“HOME STRETCH” SPORTS COLUMN FOR NOV. 7 – PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR
Overshadowing is something that happens a lot in sports coverage. There are stories that rise to the top, while plenty of other, worthy stories get pushed down the list a bit.
The most obvious of these in our paper, of course, was our coverage of the Monticello girls cross country team, which placed third in the State Class 2A Cross Country Meet Oct. 27 in Fort Dodge.
That finish was remarkable. Monticello came into that meet ranked 11th. A top-10 finish would have been a source of pride. The team had hopes of maybe, just maybe, sneaking into the top six if everything went right.
They were third.
And with just about any other local, weekly newspaper in the state, that finish would have been trumpeted with large photos and headlines as the biggest sports story of the calendar year.
Unfortunately for the Panther girls, they had to share a sports section with the boys, who repeated as state champions. So, the girls’ story got pushed to the lower half of the first sports page, while the championship trophy-carrying boys dominated the top half.
The same kind of thing happens with several of the runners on the Panther boys team. Michael Melchert’s record-breaking, sensational season, with win after win, tended to get the nod in much of my sports coverage this year, particularly when he was voted KCRG-TV’s Athlete of the Week for the second time.
The fact is, this was a star-studded lineup. All of these six guys could have been number one runners on the vast majority of teams in the state. Instead, they are part of what might be the greatest small-school team Iowa has ever seen.
But to illustrate this point, and just for fun, I took another look at the state results and did some hypothetical team-switching. I learned that every one of those six Panthers could have been the top runner on a state meet-qualifying team.
For instance, Junior Nick Meyers ran the race of his life (so far), in just his second year of cross country. He finished the Fort Dodge course in 16:10, good for eighth in the state. Had he been a member of, say, Okoboji of Milford, a top-10 team at State, he would have been its best runner by 41 seconds.
J.J. Frawley had a top-10 finish in the final race of his high school career, in 16:12. On the Western Christian squad (11th at State), he would have been the runaway star of the team, by 42 seconds.
Dallas Lumpa was the fourth-best Monticello runner, finishing 13th in 16:22. As part of another State-qualifying team, Albia, Lumpa would have been the top runner by 10 seconds.
The fifth-best Panther, Tiler Streets could have led the East Marshall team by 21 seconds.
Ben Ahlrichs would have been tops for South Central Calhoun by 30 seconds.
And Anthony Kinley was the Panthers’ seventh-best runner, in 17:09. With Mid-Prairie of Wellman, he would have been first, by 17 seconds.
You get the idea.
Talk with several members of the state champion Panthers, and it won’t be long before the words “bond” and “brothers” are spoken.
This Panther team characterized the kind of unique friendships that the sport of cross country seems to foster.
Following the victory in Fort Dodge, I talked with members of the team individually, and that same theme kept coming up.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to forget this bond that we’ve had,” senior J.J. Frawley said shortly after the race. “Being with these guys for three years, running with each other is just an amazing experience, something I’m going to take with me for the rest of my life.”
Junior Nick Meyers agreed.
“We’re all brothers, we’re all working with each other every day,” Meyers said. “I think we’re all going to remember this experience for the rest of our lives.”
The end of the race was an emotional time, not only for the joy of winning a second state championship, but also for the sad realization that it was coming to an end.
“I was with them every day after school, and saw them every single day,” senior Dallas Lumpa said. “Not seeing them next year is just going to kill me.”