FORT DODGE — Chase Knoche can remember his feelings upon first experiencing the mass of humanity, competition and nerves that is the state cross country meet.
“I was scared to death.”
There was a different emotion, however, after the Calamus-Wheatland senior crossed the finish line Saturday.
A byproduct of a special four-year run that always seemed to culminate in the same spot: Lakeside Municipal Golf Course outside of Fort Dodge.
“The fact that I was always able to end my season here at state — that’s special,” Knoche said. “I’m proud of everything that we’ve been able to accomplish.”
The latest accomplishment came in the form of a state individual medal — Knoche’s second.
Tenth as a junior, Knoche improved his state placing for a third time — he was 117th as a freshman and 25th as a sophomore — finishing seventh overall with a clocking of 16:45.
Bellevue’s Brady Griebel, a familiar regular season foe, cruised to the state individual title, winning in 15:52, nearly 30 seconds ahead of runner-up Clay Pehl of Madrid.
Rounding out the top-25 at the race was another Warrior, Cal-Wheat senior Magnus Sands, who earned his 25th-place finish with a clocking of 17:29.
That made it three straight years in which the Warriors had two runners finish in the top 25, while also extending a unique streak that has had a Cal-Wheat competitor finish 25th in each of the past three state races — Knoche did so in his aforementioned sophomore season, then-senior Chandler Gannon did it last year, Sands this season.
Even as two competitors very familiar with the course — now a combined seven state races between them — both Knoche and Sands were delivered something new: a gusting west wind.
The wind’s impact came not only in its force, it gusted over 20 miles per hour, but also its direction.
Most of the race’s first mile sends the competitors west, right into the teeth of the wind.
It affected both Warriors’ strategy as they elected to stay back early and let others take the full brunt of the wind.
That had an additional benefit for Knoche, according to Warriors head coach Kevin Oberfoell, as it kept him from charging out too fast.
“Chase did exactly what we expected,” Oberfoell said. “To get out fast is not his style. Our mindset was that he had to run his race.”
Sands, however, wished he could have started just a little faster.
“I think I went out too slow,” the senior said. “I was catching and passing guys late [in the race], but I was too far back to move up enough.”
That late charge was another benefit of the experience Sands carried from his two previous state races.
“You know the different parts of the course, so you reach a part and you’re like ‘don’t cruise here, push it,’” the senior said. “And you know when it’s time to focus up and go catch people.”
“I thought Magnus ran a great race,” Oberfoell said. “I told him, the difference between the 10th- and 30th-place finishers is not much (in this particular race it was 45 seconds, less than the difference between first and 10th place).
“To move up in the end like he did was impressive. He just ran out of time.”
Knoche came up with his own strong close.
The Warrior worked to remain calm in his final prep race, but once he hit that final mile he knew that this was it.
“At about 1,200 meters (3/4 of a mile remaining), I knew it was time to go and catch some people.”
Knoche’s final clocking of 16:45 marked the seventh time this season that the senior had finished under 17 minutes.
“Chase battled the whole race,” Oberfoell said. “To come home with two state medals, that doesn’t happen often.”
It wraps up another strong four-year run for the Warriors’ latest group of seniors. Knoche competed in four state meets and was a two-time individual medalist, Sands ran in three state meets, finishing in the top 25 in each of the last two, while a third senior, Seth Beuthien, joined them on the 2018 and 2019 Cal-Wheat squads that brought home state trophies.
And that is just on the state level. The trio were also part of three Tri-Rivers Conference championship teams, a pair of state-qualifying meet titles and numerous regular season victories.
“You have to appreciate the accomplishments that this group has put together, especially two state trophies,” Oberfoell said. “But the most important thing is that these are three great young men and they have nothing but respect from me.
“I can’t thank these guys enough.”
“What we seniors have accomplished is special,” Knoche added. “And I really think this year is the most fun we’ve had.
“What we’ve done these past four years, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”