PHOTO: Michael Melchert exults as he nears the finish of the State Boys Cross Country Meet Nov. 2 in Fort Dodge. Melchert was the Class 2A champion. (Photo by Pete Temple)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Monticello lived up to its year-long top ranking, and Michael Melchert added to the Panthers’ storied cross country history with an individual state championship, during the State Class 2A Cross Country Meet Saturday, Nov. 2 in Fort Dodge.
The Panthers had the largest margin of victory of any of the eight team champions crowned that day – 52 points over runner-up Gilbert – and claimed their third consecutive state title.
“We knew coming in that we were probably the heavy favorite, but we also knew we had to run a strong race,” Sauser said. “Gilbert was going to give us all we could handle. We needed all of our runners.
“The boys gave all of the effort we have come to expect from them,” Sauser said.
The Panthers did get strong efforts from every member of the team, starting with senior Melchert, who outkicked top-ranked Thomas Pollard of Gilbert in the last 400 meters to win the individual state championship by two seconds.
Monticello coach Dan Sauser said Melchert’s time of 15:18.2, which ranks him in a tie for 15th all-time among all classes, was even more impressive considering the gusty winds that blew through the course.
“I think it was one of the most impressive runs in state meet history,” Sauser said. “I don’t think I have coached an athlete that was more dedicated than he was. He got everything he deserved.”
The coach said Melchert’s race with Pollard – the two were side-by-side for much of the race – made it even more intriguing.
“It was a blessing that they were in the same class,” Sauser said. “They needed each other to bring out the best in both runners. I think people witnessed one of the great races in the state meet.
“I knew that if he could make it a short race, (Melchert) could take him,” Sauser added “He was able to hold off every surge Pollard threw at him. He ran an absolutely perfect race.”
Melchert agreed that it was a good battle.
“Thomas is an amazing runner. There’s no other junior out there like him,” Melchert said. “Being out there with an elite runner was just great. He’s one who likes to surge a lot, but I knew if I could stay with him until the last 400 meters, I could outkick him.”
Senior Ben Ahlrichs had an outstanding performance to finish fifth in 16:07.9, and said his previous state meet experience was key.
“This year I was a lot more confident, I wasn’t as nervous and I knew what I needed to do,” Ahlrichs said.
Jordan Loes was 13th overall in 16:40.8; and Matt Manternach finished 16th in 16:48.3. Both are sophomores.
“Ben had his best state meet by far,” Sauser said. “As for Jordan and Matt; there are not many sophomores who run in the 16:40s at State.”
Sophomore Derek Manternach stopped momentarily during the race when he experienced sharp pains in his chest. He was able to finish the race – even passing runners down the stretch – but was the seventh Panther runner in.
“We were able to have our sixth and seventh runners (senior Anthony Kinley and sophomore Zach Holmes) run really well for us,” Sauser said.
Kinley was 57th overall, and Holmes was 75th.
While last year’s state title featured largely the same lineup that the Panthers had won with the previous year, this one had the influx of sophomores.
“I’d say they’re the top sophomores in the state, and we’re hoping they’re going to carry on what we taught them,” Ahlrichs said.
“It’s like winning it the first time again. This year we brought in a whole bunch of new people, and it’s going to mean so much to these guys, which is going to mean so much to us. It feels like a whole new team.”
Melchert said it was a great way to end his high school cross country career.
“I couldn’t ask for a better senior year with these guys. These guys are great. We have a great team bond, and to go out like this is the best feeling in the world.”
State Boys Cross Country
(at Fort Dodge)
2A BOYS TEAM SCORES
1, Monticello 63; 2, Gilbert 115; 3, Unity Christian 138; 4, East Marshall 158; 5, Shenandoah 169; 6, North Polk 182; 7, Mid-Prairie 212; 8, Northeast 215; 9, OA-BCIG 220; 10, Osage 225; 11, Albia 230; 12, Tipton 246; 13, Fort Dodge St. Edmond 263; 15, South Central Calhoun 264; 15, Hudson 325.
(overall finish first, team scoring finish in parentheses)
1 (1), Michael Melchert, 15:18.2; 5 (5), Ben Ahlrichs, 16:07.9; 13 (8), Jordan Loes, 16:40.8; 16 (10), Matt Manternach, 16:48.3; 57 (39), Anthony Kinley, 17:39.0; 75 (53), Zach Holmes, 17:55.6; 97 (73), Derek Manternach, 18:30.6.