FORT DODGE — When the 2013 cross country season began Perry boys head coach Jeff Fox and lofty expectations for talented junior Atem Akok.
Akok proved worthy of the accolades he had received before and during the season from Fox and opposing coaches by racing to a third-place finish in the Class 3A State Cross Country meet Nov. 2 at Kennedy Park.
Boone’s dynamic senior duo of Chandler Austin and Albert Meier finished 1-2 for the second consecutive year, with Akok a close third. Austin won in 15 minutes, 5.6 seconds, nearly 45 seconds faster than his Toreador teammate, who crossed in 15:53.5. Akok was just a few steps back at 15:57.4, with Center Point-Urbana junior Josh Yeager fourth in 16:09.8.
"Atem cut nearly 30 seconds off his best time and that was, I think, because he saw he had a shot at Meier," Fox said. "He was confident he could finish third and he wasn’t really challenged, not with a 13-second margin (back to fourth place).
"Meier twisted an ankle and fell about one mile in and he ran what I think is the most courageous race I have ever seen, to do that with an ankle I know had to be killing him," he added. "Atem did what we wanted and got out away from the pack and out of traffic. Towards the end he started coming up to Meier and turned it on a little to try and catch him, but Meier is just one of those special kids and had enough to go hard to the end."
Boone topped Charles City, 69-82, for the team crown, with Decorah third at 114.
Akok became the first Bluejay to earn All-State status (a top 10 individual finish at the state meet) since Robby Webber ran to second place in 1999.
"I don’t think Atem was really pushed that hard in most of his races this year," Fox said. "I think there is a lot more in his tank."
Jacob Day of Charles City (Sr., 16:13) was fifth, with Bo Hjelle of Algona (Jr., 16:13.3) sixth, Chase Smith of Garner-Hayfield (So., 16:15.6) seventh while Oskaloosa junior twins Skylar and Spencer DeJong (16:21.4 and 16:22.1) were eighth and ninth, with Grinnell senior Mason Doty 10th in 16:27.1.
"I did not expect to see anyone between us and the Boone boys in the last half mile and I knew Atem would win a footrace with anyone who came up behind him," Fox said. "He has had a great year and has even greater things ahead of him."
A trio of former Perry students ran in the girls Class 2A State Meet, with Gilbert junior Grace Gibbons winning her second state title with a clocking of 14:28.6, well ahead of runner-up Becca McDermott of Cascade (Fr., 15:01.4). Gibbons was the Class 4A state titleist as a freshman at Dowling Catholic before moving.
Panorama sophomore twins Meredith and MyKenzie Olson were 81st and 98th overall in 17:44.1 and 18:48.2, respectively.
Gilbert won the 2A team title with 59 points. Unity Christian (76) was second with Panorama (303) 14th.