STERLING – Bailee Fortney and Alex Gomez ran Tuesday’s Twin City meet side-by-side, most of the time all alone in front.
Someone had to win, though.
The two Rock Falls sophomores spent all but the final 30 feet of the race next to each other, but Fortney made a late surge to edge her teammate by 1 second to win her second straight meet.
“We knew it was going to be us two pushing each other,” Fortney said. “Whenever one of us picks up the pace, the other one goes right with her. It’s really hard to drop one of us.”
“Really, the end was just whoever hit hard and sprinted at the end,” Gomez said. “We were battling it out.”
Fortney, who traversed the Hoover Park course in 19 minutes, 35 seconds, came off the first win of her career at the prestigious First to the Finish invitational in Peoria on Saturday. Gomez was right behind her at that meet, also.
“That was really exciting,” Fortney said. “There were 41 teams and 461 girls, and it was the first race I ever won. For it to be that one, it was amazing.”
“We knew we could get first and second,” Gomez said. “The reality during the race when we weren’t following anyone was really shocking and exciting.”
Rockets coach Mark Truesdell had his runners make a trek from the high school to Hoover Park on Monday, an almost 9-mile round trip. To follow that with a meet the next day made for some sore legs, but the Rockets had enough to win their first Twin City championship since 2012 with 26 points. Erin Porter finished fifth for the Rockets in 20:28, and Bryahna Ganther was 20 seconds behind in seventh place.
“Mid-week meets are hard. We ran long [Monday], 9-10 miles, and we knew we were going to be a little beat up,” Truesdell said. “It’s part of the building process. You try to get through it, and they did.”
Sterling’s Madilyn Barnhart and Madison Nicklaus were a few seconds behind the lead Rockets duo after the first mile. Barnhart finished third in 20:10, but felt that she could have done better.
“I could feel myself slowing down in the race,” Barnhart said, “and I think next time I want to get out there and get more aggressive. It’s a hot day, but I could tell, halfway through the season, I’m still trying to improve to get better.”
Karlie Hay led Newman with a fourth-place finish in 20:16. She had overtaken Barnhart during the third mile, but fell back behind her on the final straightaway.
“I kept a good pace throughout the first mile,” Hay said. “That last mile, I don’t know what happened. It killed me. It was just a downfall from there.”
Mika Martinez (20:51), Andrea Cervantes (21:22) and Aaliyah Gaffey (21:41) rounded out the top ten for Sterling, which finished with 36 points.
Newman finished with 74 points. The Comets’ second-through-sixth runners ran in a pack to within 21 seconds of each other, with Rosa Juarez leading it with a 24th-place finish in 24:11.
Girls cross country
Twin City Meet
1. Rock Falls 26
2. Sterling 36
3. Newman 74
Winner: Bailee Fortney, Rock Falls, 19:35