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Puumala climbs 42 spots in return trip

November 13, 2016
Reinbeck Courier

FORT DODGE While she can't remember much of last year's race, East Marshall's Melinda Puumala said the 2016 state cross country meet fared much better for the sophomore runner who was 45th (20:49.5) in Class 2A.

"I can't really remember much of last year, so I can't really compare," Puumala said. "I pretty much died last year, so this year I did pretty good. [The pace] changed a lot. I was telling myself I'm just going to ditch the people I usually run with, and those are the people we flip flop with beating each other. And today I said, 'I'm going to go for Alayna [Kollasch], and she's ranked in the state, and I'm not even close to being ranked."

Kollasch, one of two Dike-New Hartford qualifiers, finished ninth (19:28.4). When asked if she was able to keep pace with Kollasch much during the race, Puumala laughed, shook her head and said she fell back into her usual race pace almost immediately.

"I thought, it's the last race, let's see how this goes. I've got nothing else to lose" Puumala said. "She took off at the beginning, and I changed my plans."

What was most challenging for Puumala wasn't so much the physical exertion it took to run her 3.1-mile race, but rather the mental side of Saturday's event.

"The funny thing is, when you're in cross country, and you go by a group of people, you always want to make it look like you're going fast," Puumala said. "But everywhere you run, there are people. So it felt like I was sprinting the whole race. This is my fastest race of the season and definitely not my best ever, but I still think I did good."

Puumala was 87th (21:38) last year, and improved on her state meet time by nearly a whole minute.

Sophomores Lily Ehlers and Reegan Zinkula were both freshmen on last year's 13th-place state meet team from Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck. This year, after missing out on the fall classic meet, the underclassmen duo ventured back to Fort Dodge to set out on their individual quests in the final meet of the season.

Ehlers led the way as she did last year (43rd, 20:49.7) and moved up five spots to 38th (20:41.5), while Zinkula also made up ground on her freshman year campaign, (92nd, 21:42.8) by finishing 63rd (21:16.6).

"It's an honor, once again to come here," Ehlers said. "It's too bad the team didn't make it, but it was a fun experience and this was the best I've done the whole season."

Zinkula and Ehlers swapped No. 1 and 2 positions on the Spartans' team most of the season, with Ehlers finding a late-season edge.

After just missing out as a team qualifier, Zinkula said she went back looked at who all she needed to be around in order to accomplish what she wanted to get done Saturday.

"We saw who we ran with at districts and my goal was to just be up with them," Zinkula said. "And it's state. Just do your best and have fun while you do it."

For Ehlers, it was all about small victories in the field.

"I wanted to be in the top half and to beat the usual people I see at some meets from around where we live," Ehlers said. "And I wanted to beat some of the people I couldn't beat last time, and some of the people I run with usually."

Both runners said despite not running their fastest races, they still felt like they put the finishing touches on an otherwise successful season.

West Marshall's Avril Sinning came through in 73rd place with a time of 21:33.9. Sinning, as a freshman, was the first individual qualifier for the Trojans since Victoria Pothast was a three-time individual qualifier from 2010-2012 (two-mile course).

The Trojans did qualify as a team in 2014, back when the race was ran on a two-mile course. Sinning qualified for the state meet at the Pella meet last week, running a 20:55.5, just behind Zinkula (12th), Puumala (11th) and Ehlers (10th).



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