Run For Jacob: Hawks push pace for sick teammate at HOIC

AMES – Kayla Lucas went for the discreet look with small letters just below her wrist. Twin sister Kali wasn’t as stealth; she plastered it in large letters up her forearm.

There were other variations on the arms of teammates. Big letters and small letters; block print and script; and several were even underlined.

They all included personalized pictures of hearts, too.

Those scribbled letters – R.F.J., short for Run For Jacob – were all the motivation the members of the South Hamilton girls’ cross country team needed at yesterday’s Heart of Iowa Conference meet.

“We know that he really wishes he could be here and we were all running harder for him,” Kayla Lucas said, referring to teammate Jacob Heeren who remained in an Iowa City hospital as his teammates chugged up the hills and gutted it out in cold and windy conditions at the ISU course. “I just feel really awful about him having to be in the hospital. It’s tough for him.”

Heeren, a popular teammate with an enthusiastic personality, was taken to Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames by ambulance following last Thursday’s Jim Klein Invitational in Jewell after complaining of a sharp pain in the upper portion of his left arm. He was eventually transported to Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines before moving again to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Saturday.

Heeren’s diagnosis is still uncertain, according to Hawks’ head coach Darrell Paulsen.

“From what I hear they think it’s a viral thing. They just don’t know how he picked it up,” Paulsen said of Heeren’s condition. “They’ve been trying a lot of things, but right now we just don’t know a lot.”

Heeren led the boys’ team in every meet in which he raced this season, so his absence yesterday took a toll on the course. But running or watching, his teammates just want him back – sooner rather than later, preferably.

“Without him it’s like someone is lost,” Jacob Ratzke said after taking over as the top performer for the boys’ squad. “I haven’t spoken with him, but I’m hoping he’s OK and I hope he can come back.”

With Heeren on their minds, the 10th-ranked (Class 1A) Hawk girls went out and met personal expectations by placing second. South Hamilton tallied 109 points to nudge Greene County (111) and Nevada (116) for the silver. Fifth-ranked (2A) Gilbert was in a class all by itself; the Tigers put four runners in the top five and all five scorers in the top 12 en route to a miniscule championship total of 24 points.

“Gilbert deserves it because they’ve got a lot of good runners, so I was happy with second,” Paulsen said. “We ran well.”

Gilbert junior Grace Gibbons won the 4K race by what felt like 4K. In actuality, the 2011 4A individual state champion at West Des Moines Dowling built close to a one-minute cushion by the midpoint and came home in 14:17 – a gap of 1 minute, 24 seconds before teammate and runner-up Carly Rahn (15:41) crossed the finish line.

The fast pace set by Gibbons pushed the rest of the field and Kayla Lucas felt the burn as she strolled to the line in 16:40 to place ninth, good enough to earn one of the 12 all-conference honors.

“I think (Gibbons) does push everyone else, but then again you just have to run your own race,” Lucas said. “It was a faster race obviously, but I had a lot of energy and I actually felt really good.”

Meghan Fisher, MaKayla Monthei, Rachael Huegerich and Kali Lucas all ran together early on before splintering somewhat in the late stages. Fisher used a strong kick to place 15th in 17:09. Monthei (17:29) was 20 seconds behind in 26th and right on her heels was Huegerich (17:32) in 27th. Kali Lucas (17:54) cemented the second-place team finish by placing 32nd.

“Our team was all pretty close together,” Kayla Lucas said. “It’s a hard conference, but I think this is really good for us. I think this will be harder than (the state qualifying meet), and if we can run with these teams then I think we’ll be fine there.”

Without Heeren the South Hamilton boys’ team missed out on its opportunity to finish in the top half of the field. The Hawks settled for seventh with 197 points.

“It’s tough without your leader, but the boys ran tough,” Paulsen said. “Seventh is better than I thought we would place.”

Ratzke was content to run on the heels of teammate Drake Thompson over the first mile, but he eventually pushed the pace after the tougher hills were in the rearview mirror.

“It was pretty tough out there,” Ratzke said after finishing the 5K course in 19:44, which placed him 31st in the field of 120. “It’s got a lot of hills on the back and that makes it tough.”

Thompson, one of four freshmen in the Hawks’ lineup, broke into the top 50; he was 48th in 20:27. Classmate Hunter Johnson (20:36) placed 53rd. Senior Jordan Toillion (20:39) made a late push to jump up to 55th and rookie Gabe Rueger (20:45) was a few steps behind in 57th.

Gilbert dominated the boys’ field as well. The third-ranked Tigers powered by second-ranked (2A) North Polk, 35-53, at the top of the standings after receiving gold- and silver-medal runs from Thomas Pollard and Wesley Greder.

Pollard, a junior, sprinted to the front early on and never looked back. He wrapped up the title run in 15:52, 45 seconds in front of Greder (16:37).