Graduating some key members off the squad that had helped the South Winn girls’ cross country team make the deck at state may have deterred some teams; however, it only helped fuel the Lady Warriors in 2023 to yet another runner-up finish in Class 1A. It marks the fourth-straight season South Winn has been in the top-three, winning the title in 2021. The Warriors also sent senior Abe Conway as an individual to compete in Class 1A.
Returning to the state meet for the first time since 2020 as a team, the Decorah girls entered Saturday’s race ranked No. 9 and finished 11th. Along with the girls’, Grant Zilka competed in the boys’ Class 3A race.
What a finish
The Warriors, which came into the meet ranked No. 3 in Class 1A, knew it would be a tight race and it was up to their 4-7 harriers to push South Winn to the podium Friday.
When the final runner crossed the finish line on the cold, windy day, the Warriors tallied 123 points and had squeezed out the second-place finish by two points over No. 2 Beckman, who finished third with 125. Top-ranked Madrid took the title with 97.
South Winn finished the race with a spread of 1:02 and an average time of 20:50.
“The fact that our girls were able to accomplish what they did this year was really amazing. We graduated several outstanding seniors last year and we were going to have our work cut out for us coming into the season as it was. Over the course of the season we faced a consistent string of injury, and illness. Most of it was not major, but all of it was more than enough to frustrate any average team. Somehow, none of it managed to throw this team off. In fact, it did the opposite. It served as motivation and inspiration and week in and week out, we had someone new step up whenever a teammate struggled. Few teams can go into a state meet not being 100 percent and pull off what they were able to this weekend – but they did it,” said Co-Coaches Kevin Kearney and Scott Conway.
Calamus-Wheatland’s Noelle Steines won her third state title, crossing the finish line in 18:22.0.
South Winn was led by sophomore Maddy Jansen, finished 12th in the team standings (33rd overall) in 20:27.0. Freshman Annie Hageman wasn’t far behind, crossing the finish line in 20:30.4, good for 16th (38th). On her heels was Ava Franzen, garnering a time of 20:33.6 to bring home 18th (40th).
Senior Josie Tieskoetter concluded her stellar high school career in 35th (75th), stopping the clock at 21:12.6. She has been a contributing member of the last four trophy-winning seasons — the first female at South Winn to accomplish it.
“She played important roles in all of those efforts, but none were bigger than her role this year as a team leader. She not only did her part this year, but she made everyone around her better as well – that is the mark of a true leader,” noted the Co-Coaches.
Rounding out the Warriors scorecard in 21:29.2 was Izzy Kuboushek, to take 42nd (85th). In her third run at state, Karissa Wenthold posted a time of 21:51.8, good for 51st (95th) with Lauren Ondrashek the Warriors’ final runner. The freshman earned 58th (103rd) with a time of 22:04.5.
“We are just really proud of how our seniors and returning varsity runners provided great leadership, how returning runners like Izzy (Kuboushek) worked to take on bigger roles on our team and how our freshmen paid attention, learned and became such great competitors so early in their careers. Our seniors, Josie Tieskoetter, Aubrey Willey and Josie Tollefsrud did a great job this year and have helped pass on a tradition to our younger runners to build on in the next years,” said the Co-Coaches.
The Warriors’ final thoughts
“Being a part of South Winn cross country the past four years has been one of the best experiences. My freshman year, I was up in the air on whether to do cross country or volleyball, little did I know it was going to be an experience that altered my high school athletic career. Not only did I gain four trophies in four years, but I also gained some of my best friends, the best coaches, and the best memories,” said Tieskoetter. “As an underclassmen, I was always surrounded with great leaders who always were willing to take me under their wing and make me feel welcome. It’s been fun getting to step into leadership and watching some of the younger girls lead, too. One of the best opportunities cross country has granted me is to be coached by Kearney, Conway and Formanek. They have left a lasting impact on my life and shaped who I am as a runner and as a person. The key to our success and trophies over the past four years is not just due to some fantastic runners and teammates but has been because of the guidance and unending support from all three of the coaches.”
Kuboushek added, “I am so proud of how far we have come this season. We knew it was going to be hard after losing four seniors last year. We had three freshmen who stepped up and played a big role on our team. Josie will be hard to replace, but I am already excited to see how next year goes.”
Jansen was worried after those seniors graduated last year, but went on to add, “As soon as the season started and I saw how much everyone cared, it was clear that we would be able to do big things. Everyone stepped up and put in so much hard work and effort. I’m just grateful to everyone on the team and how much we’ve grown together and pushed out limits. It was amazing having the opportunity to run at state again this year.”
