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Luke Jones is on his way to winning the DODEA European cross country championships on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

Luke Jones is on his way to winning the DODEA European cross country championships on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022. (Kaitlyn Barnes/Special to Stars and Stripes)

Vanessa Alder and Luke Jones are a few years apart in age and come from much different backgrounds.

But DODEA-Europe’s newest champions have a lot in common besides winning their respective races Saturday at the organization’s season-ending cross country championships in Baumholder, Germany.

To start with, their journeys to the sport began after they decided years ago to switch from other sports.

“I tried soccer, I tried swimming, I even tried gymnastics,” Alder, a Stuttgart senior, said via a phone interview Monday. “I was just terrible at all of them. So my mom said ‘Look, I was a runner. Let’s have you try that.’”

Jones, a Wiesbaden sophomore who only started attending American schools his freshman year, grew up playing soccer with German teams. “They only practiced four times a week,” he said Monday in another phone interview. “And I’d come home and wouldn’t be tired. So my dad said: “Let’s have you give running a try …’”

Both runners were not surprise winners, having dominated their respective races all season long. But both weren’t taking anything for granted.

“(The season) gave me a good sense of confidence,” Alder said. “But every race you go into, you have to be prepared for anything to happen.”

In this case, Lakenheath’s Abra Mills got off to a blistering start and grabbed Alder’s attention. The two had never competed before. “I’ve got to give her credit,” Alder said. “She’s a great runner and really pushed me.”

It wasn’t until “the final mile, the last hill that I knew I still had enough,” Alder said before turning in a course record time of 18 minutes, 30.68 seconds. Mills finished in second (18:51.35) and Vanessa’s freshman sister Lily was third (19:06.79).

Stuttgart easily won the girls team title with a total of 32 points. Wiesbaden was second with 59.

Vanessa Alder said she competed all by herself a year ago at the Pennsylvania state championships before transferring to Stuttgart her final season.

“Having a team there was great,” she said. “It really makes all the difference.”

Vanessa Alder and younger sister Lily compete and train constantly with each other, including at this race earlier in the season. Vanessa Alder broke the course record Saturday at the DODEA European cross country championships in Baumholder, Germany.

Vanessa Alder and younger sister Lily compete and train constantly with each other, including at this race earlier in the season. Vanessa Alder broke the course record Saturday at the DODEA European cross country championships in Baumholder, Germany. (Janeth Alder/Special to Stars and Stripes)

Jones’ effort – he finished in 16 minutes, 51.17 seconds – couldn’t stop the Panthers from sweeping the Division I team standings. Vilseck’s Jackson Cochran was second in 17:11.02, but the next four division runners after that were all from Stuttgart – which finished with 28 points to the Warriors’ 64.

Jones, coming off a fourth-place finish last season, said he had at least a small feeling that someone in his race hadn’t been putting forth their best effort all season and was just waiting for Saturday’s race.

Still, he didn’t panic when a bunch of other runners took the lead shortly into the race.

“People always do that at these races and I was pretty confident they couldn’t keep up that pace and I would be able to catch them,” he said.

He also credited second-place finisher Cochran – who he competed against several times this season – with pushing him. He said he only broke away during the last part of the challenging course.

“It’s called Rolling Hills Golf Course for a reason,” Jones said.

Both Jones and Alder won’t be competing for their schools in the winter and will instead start running again soon in preparation for the spring track season. They have specific goals in specific events for track, but also have goals for cross country next year.

For Jones, that could mean coming back to defend his title and break the 16-minute mark – he was a few seconds off in a race earlier this season at Ramstein. For Alder, that could mean following her older sister Carmen – and both parents – to Brigham Young University.

Though Division I runners took the majority of the top places, some runners from smaller schools did break through. Aviano’s Benjamin Udall was fifth (18:03.24) and the top Division II runner and teammate Everett Taylor was ninth (18:25.37), a spot ahead of Ansbach’s Brody Hocter (18:29.15) – the top D-III runner.

In the girls race, Hohenfels’ Jalissa Jobity – her school’s lone representative – was 12th in 22:33.45 and the top D-III runner. Vicenza’s Kayla Lubba (22:33.45) was two spots behind and the first D-II runner to cross the line.

In Division II team competition, Aviano won the boys and American Overseas School of Rome won the girls. Brussels swept Division III.

