The Oskaloosa cross country teams have had a very successful season as both squads are among the top 15 teams in Class 3A by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches' latest rankings.
The girls are ranked eighth while the boys are 15th and three reasons why the teams are ranked are the accomplishments of the DeJong siblings — Skylar, Spencer and Sienna.
Skylar, a junior, has been victorious in all five races this season, including last Tuesday's race at Newton.
His twin brother, Spencer, has recorded three runner-up finishes and third in two others while Sienna, a freshman, has been in the top five in every race with two thirds and three fifths.
Spencer, who is the elder statesmen of the trio, said it's interesting to have siblings on the team.
“Most kids during middle school don't have a sibling before and they want to try out with their friends,” he said. “When you have siblings doing it, it's like 'My brother and sister can do it maybe I can do the same thing.' That's how I did it. It's helped me a lot because when he runs hard, I can push myself as hard as I can with him.
“He's helped me push a lot because I have to aim to try and catch up with him at every meet.”
“We all push kind of each other. When we get home after the meet, we always talk about what we did and how we can improve and what we did good at,” Sienna said. “I just like that we're always positive to each other and always supportive.
“Team wise, Bailey (Blythe) has pushed me a lot. In middle school, she was never really up with me. I was always more in the front. But now in high school, she's really pushing it so that makes me want to be better.”
Skylar said he got interested in running because it was it was something new to do.
“This was definitely the new to do so I went out and tried it and I just began to love it,” he said. “Our old coach (Keith Comfort) who is our coach's father (Mike Comfort) always said 'Cross country is a sport you can always have. In football, you're done after college or high school. But in cross country, you can always do because you can always go out and run.' I just love that philosophy. I just love the sport because it's so much fun.”
Spencer said with Sienna running hard this season, he thinks he's been a good motivation for her.
He added that it was Skylar who got the ball rolling for the other two to try the sport out.
“During middle school, Skylar was a big sports guy and he wanted to try out for a bunch of sports so he tried out for cross country as a seventh-grader,” he said. “I didn't get interested in it because I wanted to wait and see what happens. When Skylar was doing good, my family decided 'Spencer, maybe you should give it a shot.' So I thought freshman year, I would join my first cross country team. I did a good job and I just I got on to it. Sienna joined later and that's how it all started.”
“Spencer has been a big part of my life,” Skylar said. “Every race I know he's back there and I know he's trying to catch me. I know have to push it harder or else he is going to catch me. It's great to have him back there because I know he's going to help lead the rest of the team as well. If I'm having a bad race, he's going to make sure I pick it up.
“To have Sienna come up is just awesome to have her, seeing her compete as well as she does. It's going to be amazing what the DeJong family can do in the years to come.”
Spencer said the competition is the reason why he's out for cross country. He knows people who talk about sports like football a lot, but when it comes to cross country, the talk is about times and who is up there. “We get to train hard, but after that, we get to talk later and see how everybody is doing.”
As far as which sibling is the better runner, both Sienna and Spencer said, without question, it's Skylar. Spencer said it's hard to keep up with his twin brother because he's “so good.”
“He's done it throughout the years so he's had more experience,” Sienna said. “He knows how to run.”
Syklar got involved in cross country really as an after thought.
“When I was in elementary school then sixth grade then all through middle school, I wanted to play football like every other kid on the street would,” he said. “I wanted to play soccer more, but we didn't have enough kids on the soccer team so I ended up playing soccer instead of football. I grew apart from football and I saw cross country was in the fall and thought it would be fun. I talked a couple of my friends to do it. It's been a blessing ever since.”
“Skylar was a really good runner in middle school and throughout high school and I thought it was a really cool sport,” Sienna said. “I didn't really like volleyball and I wasn't very good at it in the sixth grade when my friends would play with me. I thought why not (go out) since Skylar is doing it maybe I should try. I tried it and I was pretty good so I kept with it.”
Oskaloosa coach Mike Comfort is quite happy having the trio on the team.
“They push each other because Spencer and Skylar always has a training partner,” he said. “You bring in Sienna and she sees the older brothers having success and that motivates her to get better.
“They have a strong work ethic and the desire to be the best they can be. They want to be the best and that what separates the good runners from the average runners in cross country. They work hard and never take a workout off and always want to do more.”
Spencer and Skylar are on the Oskaloosa soccer team and Sienna said she'll go out for the girls team this spring.
Skylar said there's so much cardio go into both sports. He said the first two years, they would run track and play soccer in the spring and their cardio is supreme compared to everybody else and is beneficial for both sports.
“We have a lot more endurance in soccer when you run cross country,” Sienna said. “You can run miles on end so you can keep going and play the whole game instead of taking breaks.”
Herald Sports Editor Jim Gries can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org