Your Prep Sports
WILLIAMSBURG – If you are looking for the secret to Solon’s surprise cross country success this season long-time Solon coach Emy Williams says don’t bother.
It hasn’t been a magic formula that has led to the breakthrough season for the Spartans this fall instead it has been a minor change in mindset and mentality.
And miles. Lots and lots of miles.
“It’s so fun to watch because those are kids that just decided ‘hey we are going to be good’,” Williams said. “They have just worked their tails off.”
Solon was a lot better than just good on Thursday.
The Class 3A fourth-ranked Spartans put five runners in the top 15 and pulled away from a loaded field to win the WAMAC Conference Meet on Thursday at the Williamsburg Sports Complex.
“Honestly, it’s just the work ethic we have,” Solon senior Tyler Bilskie said of the success. “We all really put in really good training in the summer and we hit it hard during the season too.”
That work has produced the best season in more than a decade at Solon and turned the Spartans into a legitimate title contender in Class 3A.
Solon was third at the WAMAC meet in three consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2011 but hadn’t finished higher than sixth since.
The Spartans were seventh at the conference meet each of the past two seasons.
Solon saw its hard work pay dividends on Thursday finishing 17 points in front of Class 3A third-ranked Marion and 26 clear of No. 5 Center Point-Urbana which was third.
How exactly did the Spartans go from the bottom half of the conference standings to the champ in a year?
It started last spring.
“When they had the track season taken away from them they didn’t feel sorry for themselves they just started working and they have been working hard ever since,” Williams said. “Then we had these freshman that have just bought in.”
The tide began to change in the summer as Bilskie, DeValk and the other upperclassmen began banging out mile after mile.
Soon the work ethic was catching on across the team.
“I was looking at Ben and Tyler and these guys over the summer and I knew that if they were going to work that hard that I had to go with them,” freshman Brick Kabela said. “I wanted to go win something with them.”
Solon didn’t have to wait long to see the work translate into success.
The Spartans appeared in the week one Class 3A rankings, by the middle of September Solon was a top-five team.
On Thursday the Spartans continued to show that ranking is no fluke.
“We decided we can work harder and we could shoot higher,” Bilskie said. “We weren’t bad but we wanted to be better. We knew we could be better.”
Perhaps no runner has embodied the Solon turnaround more than Bilskie who finished 43rd at the WAMAC meet last season.
Bilskie was 10th on Thursday in a time of 17:05.99 a little more than 11 seconds off the pace of Hinman who finished seventh at the WAMAC meet for the second consecutive season.
“We don’t really have that star runner who can go out and win every race,” Bilskie said. “We have to have a good pack and that really helps us win races.”
The Spartans have gotten a boost this season from Kabela and fellow freshman Michael Yeomans.
Kabela was right on the heels of Bilskie on Thursday placing 11th in a time of 17:12.11 while Yeomans was 14th in 17:19.16.
“I wanted to run well and kind of keep Tyler in sight,” Kabela said. “He’s really been kind of guiding me through this year so I wanted to stay up with him in that middle pack. This was the first race where I really saw a lot of guys up in the lead pack and it was great to have a lot of guys to block the wind for me.”
DeValk, who was 29th at the conference meet a year ago was 15th in a time of 17:19.57.
Junior Nate Ferguson moved up from 44th a year ago to 20th in a time of 17:46.43 while senior Noelan Garbes improved his placement from 50th as a junior to 21st on Thursday.
All the credit for the transition Williams says goes to the runners, starting with the upperclassmen.
“It was them that decided they were going to do the work and they were going to get better,” Williams said. “It’s work and it’s consistency. They were out there working every day in the summer on their own. They just made a commitment to get better.”
At Williamsburg Recreation Center
Team scores – 1. Solon 57; 2. Marion 74; 3. Center Point-Urbana 83; 4. Mount Vernon-Lisbon 92; 5. Clear Creek Amana 130; 6. West Delaware 144; 7. Williamsburg 150; 8. South Tama 200; 9. Benton Community 209; 10. Vinton-Shellsburg 247; 11. Independence 315; 12. Dyersville Beckman 324
Individual leaders – 1. Eli Larson (CP-U) 16:00.13; 2. Luke Post (CP-U) 16:08.99; 3. Shane Erb (MAR) 16:12.09; 4. Jedidiah Osgood (MAR) 16:33.8; 5. Gavin Zillyette (CCA) 16:41.91; 6. Brandon Barker (CCA) 16:45.3; 7. Gabe Hinman (SOL) 16:54.75; 8. Blake Roling (MAR) 16:57.23; 9. Zach Fall (MV-L) 17:01.54; 10. Tyler Bilskie (SOL) 17:05.99; 11. Brick Kabela (SOL) 17:12.11; 12. Jensen Meeker (MV-L) 17:14.85; 13. Harrison Garber (WIL) 17:16.71; 14. Michael Yeomans (SOL) 17:19.16; 15. Ben DeValk (SOL) 17:19.57
Solon (57) – 7. Gabe Hinman 16:54.75; 10. Tyler Bilskie 17:05.99; 11. Brick Kabela 17:12.11; 14. Michael Yeomans 17:19.16; 15. Ben DeValk 17:19.57; 20. Nate Ferguson 17:46.43; 21. Noelan Garbes 17:47.63
Clear Creek Amana (130) – 5. Gavin Zillyette 16:41.91; 6. Brandon Barker 16:45.3; 33. Jackson Schloss 18:18.11; 41. Tanner Tomas 18:41.08; 45. Cameron Kimm 18:53.71; 56. Jack Hagen 19:30.87