ROCK FALLS – The top five finishers in the Twin Cities Meet’s girls race all wore black uniforms, while five of the top six in the boys’ race were also racing on their home course at Centennial Park on Tuesday.
Rock Falls’ girls team won their third straight Twin Cities title, while the Rockets’ boys squad broke Sterling’s 3-year dominance with its first victory in the annual meet since 2011.
Rock Falls beat Sterling 18-43 on the girls side, and accumulated just 19 points in the boys’ race – 30 fewer than the Golden Warriors, and 38 fewer than Newman.
Bryahna Ganther won the girls title in 19:53, just a second ahead of teammate Bailee Fortney. Dawson Smith dusted the field in the boys race with a time of 15:52.
Ganther ran ahead for most of the race, but felt more comfortable when Fortney and Alex Gomez (third, 19:59) joined her.
“It was super hard,” Ganther said. “You have to pace yourself and not go too hard. But then you go too hard and you feel like you’re dying, but you’re not. When the girls caught me at the second mile mark, I felt so much more confident that I could kick and go.”
“I wasn’t expecting to catch her because she’s been beating me the last few times we’ve raced,” Fortney said. “Once I got Alex next to me, we started pushing each other to catch Bry and finish 1-2-3.”
The top three raced hard against one another in the final mile, and Ganther had just enough to eke out the victory.
“It was every girl for themselves,” Ganther said. “No matter what happened, we were told to race each other like we’re enemies.”
Erin Porter took fourth in 20:21, while freshman Calin Gaulrapp captured fifth (20:26) for Rock Falls. Rockets coach Mark Truesdell was disappointed with his team’s third-place finish at the First To The Finish Meet last Saturday in Peoria, but was encouraged to see Gomez recover from an early-season calf strain.
“I’ll take the fault for Saturday,” Truesdell said. “That was frustrating all around. But our top four is starting to gel with Gomez back, which gives the group a huge boost of confidence.”
Tayler Lippens (ninth, 21:24), Xheneta Beqiri (10th, 21:27), Kasey Estrella (11th, 21:34) and Belen Mendoza (12th, 21:37) also ran in a close pack for the Rockets.
Sterling’s Andrea Cervantes finished sixth with a time of 20:46, and battled Gaulrapp for a spot in the top five for most of the race.
“She’s a sneaky, stealthy runner,” Sterling girls coach Tyler Gaumer said of Cervantes. “She’s real relaxed in the first mile, climbs in the second, and just keeps moving up. We’re trying to pack some girls around her. I don’t feel like we have a true No. 1, but we have a really solid group 1 through 8.”
Madilyn Barnhart (21:05) and Mika Martinez (21:08) finished seventh and eighth, while Madisyn Nicklaus (21:46) and Jenna Truesdell (21:47) were 13th and 14th for the Golden Warriors.
Annie Rude was Newman’s lone competitor in the girls race, cutting off a minute from her season-best time to take 28th in 25:35. Karlie Hey, who won the Rocket Run at Centennial Park on Aug. 21, did not compete due to a strain in her left ankle.
“If this was Saturday [at the Bureau Valley Invitational], she would have run,” Newman coach Pat Watkins said of Hey. “Today was about healing.”
In the boys race, Smith finished 31 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Spencer Mauch of Newman. The Rockets’ ace ran alone for most of the race, still pushing himself toward his season goal.
“You know you have to keep the pace, and if you slow down, it’s only going to make things harder,” Smith said. “It makes it tougher. What keeps me going is that I have a shot at state. The harder I push now, the easier it’ll be in November.”
Mauch actually led the race for the first 300 yards, but fell back into competing with Rock Falls’ Matt Laws for runner-up. Laws finished third in 16:46, 23 seconds behind the Newman senior.
“I went with my normal pace coming out, and everybody stayed back,” Mauch said. “I knew Dawson was going to take off, so I figured I’d stay with Matt and we can run together and push each other. Usually I have Shay [Hafner], but it was nice to have someone to keep pace with.”
The Rockets’ Devon Parker (17:47) and John Cid (17:59) rounded out the top five, while Javier De La Torre took sixth with a time of 18:16 for Rock Falls.
Hafner did not compete for Newman due to soreness in the back of his left knee. He tested the knee by jogging before the race, but was held out for precautionary reasons.
“Shay’s injury was a lot better today than it was [Monday], so that’s a good thing,” Warkins said. “I like this meet, but I didn’t want to take a chance on him straining his knee.”
Connor Simpson (ninth, 18:34), Ben Sheats (12th, 18:40), Noah Welty (16th, 19:04) and John Craft (19th, 19:53) were the Comets’ four other counting runners.
Sterling placed three boys in the top 10. Dillon Nitz captured seventh with a time of 18:23, Sam Janssen was eighth in 18:31, and Cameron Taylor took 10th in 18:36.33.
Javon Bruce (11th, 18:36.68) and Ruben Leal (13th, 18:49) were the Warriors’ two other counting runners. Seniors Mikio Martinez and Isaiah Moorman did not compete for Sterling after missing school Tuesday due to sickness.
“We had some younger kids step up and run well,” Sterling boys coach Greg Hendrix said. “Our top two finishers were juniors. We started slow, but it was nice to see us get back in it as the race went on.”