FOREST CITY, Iowa – Even without the results of the district track meet in Osage last Thursday; the Forest City girls track team was excited about their successes this season. They had five straight regular-season meet wins and won the TIC championship again – winning a meet for the sixth consecutive outing. And yes, to win those meets, Forest City needed their upperclassmen, but what really pushed the Indians from a good team to a top team in the state was their freshman and underclassmen.
Forest City went in with projected points to finish in the top-4 at the State Qualifying Meet in Osage. They could maybe sneak into the runner-up position if they had a good night. No team seemed to have the firepower to rival New Hampton. Forest City squashed that theory, defeating the Chickasaws by one point to win the SQM for the first time since 2004. You can draw a lot of similarities between the 2004 team and this year’s team. The most constant fact – they’re both stacked with athletes who worked hard and have the drive to do great things.
Once the 15th event was scored, those following the live stats started noticing something, Forest city was leading. The Indians weren’t just leading after all their best races were scored with nothing left – they were leading with four events left and would be competitive in all four. Forest City and New Hampton were tied with 97 points with two events left in the night. All that was left was the 4×100 and 4×400 to decide the district championship. Forest City was the favorite in the 4×100, while New Hampton was the favorite in the 4×400. Barring a major collapse by either of those relays, those races would no longer matter. Instead, it was going to come down to which team’s supporting cast finished highest. The Chickasaws finished sixth in the 4×100, while Forest City won to give the Indians a slight lead heading into the final race as expected. It was all up to the Forest City 4×400 team comprised of senior Keevan Jones, sophomore Emile Weaver, sophomore Jaden Jerome, and freshman Brennen Grunzke. To win, Forest City needed the four to finish fifth or better. If they finished sixth, Forest City and New Hampton would tie, and if they finished in seventh or eighth, New Hampton would win. Jones got them out early and into fourth place. They would bounce back and forth between fourth and fifth throughout the race, and it was up to the freshman, Grunzke, to hold off Waukon’s Cameron Johnson to finish fifth and give the Indians the title. When you ask team members about the team’s camaraderie, they will tell you just how close all of them actually are—making it fitting that a foursome that won’t get to run of the blue oval wins them the team title. Proving it takes everyone to win team championships, not just the team’s stars.
The ’04 team was a confusing one. The senior class that graduated in 2003 was a talented one. Even Chuck Etzen, who coached the ’04 team, admitted in an article that he was worried in March. But behind a little hard work and determination, they dominated the regional meet to win by 53 points. They also sent 15 events to state that year; that included 15 different girls participating in them. Mairead Kelly Brynn Phillips, and Kassi Olson competed in three different events. The rest of the participants were spread out from field events to open races – nearly every event at the state meet in Class 3A had Forest City representation.
Where do you start with this year’s team? The storylines write themselves. Senior Keevan Jones ran at the state last year and was part of the 4×400 team leading to the district championship. Senior Shae Dillavou has had arguably one of the most remarkable female careers at Forest City when you combine her accolades in all sports, while senior Regan Helgeson not only battled through an injury that destroyed her junior year but, like the rest of the athletes, went through the COVID pandemic. Junior Lili Nelson has been consistently one of the top distance runners on the track or course the past two seasons. How about the freshman? Bethany Warren will compete in four events over the weekend at state, which is remarkable after breaking her hip in eighth grade. Colette Loges was considered the seventh-best 100m runner in the SQM but finished second to qualify for state. That also gave the Indians six extra points they weren’t projected to get – and the list goes on. Sopko says in both the conference meet and SQM, 17 Indians scored – all of which are part of the reason they won both. Sopko highlights some of the girls not mentioned above.
One thing is certain about both teams. They both knew that they could achieve great things with a little hard work.
Sopko took over the program six years ago from Scott Jackson and has continued with the success that started decades ago with Etzen. Etzen and the Indians won eight straight North Iowa Conference track meets in a row. Jackson continued the success, and now it’s still present with Sopko. With the state meet still to be run, you hate to look forward, but if the younger athletes continue to elevate, the program’s success has no signs of slowing down.
The Forest City girls will compete in 11 events at state and will look to claim their first state championship since 2002.
KIOW will have full coverage of the state meet starting tomorrow morning from Des Moines.