GALESBURG — United Township’s Dalton Martin stood tall and relaxed at the finish line at Lake Storey Park on Thursday, congratulating friend and foe alike.
Many of them were out of breath, but not Martin. He had finished much earlier on an overcast day with temperatures in the low 60s with a time of 15:22 on the 3.1 mile course. More importantly for the senior, it was his first-ever Western Big Six cross country title.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be conference champ here today,” said Martin. “Spencer Smith, from Alleman (who took second about 15 seconds behind Martin), he’s beat me every single race this year.”
Martin said he had major doubts he could win Thursday, but that changed quickly.
“I got off the line and felt really good, so I went ahead and pushed it,” Martin said. “My coach told me to ease off, but I just had a feeling today, and I went with it.
“It means a lot to win it senior year,” added Martin, who took third a year ago and fourth his sophomore year.
Smith felt bad about missing out on the individual championship, but he felt better soon when he learned Alleman had won the boys team title for the fifth time in six years, regrouping after last year’s loss. Moline won the girls title.
“He earned it,” said Smith of Martin. “He’s a helluva runner. His grit and determination, I really admire that. I think he really put on a show. I tried my hardest.”
Smith was suffering from a cold but quickly smiled when it came time to talk about the Alleman team.
Alleman had four runners finish in the top eight. Besides Smith’s second, Aaron Mickelson took fourth, Ben Weaver sixth and Brendan Hird eighth. In addition, sophomore Tony VandeWalle took 11th. The first three earn all-conference for finishing in the top seven.
“That’s what we look for,” Smith said. “That’s what a state team is like. Team-wise, this is the best meet we’ve had all year.”
Pioneer coach Scott Stoll looked like a politician on election night, believing the Pioneers had won but holding off celebrating until he got the official word.
“Now, I know it for sure,” said Stoll. “Now I can celebrate. I am super proud of our guys. They wanted it really badly.”
Moline coach Tauwon Taylor was thrilled with his girls team, which finished eight points ahead of Quincy, and pretty pleased with the boys, who took second, 18 points behind the Pioneers.
“This is where, as a coach, I won my first conference title with the girls in 2005,” said Taylor. “So to make it all the way to 2017 and to win it again … it’s been a couple years since we won the (girls) conference title.
“You never know how often it’s going to happen, so you relish the moment. We knew going in it was going to be between us and Quincy and that Galesburg was going to have some girls up front. So it wasn’t going to be given to us.
“The girls ran hard. They ran their hearts out today.”
The Maroons’ top four girls were all freshmen, led by Lylia Gomez, who took fifth.
“We did really well,” Gomez said. “We had a lot of girls pretty close, packed in together, so I think that really helped a lot.”
Kiliegh Burge took sixth for Moline, which also got a 13th out of Madison Lodico, 15th out of Grace Vinzant and 16th out of senior Alexis Wolf.
The Moline’s boys were led by Andrew Ellison, who took third with a time of 15:57.5. The top local girls finisher was Alleman's Addie Pulley, who took third.