Back-to-back Iowa Conference champions (2012, 2013)
CEDAR RAPIDS—It took 53 years, but the Central College men’s cross country team made it look easy Saturday, using a dominant performance to capture an elusive Iowa Conference championship for the first time in the program’s history. Dutch runners took the top three spots as sophomore Eli Horton (Runnells, Southeast Polk HS) claimed the individual title and was among four Central runners to earn all-league honors.
Central’s women finished fourth.
Dutch men sweep top three spots—The Central men used strong front running to establish the tone from the start. Horton led the 8,000-meter race wire-to-wire and crossed the line in a time of 25 minutes, 21.5 seconds. He was Central’s first league champion since all-American Andy Goodman captured his second title in 1994.
“It’s been almost 20 years since Central has had an individual winner,” said coach Joe Dunham. “We’re really proud of the way Eli ran today. He deserved it.”
Freshman Cole Decker (Des Moines, West Des Moines Dowling HS) ran alongside Horton over the first two miles of the race while the two separated themselves from the peloton. Even after Horton asserted his lead, Decker kept his distance from the rest of the pack and finished with a time of 25:36.6.
“For Cole to be the runner-up as a freshman was big,” said Dunham. “He’s been running like a veteran all season long and today was no exception.”
Drew Jackson (sophomore, Johnston) completed the 1-2-3 sweep for the Dutch with a superb second-half effort, moving into third place late in the race and holding off a series of runners on the final stretch (25:43.1). Austin O’Brien (junior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) was Central’s fourth all-league honoree, crossing the line in ninth place (25:53.5). Brent Ewing (junior, Cincinnati, Centerville HS) took 18th as Central’s fifth runner, while Sloan Beninga (freshman Stout, Dike-New Hartford HS) and Cody Doughan (junior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) rounded out the Dutch varsity squad in 21st (26:25.7) and 29th (26:44.1) respectively.
“It’s one thing to be the favorite going into the meet,” said Dunham. “It’s an entirely different thing to actually win it. I give the runners all the credit.”
Their effort totaled 33 points, the lowest total since Luther’s 29 points in 2009. Defending champion Loras scored 50 points for second, followed by Luther (70), Wartburg (108), Simpson (113), Coe (172), Buena Vista (202), and Dubuque (238).
Horton was named the league most valuable performer while Dunham was tabbed the coach of the year.
“I’m proud that we were able to bring a trophy back to Pella,” said Dunham. “It’s a great thing for our program and for all of the program’s alumni.”
McDermott leads women—Senior Mel McDermott (Britt, West Hancock HS) paced the Dutch effort again Saturday, earning her first all-conference medal with an 11th-place finish. She covered the 6,000-meter course in a time of 23:05.7.
“To be threatening a top-10 spot in our conference is impressive,” said Dunham. “It is a very strong women’s field and it was nice to see Mel up on the awards stand. It’s been a long time coming.”
Emma Nelson (junior, Pekin) was the second Central runner across the line in 17th (23:40.9), narrowly missing all-league recognition. Shelby Mendoza (junior, Norwalk) and Alyssa Eaves (sophomore, Johnston) were next for the Dutch in 20th (23:47.5) and 22nd (23:55.4) respectively. Amanda Dunkin (junior, Pella) finished 26th (24:20.7), Mallory Welk (sophomore, De Pere, Wis.) was 29th (24:57), and Molly Bramble (freshman, Waukee) rounded out the Dutch varsity in 33rd (25:09.6).
“I thought the women really competed hard today,” said Dunham. “We were hoping to do a little better in the team standings, but we can’t be disappointed with the effort.”
Wartburg won the team title with 21 points while Luther took runner-up honors with 38 points. Loras accumulated 87 points for third, with Central close behind totaling 96 points. Dubuque was fifth (159), followed by Simpson (174), Coe (208), and Buena Vista (246). Wartburg’s Alana Enabnit took the individual title in a time of 21:24.6.
With the conference meet in the books, the Dutch will turn their attention towards the Central Region championships Nov. 10 in Northfield, Minn. The men placed ninth in 2011 while the women were 12th.
“We’re looking forward to getting up there and competing,” said Dunham. “The St. Olaf course is a favorite of many of the athletes. As always, we have high expectations.”