AC/GC's Crawford shines as Panorama captures team title

Lofty expectations did little to deter a throng of local runners in last week’s season-opening meet. 
It was a banner day for the Panorama and AC/GC cross country programs at the Gilbert Early Invite in Ames, sparked pair a pair of championships and several medalist performances. 
AC/GC’s Kate Crawford (ranked No. 2 in 1A) blew away the Class B field in the women’s division, capturing the individual crown in 20:38 while a pair of top five finishes sprang fifth-ranked Panorama girls (2A) to the team title. 
The AC/GC boys, led by Noah Nelsen’s runner-up performance (rated seventh in 1A), finished fourth overall as a team in a stacked field. A  young Panorama squad saw improvement despite their low finish, and remain poised for a breakout. 
Crawford, Waddle shine in intra-county girls’ battle 
Girls’ champion Panorama, led by Ella Waddle’s runner-up race (21:02) and Gwen Steffen’s fourth-place breakout (22:27) amassed 46 points, outlasting second-place Earlham by 25 points for the team crown. 
It was a heck of a start to the 2018 season, on the heels of a second-place finish at state last fall. Head coach Greg Thompson was pleased with the early results, and envisions big things to come. 
“Ella had a strong finish and used the rolling hills of the course to her advantage,” the coach said. “Having four girls in the top 13 at a meet as competitive as this meet shows the potential and depth of our team.” 
Panorama freshman Payton Beckman came in 12th with a time of 23:30, just a hair ahead of sophomore Olivia Steffen, who placed 13th. Brooklyn Behrends rounded out the top scoring athletes, giving the Panthers five runners in the top 20. Leah Fett’s time of 25:04 was good enough for 30th overall, while Bryn Steffen placed 31st, giving Panorama seven runners in the top 35. With several highly ranked runners and teams vying for early season supremacy, last week’s meet was a good measuring stick, Thompson said. 
“There were several conference schools at the meet, so it looks like we are in good position to defend the (West Central Activities) conference title for the sixth straight year,” the coach said. 
AC/GC, who entered the season ranked 11th, snagged three top 10 finishes to come in third overall (87 points), sparked by Crawford’s wire-to-wire victory. Her comfortable triump was an encouraging start for the 2016 champ. The junior wasn’t alone in her efforts though, as Lauryn Embleton came in fifth overall (22:31) giving the Chargers a pair of top five runners. Sophomore Rylee Sloss snuck into the top 10 with a time of 23:21, a step ahead of 11th place Annalise Admiral of Pella Christian. Three runners in the top 10 in the year’s first meet was a big step in the right direction for another team with sky-high expectations. 
“It was the first year that we have done this meet, and it didn’t disappoint as far as competition was concerned,” AC/GC head coach Colin Shawgo said. “In the small school girls division, the girls team got third overall, behind a tough Panorama team and a revitalized Earlham. After (our top) three, we had a strong pack that came in pretty close together.” 
West Marshall came in fourth overall with 104 points while South Hamilton (108) and Madrid (134) rounded out the top six. Pleasantville (seventh), Van Meter (eighth), Ogden (ninth) and Coon Rapids-Bayard also competed in the 110-athlete field. 
Nelsen breaks out in star-studded boys’ field
A loaded field provided one heck of a test for the two local boys’ teams Thursday. And certainly, it didn’t disappoint.  
Madrid, Class 1A’s top-ranked, squad proved its worth as did third-ranked South Hamilton going one-two in the team standings, though a pair of AC/GC runners refused to back down. 
Led by Noah Nelsen’s runner-up finish (17:29) and Clay Billheimer’s seventh-place run (18:26), the seventh-ranked Chargers came in fourth overall (116 points), firmly in the thick of a magnificent team race. 
Madrid ran away with the title, scoring 36 points followed by South Hamilton’s 69 points. Fifth-ranked Earlham rounded out the top three with 87 points. Thirteenth-ranked Des Moines Christian (2A), rounded out the top five with 130 points. 
Defending Class 1A runner-up and the number ranked athlete in 1A, Sean McDermott of Madrid, captured the individual crown, outpacing Nelsen with a lightning quick time of 17:16. Nelsen outlasted sixth-ranked Logan Peters of South Hamilton, who placed fourth with a time of 17:49. 
Competing without a pair of their top runners, the Panorama boys placed 11th overall, led by levi Richey’s 34th place finish (20:34). Freshman Kevin Cogil was the only other Panther runner in the top 50 (39th). Coach Thompson saw significant strides throughout his team, even as his runners were up against a stacked field.  
“The overall team performance doesn’t reflect the effort of the boys. They all ran much better than they did (Aug. 17) at the Gatorade time trial,” Thompson said. “Our boys will improve given some time. None of them have more than two years of experience in the sport.”
The youth and depth the Panthers have will only become a bonus later on in the fall. Thompson is already beginning to see strides barely a week into the season.  
“The three freshman boys that ran (Cogil, Avery Norman, Jordan Wehmeyer) made significant improvement from their junior high seasons,” Thompson said. “They looked much stronger and more aggressive with their mental approach to the race than they did during junior high.”
Coach Shawgo may have been a little skeptical going into AC/GC’s first foray at the Gilbert meet, but was pleased with how well his co-ed teams handled the competition. 
“The big takeaway from the meet is that its a good starting point for us,” the coach said. “Our focus now is to continue working hard and growing as much as possible by the end of the season. If we do those two things, both teams will be in a good position to make a run at the state meet.”
AC/GC is back in action this afternoon at the West Central Valley course in Stuart while Panorama is off until the Greene County meet, Sept. 6 at Spring Lake. 

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