The fire in Leah Bontrager’s eyes became evident in the final 50 yards of the Southeast Iowa Super Conference championship meet.
While other runners seemingly struggled to finish off the 5-kilometer run this past Thursday at the River View Country Club in southern Iowa near the banks of the Des Moines River, a determined Bontrager reached into her energetic reserves.
Bontrager, a junior at HIllcrest Academy, charged past Van Buren County’s Faith Nesley and into eighth place.
“I love being able to beat someone at the end,” Bontrager said.
The eighth-place finish was the best of any area runner at the league championship and earned a third straight all-conference honor for Bontrager.
But the job wasn’t finished. After passing Nesley on her home course in the final yards, Bontrager made sure she greeted Nesley during the postrace recovery process.
“I always congratulate them,“ she said.
Addy Parrott of Danville, who is ranked among the top five in Class 2A and finished fourth behind a trio of Mid-Prairie runners at the HIllcrest Academy Invitational on Oct. 5, won the girls varsity race with a time of 18:57.
Bontrager finished with a time of 21:29 over a course that measured out at 4.88 kilometers.
“Leah got it done again, all conference,” said Ravens coach Marty Gingerich.
Highland’s Madison Thomann, who has been finishing strong as the season heads to championship competition, finished 18th with a time of 23:15. Highland teammate Taylor Sublette was 51 seconds behind her in 24th place.
Carlos Valenzuela of Highland was 33rd in the boys varsity race.
Bontrager, who began her season with an eighth-place finish in the Hillcrest Early Bird Invitational on Sept. 1, methodically plowed her way through the field as the girls race went on. She is not a sprinter. You won’t find her taking off the front of the pack as the starting gun sounds.
Instead, she’ll hang back and kick things into gear just as the other runners are struggling against the distance, the hills, and on this day, the heat.
“I try to start out slow,” she said. “Especially here, everyone goes out really fast. By the second mile, I’m passing a lot of people. Even by the first mile, I passed quite a few.”
And she does it with a smile. First mile, second mile or third mile.
“I try to run with a smile as much as I can so people know I’m enjoying it,” Bontrager said.
Bontrager was joined by three Hillcrest teammates in the girls race. Julia Boller was quicker in each split and finished 35th with a career-best time of 25:21.
“She just ran a real smart race,” Gingerich said.
Kennedy Roth was 55th with a time of 28:40 and Taryn Leichty was just behind her in 56th place.
Other area finishers included Highland’s Fiona Mahler in 43rd place (26:37) and Katelyn Waters in 46th place (26:59).
Valenzuela, of Highland, secured a 33rd-place finish in the boys race with a time of 20:10.
Will Kolck, a senior, finished 41st with a season-best time of 20:20.
“Will had a good race today,” Gingerich said.
Other finishers included Highland’s Bryce Thompson, 44th place, 20:32; Hillcrest’s Collin Miller, 48th, 20:40; Lone Tree’s Cale Christofferson, 52nd, 20:53; Lone Tree’s Alberto Cortez, 64th, 21:34; and Highland’s Jacob Roling and Ethan Paisley, who finished 67th and 68th, respectively.
Hillcrest senior Madeline Fox finished third in the girls JV race with a time of 23:16.
Next up are the state qualifying meets on Oct. 22. Runners finishing among the top 10 will qualify to run in the state championship meet on Oct. 31 in Fort Dodge.