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PELLA — What was billed as a deep and talented freshman performed as advertised in the season opener for the Central College women’s cross country team.

The Dutch put up a fight against a powerhouse Loras College squad, getting edged 24-35 Saturday. Coe College also had two individual entrants but was unable to field a full team due to health issues.

“We were running against one of the better teams in the conference and I think we did relatively well,” coach Joe Dunham said.

Five of Central’s top seven finishers were freshmen Saturday. Mari Stein (junior, Okoboji) improved by nearly a full minute over her 5,000-meter time in last year’s opener on the Central College Cross Country Course, finishing second in 19:52.0 One of the NCAA Division III’s top performers, Kassie Rosenbum, ran away with first place in 17:56.7.

“Mari’s put in a lot of work,” Dunham said. “It’s been a big effort for her but she’s really bought into the training and into what we’re doing and we’re starting the results from that.”

The next four Dutch finishers were freshmen. In their collegiate debuts, Caroline McMartin (Pella) was third (20:06.3), Lindsey Davidson (Northwood, Northwood-Kensett HS) was seventh (21:05.8), Alyssa Mayhew (Aurora, Ill., West HS) was 11th (21:33.3) and Kate Hoogensen (Ankeny, Centennial HS) was 12th (21:37.2). Lauren Coon (sophomore, Oskaloosa) followed in 13th (21:49.2) and another freshman, Layken Bytnar (Bettendorf), was 14th (21:58.8).

“I’m pleased with the way they competed today,” Dunham said. “We had some good surprises and some areas where we’ve got some work to do but overall I was pleased with the effort. The competitiveness was there. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but we’re moving in the right direction. Hopefully we can build off of that and continue to improve.”

Dunham is excited about his young squad’s potential.

“We’ve got big goals,” he said. “Our goal this year is to become a relevant team in the conference and be one of those teams with a shot at the championship. I’m not saying we’re there yet but we’ve going to run, compete and train in a manner that will allow us to get to that place. I think we’ve got the right attitude with the team, the culture is really good right now and there’s just a lot of excitement around what we’re doing.”

Training during a pandemic created some preseason obstacles but Dunham said his squad has persevered.

“Now that we’re all together as a team we’ve just got to continue to practice those safety measures so we can continue to train together,” he said. “It’s just one more element to an already difficult sport to train for but ultimately the safety of our student-athletes is what we’re most concerned about.”

Central has another league triangular Saturday, Sept. 26, competing with Buena Vista University and Luther College at Storm Lake.

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