FORT DODGE, Iowa — Motivation can be a powerful tool.
For Pleasant Valley’s athletic programs in 2017, it has fueled them to the top.
The girls tennis and softball programs suffered gut-wrenching losses in championship games in 2016 but came back to capture state titles the following season.
PV’s boys cross country team did the same Saturday at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course.
After falling two points short to Dowling Catholic at last year’s state meet, the Spartans returned with a vengeance and left the field in the dust.
With five runners in the top 20, PV compiled 61 points to claim the program’s fourth state championship and first since 2008 by 45 points over Dubuque Hempstead and Dowling.
“I knew we could win, but I didn’t think we’d do this,” senior Konnor Sommer said. “This was incredible, something really special.
“It was amazing watching everyone have their best race on the right day.”
As Sommer crossed the finish line in fourth place, he turned back and saw several of his teammates close behind on the final straightaway.
Anthony Pena was ninth, Gavin Smith 11th, Ian Kaffenberger 18th and Parker Huhn 20th. The separation between Sommer and Huhn was just 33 seconds.
“This is the best race we’ve had all year,” Pena said.
“We were all excited to run in cold weather,” Huhn stated. “We’ve had a lot of hot weather this year. We came to run today, and we finally made the step we wanted to.”
Since its three-peat from 2006-08, PV has been a fixture at the state meet and usually among the top five.
A title had eluded them.
With last year’s top runner Nicholas Yanek moving to Georgia in the offseason, some wondered if PV had the firepower to dethrone Dowling.
That, coupled with last year’s close loss and defeats to Dowling twice during the regular season, made the Spartans eager to write a different script.
“We were ready for redemption,” Smith said. “We were ready to win it.”
Kaffenberger said the team watched videos from past PV teams that won state and how they finished races.
“That led us to believe we could do it,” he said.
The 61 points are the lowest PV has scored in its four state championship victories.
Coach Erik Belby had an inkling his team was poised for a breakout performance. During the team’s one-mile time trial on Monday, they had nine runners faster than what the top seven ran on two of those previous three championship teams.
“They knew they could do it, and they did it big,” Belby said. “It was really cool to see them come through so confident and deliver in a big, big race.
“They were determined from the first day of summer.”
Sommer and Pena have been frontrunners all season. Smith has been steady as the team’s No. 3 and came into the state meet ranked 10th.
Kaffenberger and Huhn pushed the Spartans over the top Saturday. They were only 12 and 14 seconds behind Smith, something that hindered them in meets against top-tier competition earlier this season. In fact, PV had five cross the finish line before Hempstead or Dowling had three.
“I know I snatched four or five guys at the end. Ian did the same, and couple of them were Dowling kids,” Huhn said. “That was really big for us.”
PV came into the meet loose, relaxed and confident.
They went bowling Friday night and had a heartfelt conversation about rising to the occasion.
“We said big-time athletes show up in big-time races, and the boys showed up today,” Pena said. “Nothing is ever given to you, but motivation was a huge part of this.
“We did not want to fall short like last year. That motivation drove us throughout the winter, spring, summer and this season. It was a great, great feeling.”