OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa cross country boys and girls teams will kick off their seasons Thursday at the Marshalltown Invitational.
On the boys’ side, Cody McConnell will look to build on his exceptional 2011 sophomore season — he was the Bulldogs’ lone representative at the Class 4A state meet. McConnell advanced to state by finishing seventh at the qualifying district meet with a time of 16:27.
He was the fourth Ottumwa runner to qualify for state under cross country coach Jeff Smith. Smith, who enters his 19th year as head of the boys cross country program, has taken a runner to state in each of the past four seasons.
For McConnell, however, it’s been an uphill struggle since he injured his calf muscle while running the 3200 at the Bulldogs’ third outdoor track and field meet of the season this past spring. The injury forced him to miss the rest of the season, Smith said.
“He’s still fighting through that,” the coach said.
Smith said McConnell is still building back up to what he was before the injury. On the plus side, he said the junior runner told him he could now run pain-free.
First-year girls coach Angela Berry said some of her more experienced runners had already established leadership roles on her squad.
“Sydney Strunk and Sarah Keith are great examples for the other girls,” she said.
Berry, who had a tremendous running career at Central College in Pella; said seniors Sydney Cloyd and Caroline Owens also have supplied the team with leadership. The girls’ squad has displayed a spirit of togetherness at practice, the coach said.
“The attitudes have been great and they’ve been showing a lot of teamwork and support of one another,” Berry said.
Aside from McConnell’s individual accomplishments, the boys’ cross country team also finished second at the CIML Metro Cross Country Meet at Des Moines Lincoln. The Bulldogs, led by McConell’s second-place individual finish, had three runners finish in the top 10. Then junior Charlie Altfillisch finished seventh at the meet in 18:09.
Not to be outdone, the girls took second at the conference meet as well. Six girls made the all-conference team, including Strunk who finished first among her teammates with an eighth place finish. Daylin Latham followed her in ninth place. The top 14 runners in the meet earned all-conference honors.
Berry said her squad has split into two distinct running groups at practice, which she thinks will be to the benefit of her team.
“If you can run in packs you can do well in meets,” she said.
Also, Berry said sophomores Latham and Katy Fish have been keeping pace with the seniors at practice.
Berry said thus far practices have consisted of making sure the girls have a good base so they can go into the season with enough endurance to finish races strong.
Other Bulldog girls who will run varsity this season include junior Charlette Flanders and sophomores Kate McGinity and Ashlyn Thompson. Since Marshalltown allows more than seven runners from each team to compete, Berry said senior Madison Zesiger and freshman Georgia Garrett also will run at this meet; but not at future meets where each squad is limited to seven runners.
Smith said his practices have mainly focused on getting distance runs in. He said he’s been impressed with the work Altfillisch put in over the summer.
“He has shown some senior leadership so far,” Smith said.
The coach said McConnell and Altfillisch have been really pushing each other at practice.
“They have really been working off of each other,” he said.
Smith thinks this will benefit both of his runners.
Filling out the rest of this season’s boys squad are freshmen Shane Riley and Collin McConnell, Cody’s younger brother; juniors Isacc Ramos and Nick Sedore and senior Jianwa Bennett.