FORT DODGE – Joel Burris picked the perfect time to lead the Big Red Machine.
The Cedar Falls senior capped his career with a 10th-place individual medal in 16 minutes, 15 seconds, guiding the Tigers to a third-place score of 86 points during Friday’s Class 4A state cross country meet at Lakeside Golf Course.
“It means a lot,” said Burris, who was Cedar Falls’ fifth finisher when their five point scorers crossed the line within eight seconds of each other at the district meet. “Our places have been fluctuating all year and I just wanted to get out here and prove that I could be the number one runner on our team.”
Cedar Falls’ team finish was its best since a runner-up effort in 2015. The Tigers had climbed to the top of state rankings, but were unable to maintain as tight of a one through five pack needed to win the program’s fourth championship and first since 2005.
Sioux City North’s senior Jayson Bowers won the individual title in 15:31 and his teammate Will Lohr finished fourth in 16:00. That 1-2 punch guided a Stars team that had five runners inside the top 27 to a championship with 75 points. West Des Moines Dowling finished three points ahead of Cedar Falls with a total of 83.
“We went out there and ran as hard as we could and that’s all we could ask for,” Burris said. “It was a tough race with all the good teams in this field.”
Cedar Falls ran its opening mile to plan with four runners hitting the 4:50 mark near the front of the chase pack, and the fifth only a handful of seconds back. But that lead group of Tigers separated to three by the two mile mark and the team’s final two scorers each need to finish about 10 seconds faster to secure the team title.
“State’s always special because it’s so chaotic feeling and there’s so many people out here screaming at you,” Cedar Falls coach Scott Gall said. “I think that’s something they have to process in addition to the race itself.
“Our three guys that ran up front stuck together and we had a couple guys that lost track of those guys and that probably made it a little harder on them to relax.”
T.J. Tomlyanovich joined Burris as a medalist with a 15th-place time of 16:19. Brayden Burnett was 16th in the displaced team scoring in 16:24. Cedar Falls seniors Eli Smith and Michael Goodenbour rounded out the top five with team finishes of 21st and 26th in times of 16:34 and 16:39, respectively.
Goodenbour was the top No. 5 finisher from any team at this year’s state meet, revealing how much depth these Tigers possessed.
This year’s Cedar Falls varsity team was a group of five seniors and two juniors that trained together and were constantly pushing each other to achieve more.
“What I’m proud of them for is they always hopped in there and you know when they finish, they gave it everything they have,” Gall said. “They’re tired, they’re worn out and exhausted. They all came through like that.”
Indeed, this became a grueling race for a team that pushed the pace early.
“I tried to get out and stay with that front group and I could just feel around me people started to fall off,” Burris said. “I tried to hang on as long as I could and stick with that front pack. It was pretty tough, but the crowd noise and everything keeps me motivated and just makes you want to keep going.”
The Big Red Machine’s handful of seniors set a strong example for the program’s younger runners.
“These guys see what it takes and they see the work ethic,” Gall said. “But also these guys being of high character the whole time, too, it makes my job a lot easier and it makes it a lot of fun.”
In the 4A girls race, Cedar Falls’ duo of sophomore qualifiers were able to get a taste of competition in front of the large state crowds. Anna Scannell was 85th in 20:38 and Rachel Mandt 96th in 20:51.
Freshman Keelee Leitzen of Dubuque Hempstead won the race by 10 seconds in 18:08. Johnston captured the team title with 64 points.
Class 4A state cross country results
Team standings – 1. Johnston 64, 2. West Des Moines Valley 87, 3. Ankeny Centennial 141, 4. Linn-Mar 158, 5. Southeast Polk 174, 6. Dubuque Senior 179, 7. Dubuque Hempstead 202, 8. Pleasant Valley 214, 9. Cedar Rapids Prairie 226, 10. Waukee 238, 11. Bettendorf 240, 12. Ankeny 243, 13. Dowling 290, 14. Urbandale 301, 15. Indianola 367.
Individual leaders – 1. Kelee Leitzen (Hempstead) 18:08, 2. Lauren Schulze (WDM Valley) 18:18, 3. Kaia Downs (S.C. East) 18:20, 4. Bella Heikes (Johnston) 18:20, 5. Micah Poellet (Linn-Mar) 18:21. … 85. Anna Scannell (Cedar Falls) 20:38, 96. Rachel Mandt (Cedar Falls) 20:51.
Team standings – 1. Sioux City North 75, 2. West Des Moines Dowling 83, 3. Cedar Falls 86, 4. Waukee 131, 5. Dubuque Hempstead 137, 6. Iowa City Liberty 172, 7. Cedar Rapids Prairie 183, 8. Iowa City High 224, 9. Ankeny Centennial 243, 10. Johnston 276, 11. Iowa City West 280, 12. Pleasant Valley 281, 13. Urbandale 295, 14. Norwalk 298, 15. West Des Moines Valley 393.
Individual leaders – 1. Jaysen Bouwers (S.C. North) 15:31, 2. Ryan Winger (Hempstead) 15:45, 3. Jackson Heidesch (Dowling) 15:53, 4. Will Lohr (S.C. North) 16:00, 5. Andrew Bickford (Prairie) 16:06.