FORT DODGE, Iowa — Lifting weights in the summer before their freshman year at Council Bluffs St. Albert, cross country runner Scott Theulen noticed slightly built Josh Sindelar, a football player in junior high.
Theulen must not have believed Sindelar possessed all-state potential on the gridiron.
“Scott kind of approached me and he said, ‘Hey, we need some kids on the cross country team. And you’re kind of built the same way I am,’ ” Sindelar said. “He kind of talked me into it.”
Soon Sindelar’s football career was over. And Saturday at the Lakeside Golf Course, Sindelar broke away from a tight pack and confirmed the brilliance of that sport switch. The senior crossed the line in 16 minutes, 15 seconds to win by 11 seconds and become the first Falcon boy to win an individual state cross country title in school history.
“I know there was some kids that could take off at the end and come get me,” said Sindelar, who was fourth last year. “But not today. Not today.”
A few minutes later, the news got even better. The Falcons repeated as the 1-A team champions, scoring 68 points to outdistance runner-up Denver by 16.
Fittingly, St. Albert’s four seniors filled the first four spots on the team. Theulen placed seventh, Evan Siegrist ran a personal best by more than a minute to finish 19th and Adam Christensen was 45th. Junior Gus Doll was the fifth scorer in 50th, while freshman Max Ross and sophomore Fred Hug rounded out the team.
“It’s totally thrilling,” St. Albert coach Bob Weidman said. “I could say something special about each one, especially the four seniors. Josh wins the title, it’s awesome. Scott ends up in the top 10. Evan Siegrist, who was a JV runner last season, runs the race of his life. And Adam runs a PR today. Those four seniors led us.”
Riverside also enjoyed its best team finish, earning a third-place trophy and making a coveted walk on the deck as fans cheered below. The Bulldogs finished with 158 points, led by junior Brandon Sipherd (32nd) and senior Ean Patrick (40th).
“At the beginning of the year, I never would have guessed this, losing so many guys,” Riverside coach Alex Oliver said. “But I told these guys after the race, ‘You came to practice every day. You worked your butts off. You made this happen.’ I didn’t know what place we were in. I thought maybe top five. But they earned it. They deserve it.”
From all accounts, Sindelar also is deserving of his accolades. He’s an Eagle Scout and owns a 3.8 grade-point average. After attending Crescent Elementary, he came to St. Albert in sixth grade and enjoyed playing football in seventh and eighth grade.
His father, St. Albert assistant Russ Sindelar, said Josh wanted to play football as a freshman. But he didn’t want to ride the bench.
“I said, ‘Go run,’ ” Russ Sindelar said. “And he did it from there. I’m really proud of Josh.”
A little prodding from Theulen completed the switch and soon they were toeing the line for the first meet of their freshman year.
“That first meet I was right with him,” Sindelar said. “He actually beat me, which is the only time he ever beat me. First meet ever at Logan-Magnolia. He still (reminds) me.
“Second race, I ran a better race. I kind of figured out I could do this. From there on out, I knew it was my sport.”
On Saturday, Sindelar was in a tight pack of five through most of the first half of the race. He eventually was overtaken briefly, but never lost contact.
“I didn’t let it get to me,” he said.
Soon, in the final mile, he was surging to the lead and stretching it out. Normally reserved, he exulted as he crossed the line.
“I feel like everything came together, all the puzzle pieces went in place,” he said.
Said his father: “My heart was in the back of my throat.”
Theulen was only 28 seconds behind, in seventh. Just like Sindelar credited his teammates, Theulen praised Sindelar.
“He’s always pushed me farther than I could ever push myself,” he said. “Without him, I don’t know where I’d be. Josh pushes me so much during practice.”
Siegrist’s career effort came in his first trip to Fort Dodge because he was always on JV. It was the first time he’d finished third on the team.
“I was towards the back for the first half-mile,” Siegrist said. “Then the adrenaline kicked in and I just couldn’t stop.”
Soon all of the Falcons were celebrating their team title.
“That just exemplifies our team,” Josh Sindelar said. “Finish your last race your hardest, and obviously that goal was accomplished today.”
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