The West Central Area Knights Girls and Boys Team took on 21 other teams in the Section 6A Cross Country Meet held at Little Crow Golf Course in New London Thursday afternoon. The boys placed first, scoring 87 points, the girls placed second losing out to champion Eden Valley Watkins by one point.
"We knew the girls race would be close so we just told the girls to run their best and that our success would be determined by our effort," said Head Coach John Van Kempen. "They were certainly successful with their effort and it paid off with a trip to the state meet held in Northfield on St Oaf’s campus, Saturday, November 5th. The boys are back to back section champions, with Ryley Nelson repeating as section champion. Overall, it was our best performance for the girls and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time."
Seventh grader Lexi Bright ran with the front pack, setting a school record for a 5K and finished in 4th place. Brynn Fernholz, Ella Van Kempen and Teagan Nelson were the next three for the Knights, finishing in 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively.
"A tremendous effort by Chloe Larue, finishing in 30th place, secured our place and allowed us to advance to state," said Coach Van Kempen. "Of 150 racers, we were able to place five in the top 30, each setting a personal record en route to placing second. Two seventh graders, Kennedy Porter and Kaitlin Hansonrounded out our team and finished in 73rd and 97th. Everyone did exactly what they needed to do in the race. The girls had set a goal early in the season to make it to state which at the time seemed quite lofty for such young kids with little racing experience. Junior Steph Toms and sophomore Ella have been the leaders for the team throughout the season. Assistant Coach Heidi Bright, a competitive runner also has brought a lot of racing insight, but also the guidance they needed at crucial times."
The boys team was probably considered the favorite to repeat as section champions again after losing only one runner (Chris Swenson) to graduation last year.
"Throughout the year they have worked together and with the younger kids on our team showing them what it takes to be successful, they have laid the ground work for hopefully some more successful years," said Van Kempen. "Following Ryley in the race was Jacob Bright in second place. He actually took the lead early in the race. Senior Ethan Olson was next in 9th place, followed by Drake Swanson in 32nd. Freshman Jack Van Kempen, our usual fifth runner fell behind early and battled back to finish in 52nd. But teammate and eighth grader Kyle Schill made up the difference for the team, taking over Jack’s fifth runner spot and finishing in 46th and shattering his personal record. We needed someone to step up and Kyle did that today for us. Junior Chase Veldhouse was our seventh runner and finished in 58th. I think what the boys have going for them is that they are all accountable to each other. They know Ryley and Jacob will be towards the front, setting it up for the team to place good if everyone else can fulfill their role. They count on Ryley and Jacob, and Ryley and Jacob can count on them as well. Coach Rick Tomsdeserves the credit for these guys to progress the way they have over the years. His race plans have been spot on and they follow it."
Van Kempen concluded, "It was a special night for our cross country teams. We had the most and loudest cheering fans of any team there. The bus was decorated when we got on it for the return trip home and fire trucks met us out of town and led us back to school with the lights flashing and sirens blaring. The season has been just fantastic for these kids. Their hard work throughout the season has made it possible for one more meet for them.