Reloaded for the long run
ROCK FALLS – Mark Truesdell won't say his Rock Falls cross country teams are rebuilding. Rich Montgomery won't let him.
"Our AD doesn't like 'rebuilding.' It's always 'reloading,' " Truesdell said. "Maybe that's the theme we try to use."
If the Rockets are rebuilding, they don't look like it. The Rock Falls girls line up with just three seniors on their roster (Bry Ganther, Kacey Estrella and Sydney Reyes) alongside four sophomores and a freshman.
But the results often look the same, with multiple Rockets streaming over the finish line in the top places. At a triangular with Amboy and Rockford Lutheran earlier this week, the Rock Falls girls had six runners in the top eight. Two of the sophomores, Gracie Rippy and Tayli Hultin, claimed second and third.
On the boys side, things are a bit more stark, where Dawson Smith has gone on to life as a Southern Illinois Saluki, and the Rockets are left leaning on a roster with no seniors and just three juniors, one of whom is Booker Cross, a transfer from the football program.
Life without Smith means it's junior Matthew Marcum and sophomore Victor Rivera leading the way.
"Having Victor and I pull – because when we pull, it's like a train – we pull in the front and the back follows and it's a constant flow," Marcum said.
Marcum said that some of the recent graduates put some time in running with the current Rockets over the summer. From that group, he said the current runners learned "how to be in the right mindset when you're running and push yourself the best you can."
Against Amboy and Rockford Lutheran on Tuesday, the Rockets got scoring from two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, with two other freshmen finishing not far back.
"We're very young, so everything is a work in progress, but I'm excited for the guys," Truesdell said. "They're going to get beat up for a while, but they work very hard and they're very young."
For the girls, it was junior Calin Gaulrapp leading the way on the course on Tuesday, and Hultin said it's Gaulrapp leading the way at other times as well.
"She really pushes us," Hultin said. "She always tells us that she knows we can do better and we should try to stay up with her or keep up with the person in front of us."
Gaulrapp had a couple of years to run alongside the likes of Alex Gomez, Erin Porter and Bailee Fortney. In that group they had Fortney, who ran to a fifth-place finish at state last season, as well as a couple of current college runners, Gomez at Eastern Illinois and Porter at Oral Roberts.
In that group, the current Rockets also had three excellent teachers.
"Once we held onto them for so long, we learned that we can handle that," Gaulrapp said. "We learned a lot of confidence."
Gaulrapp still thinks the Rockets can take other teams by surprise, even as they forge a new identity.
"I think that since we haven't had many meets this year, we'll have to get used to racing again, especially by ourselves," she said. "We held on to the older ones so much last year. We're going to have to try to find ourselves."
The Class of 2020, and even some of the classes before that, left a strong legacy for Rock Falls cross country to live up to. But even some of the runners feel like they have reloaded.
"We really have a good team this year, and we really are staying together, so I think throughout the end of the season we could do a really good job," Rippy said.