DIXON – The Dixon cross country teams took on their new home course at Sauk Valley Community College for the first time Saturday, taking individual wins in both the boys and girls races as Emma Smith and Brock Drengenberg were the first runners across the line.
But while Dixon's girls cruised to a team win over Rockford Christian and Rock Falls in the Big Northern Conference triangular, the boys team fell short of the Crusaders due to Rockford Christian's depth claiming six of the top eight spots.
In the girls race, Smith and teammate Jade Miller raced out to the front early, alongside Rockford Christian's Kelly Giardina.
"I just wanted to get out there because the beginning was kind of towards the right and we were far over," Miller said. "I just wanted to get into a good position early and just stay up top as best as I could."
By the two-mile mark, Smith led Giardina by about six seconds, with Miller not far back in third.
Smith pulled away further over the final mile to win by more than 10 seconds, crossing the line in 20:20.72. Giardana was second in 20:31.11, and Miller took third in 20:33.08.
"I want to get way faster," Smith said. "I just dealt with COVID, so I'm just starting to get back into things."
Rock Falls' Gracie Rippy took fourth with a time of 21:06.15. Behind the top three most of the way, she was never quite able to reel them in and finished in 33 seconds behind Miller.
"I really just had to focus on them because the course is just a plain course," Rippy said. "You really have to make goals in front of you, like 10 feet in front of you and try to reach them, and just keep saying '10 more feet.'"
The Duchesses also got a fifth-place finish from Paige Stees (21:22.30) and a seventh-place run from Taylor Hills (21:28.20). Emily Conderman was 10th (22:07.84) to round out the scoring.
Rock Falls' Calin Gaulrapp took eighth (21:28.61), followed by Tayli Hultin (12th, 22:11.21), Bry Ganther (13th, 22:22.50) and Sydney Reyes (16th, 23:02.26).
Dixon finished with 26 points as a team, beating Rockford Christian (50) and Rock Falls (53).
In the boys race, a pair of Dixon runners, Drengenberg and Cadyn Grafton, led most of the way, with Drengenberg leading his teammate by a few steps at the mile mark before opening up a 16-second lead by the two-mile mark.
Drengenberg crossed the line in 16:22.37, winning by more than 27 seconds over Grafton (16:49.66).
"I started out and felt pretty good, so I took it out a little fast," Drengenberg said. "I was able to keep it pretty straight through the end."
Drengenberg and Grafton had a slew of Rockford Christian runners fast on their heels, but were able to hold them off.
"It really just takes running throughout the week every single day and putting in the effort throughout the week," Grafton said. "It doesn't really come down to the final race, it just comes to building the fitness we have right now."
But the Royal Lions, claiming spots three through eight led by D'Artagnon Beaver (17:09.55), had the best team score with 25 points. Dixon had 33 and Rock Falls 84.
"We have a pretty young team," Dixon coach Simon Thorpe said. "We're asking some boys in our top five, three of them were JV last year, coming on strong as sophomores, still trying to figure out what their careers are looking like."
The Dukes claimed places nine, 10 and 11 with Brayden Bock (18:01.08), Isaiah Kuehl (18:19.11) and Jack Johnson (18:27.80). Dixon's Jacksen Ortgiesen took 13th (18:55.88), out-sprinting Rock Falls' Matthew Marcum to the finish line. Marcum, the Rockets' top runner, finished in 18:56.16.
"It feels good to be beat," Marcum said. "That gives us motivation to keep going and work harder.
"There was a line of Dixon people. I was just trying to pick them off one-by-one. I tried my best."
Victor Rivera was the next Rock Falls runner, taking 17th (19:36.78). Jose Gomez was 21st (20:25.90), Carter Dillon was 26th (21:06.40) and Josue De La Torre was 27th (21:11.74) for the Rockets.
It is Dixon's home course, but it's not one the Dukes and Duchesses are very familiar with. Dixon did not have any home meets in 2019, and ran at home in Page Park in 2018. The course on the campus of Sauk Valley Community College is a slightly modified one from what the Skyhawks cross country runners use, eliminating a circuit around the soccer field.
Dixon was scheduled to run at Sauk on Sept. 12, but that meet was rained out.
"We just walked it [Saturday] morning for the first time," Miller said. "I was a little confused at first, but we walked the whole thing. The last time I ran it was in middle school, so this is new, but it's pretty fun. I think it's a fast course."
It is not a very hilly course, so runners have plenty of chances to pick up speed.
"There are a lot of straightaways, so I like using that to gain some distance between me and everyone else," Drengenberg said. "It's really flat too, so there are no big hills to wear me out."
With last week's rain, the coaching staff rolled the course to make sure things were a bit smoother for the runners.
"It's a pretty lonely course, it can be, due to the cornfield and running along Route 2," Thorpe said. "Nobody had too many complaints about it, and it's just going to take getting used to running it to know how to attack it."