Sophomore Lainey Bilau felt a sense of accomplishment completing Thursday's Blair Cross-Country Invitational.
One thought went through the Bear's mind as she stopped the clock at the end of 5 kilometers:
“I did it,” she said. “I finished.”
Coach Carson Norine's BHS boys took fourth in the team standings of their home meet, while the girls were seventh. Fort Calhoun was fifth and fourth, respectively, while Arlington led all of Washington County. The Eagles were second in the boys' pecking order, while also third in the girls' team race.
It was Elkhorn North, though, that swept the team titles on a course that stretched as far west as the high school staff parking lot to the low land east of Otte Blair Middle School.
“Lion mode,” Bilau said, defining the mental strength it took to finish the race Thursday evening.
Green, May lead AHS
AHS senior standout Keelianne Green won the Blair Invite with a time of 20:13.05.
The defending state champion beat second-place Ella Ford of Elkhorn North by more than 12 seconds, leading her girls team to its third-place finish.
Hailey O'Daniel, meanwhile, finished fifth for coach Michaela Curran. She clocked in at 21:00.43 as Brynn Eckhart (32nd), Whitney Wollberg (38th), Kelise Cook-Krivohlavek (39th) and Kynlea Kleveland (61st) followed for the Eagles.
On the boys' side, AHS junior Nolan May was the first Washington County runner to reach the end of the 5K. He was third overall behind Mesuidi Ejerso of South Sioux City and Omaha Roncalli's Gus Lampe, finishing in 17:31.35.
Eagle Kevin Flesner was 13th in 18:18.9 and Dallin Franzluebbers placed 15th in 18:21.32, too. Franzluebbers knew he was in contention at around the 2-mile mark, thinking to himself, “I've got to go.”
Luke Hammang added a 16th-place result for AHS, while Kolby Tighe was 19th and John Morrison was 23rd, respectively.
Franzluebbers attributed his and the Eagles' success to several factors.
“The pre-run prep felt really good,” he said, also noting rested legs, plenty of sleep and the Arlington team dinner the night before.
3 Bears place
The home course was tough Thursday, but the BHS Bears were coming into it battled-tested.
“Last week, we, obviously, had (Lake) Wanahoo, which was a lot worse compared to this,” said senior Zac Keeling. “In all honesty, this isn't that bad.”
As a result, three Bears earned top-15 finishes. Dawson Fricke took seventh, Reece Ewoldt was 10th and Calin O'Grady claimed 14th.
Fricke earned his place in the boys' race with a time of 17:58.21, while O'Grady finished in 18:21.28. Ted Lueders added a 17th-place result in 18:32.2, while Keeling (22nd) clocked in ahead of teammates Caleb Funk (29th) and Isaac Field (43rd).
“It's sad, but it's kind of a necessary conclusion,” Keeling said of his final Blair Invite.
Ewoldt, meanwhile, earned her standing in the girls' race with a 21:43.15 5K. Blair's Allie Czapla was 19th in 22:31.17, while Bilau was 23rd, Bella Matzen was 42nd and Chloe Schrick was 43rd.
Bilau said her BHS team continues to build toward the championship races at the end of the cross-country season.
“We're all physically there,” she said. “It's just our minds. That's all that can ever hold us back.”
4 FCHS runners medal
Four Fort Calhoun runners medaled Thursday in Blair.
Lance and Ely Olberding took fifth and sixth in the boys' race, while Maelie Nelson was sixth and Bria Bench was eighth in the girls' 5K. They stopped the clock in 17:52.42, 17:58.03, 21:16.64 and 21:23.6, respectively.
Pioneers senior Kaitlyn Thalman, who earned 29th in the girls' race, said the most challenging part of the BHS course was the incline on the southeast portion of the course.
“I used my arms to push myself up the hill, even if it was really hard,” she explained. “After I got up the hill, I felt really proud of myself. I was like, 'I did it. I did not walk up the hill. That was my goal.'”
Thalman was the third FCHS runner to finish ahead of Bella McLaughlin (39th), Harley Schwarte (44th) and Emily Barta (50th).
In the boys' race, Travis Skelton (26th), Lawson Tjardes (28th), Will Dennis (33rd) and Gage Nixon (35th) came in after the Olberding brothers.
“I'm really proud of my team right now,” Thalman said. “Everybody's really pushing hard and trying their best. And everybody's supporting each other and pushing each other to keep going especially when it's really hard.”
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