Special stories in the autumn breeze


This is a great time of year.

The salmon and bright red leaves on the tree out our front windows are gorgeous against the white brick of our historic, but frustratingly old, home on the east side of town.

There's nothing more autumn-ushering than Avenue E in late October in Fort Madison. There's a small bite in the air and football, volleyball, and cross country post-seasons wind down.

Melissa Freesmeier has another team peaking at "just the right time" and a win over empassioned rival Burlington Notre Dame gave the Crusaders something to jump and slide and stomp about Wednessday night.

The Nikes had knocked HTC  from the post-season the past two years, and I still believe you saw the Class 1A state championship in Fort Madison in 2020 and now again in Burlington in 2022.

Freshman Presley Myers stands physically over the opposition, but is learning under the capable hands and mind of Freesmeier and the HTC team that includes someone Myers reminds me of just a little bit - with the last name Foecke.

She doesn't quite - yet -  have that special thing that made Michaela, Michaela, but she has three years left to find it.

And Brooke Mueller was the senior that everyone needed Wednesday night if the No. 9 Crusaders were going to get past Gabby Deery's wicked middle attacks. Mueller just always seemed to know exactly where to put the ball each and every time. MK and Teagan Snaadt digging up the Nike brute attack didn't hurt either.

But Mueller's maturity and court awareness were an absolute requirement in getting it done in the Class 1A Region 8 championship at BHS.

Derek Doherty took another team to the state playoffs. Yeah, we all know they made it in 2020 when they rolled Knoxville in the "post season" and they went to Grinnell in the round of 16, but, for some reason, the IHSAA decided that year that only the final 8 made the "Playoffs" in the COVID-shortened year. Whatever.

No banner that year, but no one can take the green playoff banner from Fort Madison this year. The playoffs haven't produced the results that will put a smile under that Doherty beard, but each year the Hounds learn.

This year they learned what "close and collide" means. Waverly-Shell Rock was physical, fast, and violent. I felt bad for Henry Wiseman and even more-so for Kane Williams who were doing everything they could to catch and hold on.

Asa Newsome and McCrae Hagarty, a state wrestling champion and Iowa State recruit, are men playing high school football. The Go-Hawks will have a real shot.

But that doesn't mean that Ike Thacher wasn't gashing line gaps and getting to Cole Marsh in the backfield or Tanner Settles wasn't pancaking defensive lineman almost twice his size.

Settles took one lineman 12 yards into the secondary and flattened him. A moment that made me laugh and proud at the same time. These kids, as Doherty perfectly said, "didn't concede anything". I was proud to be from Fort Madison when Hayden Segoviano broke off a 21-yard run, Teague Smith bounced off four kids closing hard to get 10 yards, and Thacher slammed Marsh just after he let go with a throw downfield.

They kept pounding away despite the odds. Very impressive. And they learned. Great football is played that way, and we're getting there.

The 49-7 score doesn't show those things. But we see those things.

But the best story of the year maybe two freshmen girls who qualified for state, and a group of boys who did the same, running 20 minutes or so around state parks and golf courses this fall.

Avery and Addison Rump are certainly the feel good story of the year. These two little things just take off and run. Avery has been ranked in the top 10 in Class 3A all year. She finished 8th in the state at Saturday's Class 3A girls' cross country meet in Fort Dodge.

Avery doesn't even put her hair up or take off her glasses. She just runs. No primping, no worries, and if there's pressure there, we don't see it. A very mature young lady who just runs... and runs.

Her sister Addison, who was born two minutes earlier than her and has been battling shin sprints this year, still qualified for state. She said Thursday that to keep up with her sister Saturday, she would have to run "miraculously faster", which Avery smiled at and said, "You can do that."

Super humble kids with a sweetness in talking to reporters for the first time. You can't help but smile being around these two.

The other story to watch is a group of freshmen and sophomore boys who tend to pack run like wolves. They haven't really seen their potential yet, but I feel safe saying there's no other runners in the state that close better than these guys.

At qualifying last week they were just about in the middle of the pack at 27-32 halfway through the 5K at Washington Golf and Country Club.

I counted them off and then headed back to the finish line for photos and interviews.

As the leaders came across I looked down at my phone to see if the girls final results had finalized. The top runners for the boys started trickling in and I figured I had some time before the Hounds started crossing the line.


Here comes Mason McLey sprinting down the chute. I fumbled with my camera, but didn't get it in position in time. I looked up and here comes Riley Tripp right behind him. The two qualified individually, finishing at 14th and 15th, but then here comes Jacob Shottenkirk.

These three boys wiped about 15 runners in the last 800-1200 meters, a close that no other team in the field had. Shottenkirk is a sophomore, but the future is very bright here.

Freshman Nolan Guzman came off the course freakishly pumped after just running a 5K and setting his personal best by 40 seconds. He knew he hadn't qualified individually but was so happy for his teammates, you'd have thought he knew something else. Something a bit special.

With Guzman's and Shottenkirk's finish along with Peyton Lambert's 34th, the Hounds finished 3rd in the team scoring and the whole group gets to go.

John Cottrell will have to sit it out this year in his junior year with an Achilles strain, but Cameron Shutwell will step in and Castielle Johnstun will get in the pack, as well.

The fall sports season wraps Saturday morning in Fort Dodge and I'll pull over in some fast-food joint and pilfer their wi-fi to file the story and photos. But that's what I dig about the fall.

The only other thing is a bowl of chili and a peanut butter sandwich, but don't tell New Yorkers that, they shake their heads and crunch up their nose - But that's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Beside the Point, column, editorial, Sunday, Chuck Vandenberg, opinion, fall, sports, autumn, cross country, volleyball, football, playoffs, post season, state, Iowa High School Athletic Association


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