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MCDONALD'S GAME OF THE WEEK (Cross Country): Iowa–Grant Invitational
Connollys siblings pace host Panthers
Iowa–Grant sophomore Hope Connolly led the I–G girls with a sixth-place finish (22:30.4) at Saturday’s season-opening Iowa–Grant Invitational. Connolly helped the Lady Panthers place fifth at the six-team race.

CROSS COUNTRY: Iowa–Grant Cross Country Invitational

LIVINGSTON — The local prep fall sports season is officially under way.

Iowa–Grant hosted the six-team Iowa–Grant Cross Country Invitational Saturday monring, the first official high school sanctioned athletic contest in The Platteville Journal coverage area since last March when the WIAA was forced to cancel the remainders of the girls and boys basketball seasons, as well as spring sports, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The brother/sister duo of senior Nick Connolly and sophomore Hope Connolly paced the host Panthers. Nick, who led the Iowa–Grant boys to a 10th-place team finish the WIAA Division 3 state championship race a year ago while finishing 14th individually, won Saturday’s boys’ race.

The older Connolly crossed the finish line with a winning time of 17:48.6 to win the 46-runner boys’ race and lead the Panthers to a second-place team finish. Brookwood edged Iowa–Grant 35–56 for the boys’ team title.

Sophomore Mason Aide, who placed 69th at state a year ago as a freshman, also medaled Saturday with a fifth-place finish at 18:44.3. Fellow sophomore Owen Laufenberg placed 11th (19:40.4), while newcomers senior Lucas Oyen finished 19th (20:54.0) and freshman Cyle Steffel placed 20th (20:56.9) to round out I–G’s five-man scoring team.

Junior Dylan Bingham (21:56.9) and senior Nic Pennekamp (22:05.6) finished 27th and 28th to round out the Iowa–Grant varsity team.

Southwestern/Cuba City/Benton senior Drew Robson finished second at 18:21.4

“We had five first timers for us in the race,” said Iowa–Grant head coach Jake Winkler. “It’s figuring out how to push through discomfort and figure out the difference between running and racing. 

“I thought Nick Connolly looked outstanding for his first race. About a half mile in he had pushed himself to a solid lead, and from there he just kept grinding. He ended up winning the race by about 30 seconds. Nick will be in similar position in most of our races this year, so it is going to be a challenge to find a way to push the pace even when there’s not another person there pushing it.”

Hope Connolly ran to a sixth-place finish in the 42-runner girls’ race with a time of 22:30.4. Junior Ella Wolf placed 17th (22:44.9) for the Lady Panthers, who finished fifth with 107 points. Albany held off Brookwood 46–56 to win the girls’ team title. Fennimore (87) finished third.

“Our course isn’t the most physically challenging, but the first loop of the course is nearly a mile long along the perimeter of a 40 acre field, so if you’re not aggressive at the start the race can get away from you,” said Winkler. “ In the girl’s race I thought Hope Connolly got out really well and established herself in that lead pack. She fell back a little bit, but overall I was happy with how she raced.

Southwestern/Cuba City/Benton standout junior Kayci Martensen, the 2019 Division 2 individual state champion, blew away the field to win the girls' individual title with a winning time of 18:58.8. He freshman sister Hanna Martensen finished second at 21:32.6, followed by Fennimore senior Lauryn Bunn (21:43.9), who was a 2018 state qualifier.

“It was exciting to be back racing,” added Winkler. “Practice has been great, but there’s nothing quite like a meet. My athletic director proposed us hosting which at first I was nervous about, and in the end I’m glad we did because having a meet really gives us some results that we can focus on and grow from. I think going forward it’s going to be interesting to see how different schools handle COVID-19, but this gives me confidence that we can have a successful season. It’s been such a roller coaster of wondering what the season would look like, or if we’d be able to even have a season, so this Saturday was special.”

Iowa–Grant will return to action Saturday at the two-day Darlington Cross Country Invitational. The Panthers will run as part of Group 3 with Fennimore, Pecatonica/Argyle and Riverdale. The girls will race at 9:45 a.m. with the boys set to run at 10:30 a.m.

Iowa–Grant Invitational
(from Saturday, Sept. 5 @ IGHS)
(Girls, 5,000 meters)
Team scores: 1.Albany 46, 2.Brookwood 56, 3.Fennimore 87, 4.Southwestern/Cuba City/Benton 92, 5.Iowa–Grant 107, 6.Riverdale 126.
Top individuals: 1.Kayci Martensen (SW/CC/B) 18:58.8, 2.Hanna Martensen (SW/CC/B) 21:32.6, 3.Lauryn Bunn (Fennimore) 21:43.9, 4.Ava Ahnen (Albany) 21:55.02, 5.Mckenna Broughton (Albany) 22:00.0.
Iowa–Grant (107): 5.Hope Connolly 22:30.4, 17.Ella Wolff 24:44.9, 26.Evie Whitaker 27:00.9, 27.Brie Straka 27:03.1, 32.Brena Straka 28:22.1, 35.Leslie Barolo-Rivera 28:57.8.
(Boys, 5,000 meters)
Team scores: 1.Brookwood 35, 2.Iowa–Grant 56, 3.Southwestern/Cuba City/Benton 69, 4.Albany 108, 5.Fennimore 114, 6.Riverdale 122.
Top individuals: 1.Nick Connolly (Iowa–Grant) 17:48.6, 2.Drew Robson (SW/CC/B) 18:21.4, 3.Cristian Barrientos (Brookwood) 18:37.8, 4.Dylan Powell (Brookwood) 18:39.2, 5.Mason Aide (Iowa–Grant) 18:44.3.
Iowa–Grant (56): 3.Nick Connolly 17:48.6, 5.Mason Aide 18:44.3, 11.Owen Laufenberg 19:40.4, 19.Lucas Oyen 20:54.0, 20.Cyle Steffl 20:56.9, 27.Dylan Bingham 21:56.9, 28.Nic Pennekamp 22:05.6, 28.Nic Pennekamp 22:05.6, 30.Caden Pennekamp 22:19.6, 37.Feliz Bartolo-Garcia 23:18.5, 40.Albert Rosalez 24:14.6, 43.Ryan Esser 26:16.8.