Zahn makes triumphant return; Dodgers take gold

WEBSTER CITY – Cole Zahn used words like thankful and blessed moments after finishing up some post-race hill work as the sun started to set on the Webster City Links Tuesday evening.

The Webster City junior could barely walk 100 meters at this time a year ago thanks to a degenerative hip injury that wiped out his entire cross country season. So to not only run 5,000 meters, but to do it well – team-leading well – in the opening meet of the season, well, let’s just say he doesn’t take it for granted.

Nor should he.

In just his second career varsity run, the 2012 North Central Conference junior varsity champion showed that he’s fully healed following a rigorous recovery from hip surgery, as Zahn looked calm and confident on his way to an 11th-place finish against a loaded field at the Lynx Invitational.

“It felt really good. I’m very lucky and very thankful to be running again,” Zahn said after turning in a time of 17:55.40 – a personal-best by five seconds – that led WCHS to a fourth-place finish in the team standings. “It was an overall great day … it was perfect.”

Lynx head coach Tony Bussan expected Zahn to be the rabbit that the rest of his teammates chased. But to watch Zahn actually do it, with what he’s been through, just added to the respect the coach feels for his athlete.

“He’s put in the work to know he can go out hard and sustain the effort,” Bussan said. “The mental toughness that kid has show, I mean there’s nothing about a 5K that scares the kid. He can go out and put the hammer down and finish strong.”

Zahn was put to the test by a quick pace from the leaders, but he was able to stay in contact with the top 10 throughout. He missed a top-10 finish by just eight seconds.

“I opened up 25 to 30 seconds faster than I wanted to just because the top 10 was going that fast,” Zahn said. “It was tough … there was some really good competition.”

Fort Dodge Senior and third-ranked (Class 3A) Algona went head-to-head in a battle for team bragging rights. The Dodgers depth proved to be a little better, as they placed their five scoring runners in the top 10 and scored 27 points. The Bulldogs had four of the first seven dash across the finish line and settled for second with 32.

Fort Dodge took individual gold and silver, courtesy of Alex Jackson (16:22.88) and Thomas Thompson (16:51.03).

“Fort Dodge public did a great job and we knew about Algona,” Bussan said. “It was a good field.”

Eagle Grove (105) wound up a distant third, with the Lynx (112) right on their heels.

WCHS improved by 68 points from the 2013 meet; No. 7 runner Demar Lemus (19:41.52), who was 46th, would have been the team’s No. 3 a season ago.

“We ran well and we’ve got good boys depth,” Bussan said. “We’ve got room to get better and that’s the challenge to the kids. It’s the beginning, not the ending. The story they want to write is up to them.”

Pack running was key to the Lynx ascent on the leaderboard. They placed six runners among the top 30; the second through sixth runners were separated by just seven places and 17 seconds.

“The key here is it’s absolutely essential to stay close together,” Zahn said.

Freshman Tyler Bultena gained the edge on his teammates as they all raced up the final incline, as he leaned across the finish line in 22nd in 18:40.07. Jacob Perin (18:41.85) was just over a second behind in 24th.

Seth Crouthamel (18:55.33), Trey Nelson (18:56.45) and Connor Foster (18:57.96) placed 27th, 28th and 29th.

“I was very pleased to see our pack running,” Bussan said. “It was a real credit to freshman Tyler Bultena for stepping up and that certainly bodes well for the future. He was clearly suffering at the mile-and-a-half to the two-mile mark … he didn’t feel well, but he still gutted it out.”

No. 12-ranked (1A) Fort Dodge St. Edmond rounded out the top five with 150 points.

WCHS was second in the JV team race with 38 points, five behind St. Edmond (33). Esler Mejia (19:09.70) and Cole Youngdale (19:10.97) finished second and third.