Don't try to tell Cody Sondgeroth cross country isn't a contact sport.
The Dixon High School senior can tell you about his first experience at the state meet, back in the fall of 2010. He was a freshman then, hoping to help out a Dukes team that was 2 years removed from winning a Class 2A state title.
Elite runners get going from the starting line at Detweiller Park in Peoria first, followed by those in the middle of the pack. Sondgeroth was toward the back, with intentions of moving his way up. It didn't quite work out that way.
"There were barely any guys behind me, and I somehow managed to get tripped at the start," Sondgeroth said with a smile. "I had to get back up and go. That was pretty interesting."
Sondgeroth finished 157th among 167 runners that day, and was seventh among seven DHS runners with a time of 17 minutes, 27 seconds. The Dukes wound up 15th as a team.
"I was just having fun my freshman year," Sondgeroth said, "but kept getting better and better."
Sondgeroth returned to state a year ago. He posted a time of 15:30, good for 60th place among 210 runners. He was second on the team, behind classmate Simon Thorpe, and helped the Dukes to a 10th-place finish.
All that, however, could be merely an appetizer for the main course that lies ahead. Sondgeroth is a leader on a team that finished the regular season ranked seventh in Class 2A. The top three teams at state earn trophies, and Dixon could be in that mix if it performs up to expectations on Saturday.
"It's fun being with a pretty good team in cross country," Sondgeroth said.
Sondgeroth didn't take any shortcuts to success. Like his older sisters Chelsea and Tiara, who were both accomplished runners for Dixon and now run in college, Chelsea at Eastern Illinois and Tiara at North Central, Cody has been committed year-round to the DHS cross country program.
He put in 50-mile weeks all summer, 70-mile weeks in-season, and is a 4-year member of the Polar Bear Running Club, whose members put in a minimum of 500 miles during the winter months.
Dixon coach Evan Thorpe noted Sondgeroth has evolved as an athlete he can depend on.
"I was frustrated with the guys, and I talked to Simon about it," coach Thorpe said. "He said, 'Well, I can count on Cody to do the things that we need to do.' I trust these guys to get out there and do what they need to do."
For Simon Thorpe, Dixon's top runner, Sondgeroth is now a trusted training partner. The Dukes had Monday off as a scheduled rest day, but Thorpe and Sondgeroth still met after school for a training run. They haven't taken a day off from running in about 2 months.
"It makes a lot of my daily tasks easier to have someone there to do it with me," Thorpe said. "He's right there with me for the first 2 miles of a 3-mile workout. It's small things like that that impact my training in a positive way."
The Dukes competed in Peoria twice this year, with the idea to get ready for the state meet this Saturday.
On Sept. 14, Sondgeroth turned in a time of 15:32 at the First to the Finish Invitational. A week later, he went 15:40 at the Richard Spring Invite.
His experience on the Detweiller Park course, combined with good health and the motivation of helping a strong team, has Sondgeroth primed for a big performance.
"You want to go out pretty good, but you don't want to completely kill it on the first 800," Sondgeroth said. "As long as I'm not getting boxed in, I think I should do pretty good."
FYI: 3-time state qualifier for Dixon cross country team. ... Finished 157nd at state as freshman, then 60th as a junior. ... Placed fifth at NIB-12 meet as senior with career-best 3-mile time of 15:22