NOV. 13 HOME STRETCH COLUMN — PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR
Some notes, clips, quips and commentaries from the State Cross Country Meet, Monticello’s first football playoff game in 22 years and the regional volleyball playoffs:
• My wife reminded me the other day of a fun memory of Michael Melchert, Monticello’s state champion cross country runner. The Melcherts used to live across the street from our house, and Michael, at a young age, could often be seen zipping down the street on his bicycle. The rule was, he could ride to the end of the block, and then had to come back. So Michael turned it into a competition, asking us to time him as he pedaled down the street.
That kind of competitiveness was evident Saturday, when Michael was side-by-side with top-ranked Thomas Pollard of Gilbert, then outkicked him down the final hill to win by two seconds. Michael then showed the kind of class you like to see out of any champion. The first words out of his mouth when approached by the TV cameras were to show his respect for Pollard. So count that as another fun memory.
• Every year I am interested to note that several schools qualify both boys and girls to the state meet. This year there were seven: Monticello, Gilbert, Unity Christian, East Marshall, North Polk, Northeast and South Central Calhoun. I don’t think that’s coincidence; it’s the sign of outstanding programs.
• Monticello’s girls didn’t reach the podium this year, but for the second straight year were a top-half team in the 15-team state meet. Five schools finished ahead of these young, improving Panthers, but there are 63 other Class 2A schools that would have loved to finish in Monticello’s spot.
• With their 17th straight appearance in the state meet, the Monticello boys have the second-longest active streak in the state. Cedar Falls has the top active streak, having qualified 22 straight times.
Monticello’s streak is tied for fifth all-time, behind Cedar Falls, Ankeny (22), Iowa City Regina (20 - its streak ended this season) and Marshalltown (18).
• The problem with post-season football is that for all but one team, it’s going to end in disappointment. In Class 2A, 31 teams are going to end that way, with only one celebrating.
I believe that, in time, the Panthers will be able to draw from their playoff season and look at it as an overall success, and perhaps a stepping stone to greater things.
• Also on that subject, I think Waukon showed a lot of class in its playoff win over the Panthers, taking many of its starters out of the lineup before halftime.
It helped both teams; the Panthers enjoyed a great deal of second half success and were able to go out on a positive note, and the Indians were able to rest some of their key guys for the Nov. 4 showdown with Dyersville Beckman.
• We didn’t see a lot of wins from the Monticello volleyball team this year, but we did see flashes of potential.
One of those was in the third set against Northeast, in the opening round of the regional tournament. After a pair of losses in which the Rebels were largely in control, the Panthers found their spirit, gained their momentum and had a great opportunity to win and turn the match around.
With five starters returning next season, I believe they will gain from moments like those. With this year of experience on their resumes, the Panthers can find ways to carry that enthusiasm through complete matches and turn those heartbreaking losses into wins.