A youth movement is taking place on the Denison-Schleswig girls cross country team.
Ranked 13th in Class 3-A in the latest Iowa Association of Track Coaches team rankings, the Monarchs’ top seven are two sophomores and five freshmen.
The sophomores are 16-year-old Morgan Gierstorf and 15-year-old Ellie Mendlik, the 13th-ranked runner in 3-A. The rest of the varsity roster typically consists of freshmen Raegan Andersen, Dayana Lora, Gabby Parr, Morgan Goslar and Vanessa Gunderson. Senior Alejandra Marquez and junior Cortney Wingrove also will sub into the lineup on occasion.
So far, the results speak for themselves. Including Tuesday’s triumph at their own Denison Invitational, the Monarchs have won five meets on the year — at Logan-Magnolia, Harlan, Greene County and Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto.
There is no secret, Denison-Schleswig coach Bryant Rasmussen said. He was just fortunate to inherit a group of driven and dedicated young athletes.
“Once we talked to them, we had them buying in and running 150 to 200 miles during the summer, and that’s kind of led to the success they’ve seen so far,” Rasmussen said.
The Monarchs last qualified for state as a team 12 years ago. Mendlik qualified individually last year, finishing 18th overall, but she isn’t solely responsible for this year’s success.
Andersen has appeared in the 3-A rankings, and the Monarchs have displayed dominance at times with their pack running. Mendlik, Andersen and Lora finished 1-2-3 at the MVAO Invite. Overall, Denison-Schleswig placed five in the top seven at that meet.
“I think a lot of people at the beginning of the season underestimated Denison because we’re so young,” Mendlik said. “Last year, we didn’t have a great season. This year, we’re spreading awareness. We’re here, too.”
Making the performance even more impressive is how well the freshmen have adapted to the course length. The high school course is a mile longer than a middle school course, but adapting to the change has come smoothly.
“I think it’s really great how some of our freshmen didn’t even do cross country in middle school, and they’re here and we haven’t finished worse than third as a team,” Mendlik said. “No one complains during the practices. We have great mental toughness.”
The Monarchs are hoping that trait helps them to a Hawkeye Ten Conference title later this year and more success beyond.
“It’s honestly the mentality they came in with,” Rasmussen said. “They have this desire to be successful and be the best at everything that they do. It’s nothing really that we’ve been doing. They want to challenge for a Hawkeye Ten championship, and they want to challenge for a state-qualifying meet championship and go to state as a team. They’ve come in and set that as a standard that this is what they’re going to do.”
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