Sophie Nicol and Erin KerkhoffBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
SOLON – Emy Williams tossed out the question to her Solon cross country team early in the season.
How many of you have ever been to the state meet, Williams remembers asking?
“Three kids raised their hands,” Williams said. “Two kids went last year to watch when (senior) Trisha (Coberly) made it and one had been there when her older sister made it.”
That was it, only three current members of the program had ever seen the state meet in person.
That number will more than double on Saturday.
After a three-year absence Solon, will make its return to the state meet when it competes in the Class 3A race at Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge.
“When you have 55 kids on your team and only three of them have been to the state meet we had to change that because you have to see it to really want it,” Williams said. “If they don’t know what it is, you don’t really want it, so I think that is going to pay huge dividends.”
For a decade, the Spartans were state meet regulars.
Solon qualified for the state meet 10 consecutive years from 2003 to 2012.
Since a fourth-place finish in 2012 the Spartans hadn’t been back to state as a team.
Entering this season, no player on the Solon roster had run at the state meet and only two, junior Sophie Nicol and sophomore Erin Kerkhoff, had ever witnessed the event.
On Saturday that duo expects to lead Solon in what the Spartans hope is a new string of state meet appearances.
“Erin and I went up with Trisha last year just to experience going up there and when we got there it really kind of motivated us to make it,” Nicol said.
Nicol and Kerkhoff have been the leaders of a young Solon team that went from preseason afterthought to the No. 14 team in Class 3A entering the state meet.
Kerkhoff finished ninth and Nicol was 13th at the state qualifying meet last week to lead Solon to a runner-up finish.
The duo has been the backbone of a Spartan lineup that features three freshmen in its top five.
Ella Duster, Nicole Shafer and Aira Foster all finished in the top 20 at the state qualifying meet and have solidified the Solon lineup in their first season of varsity action.
“It’s nice that there are three of us freshmen that have run together the past few years,” Duster said. “They help push me along because we are all the same age and have the same physical abilities. It’s great to have them with me.”
In August, not even Williams would have anticipated a state meet berth but as the season went on the Spartans gained confidence.
The turning point for the Spartans came with back-to-back invitational wins at Williamsburg and Iowa Mennonite Invitationals.
“I definitely didn’t expect it at the beginning of the season but at IMS we kind of broke through,” Nicol said. “I think we got really confident with ourselves and our running from that point.”
Solon has posted consecutive runner-up finishes to No. 7 Mount Vernon-Lisbon at the WAMAC meet and state qualifier.
The young Spartans now enter the state meet eager to see how they stack up against the best in the state.
“The meets we have had were o.k. teams with good teams but now it’s going to be all good teams and great teams,” Duster said. “We just want to do the best that we can.”
With only one senior in its top seven Solon plans to make trips to the state meet an annual occurrence.
First, Williams is anxious to see how its young team handles its first experience on the biggest stage.
“They have goals set for themselves and you never know with a young team are they going to get really scared or do they just not know any better and they are just going to go out and run,” Williams said. “I think this group, they are just going to go run do their best and make it a great day.”