Sophie Nicol and Erin Kerkhoff By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
SOLON – Before the season began Sophie Nicol believed Solon could reach the state cross country meet.
Next season. As in 2017 state meet.
“Before the season just coming together as a team that was my main goal,” Nicol said. “Then next year pushing hard to get to state.”
As one of just two returning runners with varsity experience on a roster relying on three freshmen it’s easy to understand why Nicol was thinking about a trip to state a year ahead.
On Thursday Nicol was proved correct just one year early.
Nicol and sophomore Erin Kerkhoff each finished in the top 15 as Solon qualified for the state meet for the first time since 2013 with a runner-up finish at a Class 3A state qualifying meet at the Solon Nature and Recreation Area.
“I definitely didn’t expect this, but I couldn’t be happier,” Nicol said. “I’m totally blessed to be on this team.”
Class 3A No. 8 Mount Vernon-Lisbon won the team title with 63 points followed by Solon with 79 points.
The Spartans finished 28 points in front of No. 14 Davenport Assumption which had the top two individual finishers in Joy Ripslinger and Julia Schumacher and finished third with 107 points.
“It was pretty hard but I feel amazing right now,” Nicol said. “I couldn’t be happier with my teammates and myself for running as hard as we did.”
Behind the leadership and Nicol and Kerhoff and spurred by the rapid development of a trio of freshman Solon has exceeded expectations and accelerated their projections.
That continued on Thursday.
Freshmen Nicole Shafer, Aira Foster 20:51 and Ella Duster finished 18, 19 and 20th respective in their first state qualifying meet.
“I told the girls never would have I guessed that we would be in the position that we are in, being so young and where we started out at I never thought we would be here,” Solon coach Emy Williams said. “Our freshman figured out how to race, we knew it was in them but you never know if they are going to figure it out and they did. They have way surpassed whatever I could have hoped for them.”
How far have the Spartans come in a year?
Last year Solon didn’t have a single state qualifier as Kerkhoff finished 16th at the state qualifier to miss a trip to state by one spot.
On Thursday five Spartans finished in the top 20.
“It’s hard when you only have two people returning on varsity, you don’t know what the season is going to be like,” Nicol said. “The freshmen really did surprise us and they are doing amazing things.”
Just as they have all season Kerkhoff and Nicol led the way on Thursday.
Kerkhoff placed ninth in a time of 20:28 while Nicol was 13th in 20:37.
“I’m really happy, it’s the first time qualifying and it means a lot,” Kerkhoff said. “At the start of the year I didn’t think this would be possible but as we all improved I could kind of feel it.”
Kerkhoff’s time 20:28 was seven seconds faster than at the WAMAC meet last week while Nicol took more than 12 seconds off her time from last week.
“You could see in their eyes today that the two of them wanted to be in that top 15,” Williams said of Nicol and Kerkhoff. “I think being left out of that top 15 last year made them hungry for that today.”
The Solon freshmen took care of the rest as Nicole Shafer finished 18th in 20:50 Aira Foster was 19th in 20:5 and Ella Duster was 20th in 20:58
“Even from last week to this week their times are faster on the same course so you can see that improvement,” Williams said. “This week you could just tell they were ready to run and ready to get there and that’s good to see.”
Clear Creek Amana sophomore Kaylie Barker placed 15th in a time of 20:46 to qualify for the state meet as an individual.
Class 3A State Qualifying Meet at Solon Nature and Recreation Area
Team scores (Top 3 qualify for state meet) – 1. Mount Vernon-Lisbon 63; 2. Solon 79; 3. Davenport Assumption 107; 4. Marion 110; 5. Williamsburg 131; 6. Central DeWitt 143; 7. South Tama 157; 8. Washington 168; 9. Fairfield 185; 10. Clear Creek Amana 288; 11. Maquoketa 325.
Individual results (Qualifiers for state meet)– 1. Joy Ripslinger (DA) 18:59; 2. Julia Schumacher (DA) 19:22; 3. Claire Horak (Wash) 19:31; 4. Hallie Kephart (Mar) 19:40; 5. Ashley Bloomquist (Fair) 19:45; 6. Julia Campbell (CD) 20:04; 7. Hayley Corkin (MVL) 20:17; 8. Callie Frakes (ST) 20:27; 9. Erin Kerkhoff (Sol) 20:28; 10. Faith Anton (MVL) 20:32; 11. Aubrey Frey (MVL) 20:33; 12. Kaitlin Wille (Will) 20:34; 13. Sophie Nicol (Sol) 20:37; 14. Maggie Davis (MVL) 20:45; 15. Kaylie Barker (CCA) 20:46.
Solon (79) – 9. Erin Kerkhoff 20:28; 13. Sophie Nicol 20:37; 18. Nicole Shafer 20:50; 19. Aira Foster 20:51; 20. Ella Duster 20:58. 43. Calista Haasl 22:05; 65. Haley Kluesner 23:39.
Clear Creek Amana (288) – 15. Kaylie Barker 20:46; 64. Ally Loren 23:26; 69. Olivia Fairholm 24:05; 77. Danielle Wnek 25:36; 79. Olivia Smyka 25:55.