DODEA-Europe championships

Saturday at Baumholder, Germany

Boys

Division I

(Top 5 runners per team)

Stuttgart 28, Wiesbaden 64, Ramstein 85, Kaiserslautern 97, SHAPE 149, Vilseck 156, Lakenheath 164, Frankfurt 172

Division II

(Top 4 runners)

Aviano 24, Black Forest Academy 28, Vicenza 41, Naples 59

Division III

(Top 3 runners)

Brussels 9, Ansbach 15, AFNORTH 31

Top 30 individuals

1. Luke Jones (Wiesbaden) 16 minutes, 51.17 seconds, 2. Jackson Cochrain (Vilseck) 17:11.02, 3. Carter Lindsey (Stuttgart) 17:37.80, 4. Jackson Coombes (Stuttgart) 17:50.61, 5. Benjamin Udall (Aviano) 18:03.24, 6. Alex Daniels (Stuttgart) 18:03.31, 7. William Morken (Stuttgart) 18:18.25, 8. Brandon Seyler (Kaiserslautern) 18:22.09, 9. Everett Taylor (Aviano) 18:25.37, 10. Brody Hocter (Ansbach) 18:29.15, 11. Josiah Alexander (BFA) 18:19.18, 12. Jacob Porter (Kaiserslautern) 18:33.57, 13. Noah Jorgensen (Brussels) 18:35.01, 14. Jax Watson (Wiesbaden) 18:35.26, 15. Nicholas Ellinger (Stuttgart) 18:57.61, 16. Andrew McGovern (Vicenza) 18:58.77, 17. Rhys Thayer (Wiesbaden) 18:59.67, 18. Nathan Johnston (Stuttgart) 19:03.90, 19. Jakobe Jeans (Ramstein) 19:04.56, 20. Spencer Jackson (Ramstein) 19:06.59, 21. Preston Jackson (Ramstein) 19:07.26, 22. Ezra Kona DeLeon (Brussels) 19:16.44, 23. Zachary Taylor (Aviano) 19:19.63, 24. Cade Wedekind (Brussels) 19:20.63, 25. Tudor Vavari (SHAPE) 19:22.53, 26. Seth Leishman (Frankfurt) 19:23.40, 27. Cooper Swain (BFA) 19:23.76, 28. Lennon Spakousky (Wiesbaden) 19:25.42, 29. Logan Conrad (Lakenheath) 19:26.15, 30. Benjamin Schuck (Ansbach) 19:26.98.

Girls

Division I

(Top 5 runners)

Stuttgart 32, Wiesbaden 59, Kaiserslautern 83, Ramstein 83, Lakenheath 85, Frankfurt 150

Division II

(Top 4 runners)

American Overseas School of Rome 38, Naples 43, BFA 46, Marymount 46, Vicenza 50

Division III

(Top 3 runners)

Brussels 10, Sigonella 11

Top 30 individuals

1. Vanessa Alder (Stuttgart) 18:30.68, 2. Abra Mills (Lakenheath) 18:51.35, 3. Lily Alder (Stuttgart) 19:06.79, 4. Julia Harris (Ramstein) 20:36.32, 5. Ella Bishop (Stuttgart) 20:47.40, 6. Piper Parsells (Kaiserslautern) 21:10.68, 7. Sophie Templeton (Stuttgart) 22:03.04, 8. Annastasia Berghammer (Wiesbaden) 22:12.79, 9. Kendall Kaloostian (Wiesbaden) 22:15.01, 10. Jade Saunders (Wiesbaden) 22:33.27, 12. Jalissa Jobity (Hohenfels) 22:33.45, 13. Samantha Ramsey (Kaiserslautern) 22:37.82, 14. Kyla Lubba (Vicenza) 22:37.91, 15. Bryce Watts (Wiesbaden) 22:39.35, 16. Mya Loringer (Ramstein) 22:41.14, 17. Ryleigh Ervin (Aviano) 22:44.84, 18. Lena Hermann (Kaiserslautern) 22:52.30, 19. Saniya Townes (Alconbury) 22:59.12, 20. Lilian Austin (Stuttgart) 23:00.98, 21. Kayly Eimicke (Sigonella) 23:07.68, 22. Claire Dalling (Ramstein) 23:29.82, 23. Natalia Bergdorf (Wiesbaden) 23:37.37, 24. Natalie Lords (Ramstein) 23:42.74, 25. Haley Mitchell (Brussels) 23:51.23, 26. Kiera Andreasen (Lakenheath) 23:51.49, 27. Alexandria Balsamo (Naples) 23:52.24, 28. Natalia DiMatteo (AOSR) 23:57.83, 29. Samantha Odegaard (Lakenheath) 24:00.39, 30. Isla Balderson (Stuttgart) 24:02.03.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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