  Our homecoming relay will be much longer (Hampton to Nevada), and our team add some great talent from the middle school.  There'll be lots of good things to look forward to."

The Nevada girls went through a rebuilding season with the loss of top runner Tori Meinecke to an ACL injury suffered during soccer last spring.

The Cub girls took fourth at the HOIC meet with 110 points and 12th at the qualifying meet with 351 points.

The Nevada girls also placed fifth at Roland-Story and eighth at the Mike Carr Invitational.

"We went into the season knowing we would be young and needed to gain any valuable experience we could running against top competition," Nevada head girls' cross country coach Shawn Crain said. "Any runner would tell you Central Iowa is above average competition every meet. And it proves true at the district and state meets."

Senior Tessa Borwick, a first-time cross country runner, and freshmen Aubrey Thompson and Ava Vanderheyden were the top runners for the Nevada girls.

Borwick peaked with a 5k time of 22:47 at the Gilbert Invitational, where she placed 35th. Thompson took 12th at the HOIC meet in 22:55 and Vanderheyden was 15th at Roland-Story in 22:51.

Tessa Borwick ran cross country for the first time as a senior in 2021. Borwick was the top runner for the Nevada girls for most of the season.

Briar Crain and Evelyn Anderson took 63rd and 68th at the Gilbert Invite with respective season-best times of 24:28 and 24:57. Bridget Cahill and Avery Anderson both ran a 25:24, with Cahill's coming at Roland-Story and Anderson's at the HOIC meet.

Natalie Barber took 40th at the conference meet in 25:46.

"Our top four runners were fairly consistent all season," Shawn Crain said. "Tessa Borwick, Aubery Thompson, Ava Vanderheyden and Evelyn Anderson all ran well every meet as our team leaders this season."

The senior girls, led by Borwick, Briar Crain and four-year runner Sarone Mehari, will be greatly missed next season. But with the freshman trio of Thompson, Vanderheyden and Anderson back to lead the way plus the hopeful return of Meineck, the Cub girls figure to be much stronger next season.

"It will start with getting in some great off season work and now a squad with valuable experience knowing what to expect going into the season," Shawn Crain said. "I feel we will be in great shape going into next season."