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VINTON — Jeremy Fopma prefers company when he's racing on a cross country course.
More often than not, the Marion senior finds himself just racing against the clock. He makes the most of it and did it again Thursday.
Fopma dominated his way to the boys' individual title at the Wamac Conference cross country meet at Vinton-Shellsburg High School. Center Point-Urbana's Adrianna Katcher won the girls' title for the second consecutive year.
Fopma, who was runner-up last year by a second, finished in 15:45, coming in 1:02 ahead of second-place teammate Harrison Vanderlinden.
'It was a good race,' Fopma said. 'The course was a little bit tough and kind of windy. I felt pretty good out there.
'I kind of got out to see how I feel. I thought it was an overall good time. Kind of where I wanted to be with no competition. I could go faster if there was. '
Last year's conference champion and former Marion teammate, Myles Bach, transferred to CPU, but he didn't compete Thursday.
Fopma separated himself from the pack early and consistently pulled away with a 5:04 pace per mile. Without a body to push him, it becomes a race with the clock and testing himself.
'You just really have to focus,' Fopma said. 'I try to put in some surges here and there to make sure I'm not falling off pace without noticing it because I'm getting tired. You have to push. You have to stay mentally focused more.
'There are crowds everywhere and people cheering you on. Even if they are from a different school, they always say good job. That really helps.'
The defending Class 3A state champion has faced this situation multiple times through the season. Marion Coach Terri Keeney said that Fopma is never complacent and isn't the type to coast with a lead.
'He's been used to it all year,' Keeney said. 'He's been training for the times he wants to run and he hits those times.
'He's bound and determined. Even though he's not being pushed in some races, he is practicing, knowing he will be soon.'
The only thing that hindered Fopma in the slightest is a long bus ride and lack of facilities, leading to some discomfort the last half of the race. Other than that, there wasn't a stumble.
'The last two miles I had to go to the bathroom a little bit,' Fopma said. 'It slowed me down, sort of. I started to cramp up, but I felt pretty good.'
This meet leads into a two week stretch that includes the district and state meets. Fopma has a conference title in hand and he likes his status as the postseason approaches.
'It's a race you want to win,' Fopma said. 'It's a good spot. These are the three big races of the year.
'To get through the first one, get a win, feel good, totally healthy (and) feeling fast, it's just good to get through this and be right there. The team is right there, so we're feeling good.'
Katcher was in control the entire race, crossing in 18:30 and beating Benton Community's Sophia Gilbert by 12 seconds. Gilbert challenged her briefly during the middle of the race, but once she reached the hills of the course her confidence was restored.
'I think I ran my race,' Katcher said. 'As soon as she caught up to me, I put in my head that I was going to pace her a little bit and then bring it out by kicking it in the last mile or so.'
Katcher claimed her second straight conference title, which isn't much of a surprise given her 3A state title as a freshman. Wamac gold still is valuable, even with bigger prizes ahead.
'It is right up there,' Katcher said. 'It's not as important as state, but one of the things I hope to accomplish.'
Katcher will turn her attention to practice, working to get better as the postseason approaches. She is ready to give her best for a chance to defend her state crown.
'I'm a lot faster,' Katcher said. 'I'd say I'm a lot stronger than a year ago.'
Gilbert helped the Bobcats capture the girls' team title in a highly competitive field that saw the top four separated by just 10 points. Benton had three in the top 10, including freshman Hailee Ricklefs in sixth at 20:10 and sophomore Lauren Woeste, who ran 20:21 for 10th.
Benton edged Marion by four points, 88-92. Paige King was 23rd with 20:59 and Katelyn Buscher scored for the Bobcats.
Marion finished four points ahead of third-place Solon. Hallie Kephart was seventh at 20:10 for the Indians.
Solon edged Anamosa by two points for third, getting an eighth-place finish from freshman Kiersten Conway (20:16).
Mount Vernon-Lisbon's balance helped bring home a fourth straight boys' team title, topping Marion by eight points. The Mustangs had three of the top seven individuals. Thatcher Krob and Garrett Herring finished third and fourth, clocking in at an identical 16:50. Payton Bahl was seventh, crossing in a tie of 16:59.
Kaden Kilburg and Caden Eskelsen rounded out the scoring for the Mustangs, who won with 56 points.
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