In season of changes, XC program delivers successful year
By Micah Knebel

This year marked Valerie Pickett’s first season as head coach of the Denver cross country program. Pickett moved to the head coaching position after longtime head coach Sandy Sabelka’s resignation this past June. Before serving as the Cyclones’ head coach, she had been an assistant coach for the program and, before that, the head cross country coach in Emmetsburg and Wapsie Valley. In August, Pickett also joined the Denver School District as their high school science teacher.

This fall has meant changes for both her and the team.

“Balancing a new teaching job here in Denver with the addition of becoming the head coach was rough,” admitted Pickett. “Thankfully, I have had experience doing both in the past.”
Part of the changes included implementing some new training plans for athletes.

“I switched up the training quite a bit, added some things, cut out some things,” said Pickett. “The kids, for the most part, understood the reason for those changes, and, if they didn't understand it, they began to see results from it so learned that it was just fine to be doing something new.”

With trust, hard work, and drive, the Cyclones were able to use that early season prep work to pull off another successful season.

In their conference meet, the varsity boys beat out 11 teams for a first-place finish. Senior Neal Pinter not only took first in the conference race but broke an 11-year school record with his finishing time of 15:41. The varsity and JV boys also claimed first at districts.

The varsity girls finished second and the JV girls first at their district event. At conferences, the #7 ranked varsity girls finished second, and then went on to take first at the state-qualifying event, securing their spot at state. They also ran some of their fastest times of the season during the conference and district races.

At state, the girls finished eighth. The four athletes that competed at last year’s state competition (Avery Trunkhill, Reeve Ristau, Hailey Homan, and Aubrey Decker) cut down their time by 2:41.

“I’d say that is significant improvement and a high level of finishing,” said Pickett.

The other members of this year’s state competition team included Ari Valverde, Sophie Sanderson, and Lily Cooper.
The #5 ranked boys fell just one place short of qualifying for state this season, but they did advance two individual runners: #5 ranked Neal Pinter and #28 ranked Myles Matthias.

Pinter was runner-up at state and finished just two seconds behind the first-place finisher. Matthias finished 32nd in his first appearance at state.

Pickett also make some changes when it came to competing at state this season.

“The strategy was different than in years past because it seems like we just get passed and can't hold on at the halfway point,” said Pickett. “Due to this, kids were told to get out as if it was a normal meet. This allowed us to have more fight when the race gets really tough.”

“It was a fantastic showing for us and indicates very good things for our future!” she said.

The Cyclones closed out the season with a 129-31 varsity boys’ record, 123-33 varsity girls’ record, 74-12 JV boys’ record, and 61-12 JV girls’ record.

“Each person on this team came together to get those results,” said Pickett.

Beyond the results, Pickett says one of the things she really enjoyed this year was just spending time together as a team.
“I thoroughly enjoyed this team and loved every minute we got to spend together,” she said. “The kids knew they were valued. Most everyone seems to have enjoyed the season, and I will take that as a win.”

The team will lose 12 seniors in all: Jarett Clayton, Conner Clinton, Carson Haase, Ethan Larson, Grant Pautsch, Neal Pinter, Darwin Shollenbarger, Jason Waterman, Aubrey Decker, Ava Dunkin, Malea Gonnerman, and Gretchen Oltrogge.

“These are all amazing young men and women that have made a lasting impact within the Denver cross country program,” said the coach.
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