“I believe that our season went very, very well. However, our team went through a lot this year. From injury to sickness, and everything in between, our team worked together to help one another out. Kearney always tells us, ‘Do the best you can today,’ and I think we absolutely accomplished that. If one or two people were having an off day, others stepped up to help make our team better. Without doing that, we wouldn’t have been able to be as successful as we were this year. We ended the year on a great note, and I am very happy that our team was able to have another podium finish,” said Wenthold.
“Starting out the season not knowing what to expect, I am forever grateful to apart of this team. Running the state meet and having my coaches at every corner, coaching me through the race, gave me the strength to run the best I could. I’m so incredibly proud of this team. The support is outstanding,” noted Ondrashek.
Fellow freshman, Hageman commented, “The year started off very nerve racking. I wasn’t exactly sure how to race but Josie Tieskoetter showed me every step of the way. It’s so motivating when you are racing with friends and family are cheering you on! I’m very grateful to be a part of this team and I can’t wait for next year!”
Vikes finish strong
After missing out on the state cross country meet for two years, the Viking girls were back to show those in Class 3A what they were made off. While Decorah didn’t win the title, they did have one of its own on the deck.
Decorah finished 11th overall with 235 points. No. 1 Pella overwhelmingly took the title with 80 points, followed by No. 3 Mount Vernon-Lisbon with 129 and No. 2 Gilbert with 142. The Vikings had an average time of 20:31 and spread of 1:52.
Viking sophomore Amelia Roe, ranked No. 10 coming in to the race, heard the roar of the applause by her finish in the top 15. Roe earned seventh in the team standings and ninth overall in 19:09.4 to earn her first medal. Brinlee Courtney and Danielle Losen crossed the line together in 51st and 52nd in the team standings (80th and 81st overall) respectively. Courtney stopped the clock at 20:43.7 while Losen capped off her career with a time of 20:45.0. Amelia Wadsworth toured the course in 20:59.5, good for 61st (93rd) while Grace Brynsaas concluded her career in 64th (96th). She had a time of 21:01.6 to finish off the Viking team score.
Ana Simon and Olivia Volkmann also competed for the Vikings. Simon, a sophomore, earned 67th (99th) in 21:04.3. Volkmann, a freshman, placed 71st (103rd) in 21:05.5.
First time for Conway
South Winn senior Abe Conway also put on his running shoes Friday, competing as an individual in his first state meet appearance.
Running in Class 1A, Conway placed 87th in 18:11.3. The winner was Landon Bendgen of Woodbine in 15:55.3. The team champion was No. 1 Lake Mills.
“What Abe has accomplished over the past four years is a testament to what hard work and dedication can do. He began his career four years ago running 29:46 and has improved 11:46 since then…. that is more improvement than any other runner, male or female, who has ever run for South Winn. His achievement is what cross country is all about – hard work, consistency and determination – is something that is available to everyone. But, ultimately, only a few will choose it. He is one of the runners who made that choice,” noted the SW Co-Coaches.
Zilka experiences state
Junior Grant Zilka also got a taste of the competition in Class 3A as he competed as an individual for the Decorah Vikings. Zilka crossed the finish line 16:53.8, good for 38th overall.
Pella’s Cannan Dunham broke the tape in the race in 15:18.5 to be crowned the Class 3A individual boys champion while Gilbert won the team title.
Class 1A girls team scores
1. Madrid 97; 2. South Winn 123; 3. Beckman Catholic 125; 4. Earlham 136; 5. ACGC; 6. Pekin 199; 7. St. Edmond 205; 8. Iowa City Regina 211; 9. Martensdale-St. Marys 217; 10. North Linn 230; 11. Woodbine 233; 12. Treynor 240; 13. Hinton 250; 14. Grundy Center 282; 15. Collins-Maxwell 294; 16. AHSTW
Class 3A girls team scores
1. Pella 80; 2. Mount Vernon-Lisbon; 3. Gilbert 142; 4. Sioux Center 155; 5. Glenwood 172; 6. Ballard 176; 7. Marion 208; 8. Solon 209; 9. Clear Lake 209; 10. Bishop Heelan 225; 11. Decorah 235; 12. ADM 250; 13. Lewis Central 253; 14. Harlan 276; 15. Clear Creek-Aman 332