COLUMBUS JUNCTION, Iowa − Once they band together, a Wildcat pack is tough to break apart.
Earning first place out of eight teams that registered a team score at the Mike Jay Invitational on Monday, the Durant boys cross country team had four runners place 11th or better and tallied just 46 points.
Sophomore Zach Hein led the Wildcats with a fourth-place finish in 17 minutes, 58 seconds, followed by junior Easton Botkins in fifth place in 17:59, junior Jack Voss in seventh in 18:18 and junior Anthony Mundt 11th in 18:50.
All four runners improved their times from their previous meet, the Marquette Catholic Invitational on Oct. 2, despite competing on the notoriously hilly course at Cedarcrest Golf and Country Club.
The Durant girls didn’t fare much worse, finishing third overall and helping Durant secure the Dick Peterson Combined Team Champion award.
“The boys and girls both did fantastic,” Durant boys coach Andrew Hermiston said. “It’s a hard course and they came through.”
The individual champion of the boys race, sophomore Buddy Darting, led Wilton to a fifth-place finish with 89 points.
“I tried to start out fast and follow the gator as close as I could,” Darting said. “I was pretty happy with my time. I beat last year's time by quite a bit.”
Darting won the event last year as a freshman, but crossed the finish line 32 seconds faster in this year’s race to defend his title, clocking a 17:08.
Hunter Humiston and Marc Estrada led the host team, Columbus Community, to a sixth-place finish with 121 points. Estrada finished 13th in 19:02, and Humiston 15th in 19:06. Louisa-Muscatine finished seventh in the team standings with 178 points.
“Marc and Hunter consistently give us strong leadership up front,” Columbus coach Steve Riley said. “And I am so happy with the way Johnny (Espinosa, who finished 26th) is running. He is starting to really show his ability.”
West Liberty sophomore Jimena Fierro was the top area finisher in the girls race, finishing second in 21:45. The runner-up in the team standings, Wilton, finished with 62 points and received a top-10 performances from Emmy Drake, who finished third in 22.42, and Linsey Ford, who finished ninth in 23:38.
Ellie Berry, who finished fourth in 22:58, and Tori Novinski, who placed seventh in 23:27, paced a Durant squad that finished just two points shy of second with a 64 total.
Competing in her final race at her home course, Columbus’s Jenessa Carpenter medaled with an 11th-place finish in 23:49.
“I feel like I probably went out too fast at the beginning, kind of died,” Carpenter said. “I was in third, and my legs just started to cramp up and give out, but I went as fast as I could for the rest of it and I got what I got.”
Carpenter, who has been running since she was in the fifth grade, still feels like she is inching closer to where she was a year ago when she ran a career-best 21:45. She finished in a season-best 21:50 at last Thursday’s conference meet and continues to pursue her first qualifying bid to the state meet.
“I feel like last year was my year,” Carpenter said. “This year I ran two marathons (one in June and another a week before official practice) and kind of died, my legs are dead. But over the years I’ve made a lot of improvement, I’ve gotten a lot better.”