Two rows of Plattsmouth Invite spectators funneled two Jacobs to the finish line Thursday at Rhylander Park.
One was Fort Calhoun senior Jacob Haggar, the other Blair freshman Jacob Rupp.
Both cross-country runners sprinted, legs wobbling, to the finish with the elder Pioneer edging out the first-year Bear 18:14.5 to 18:14.6 for 12th place.
Asked why he laid it all on the line in the season's first race, Haggar said there's no other way to go.
“I was pretty close to him at the end and figured I could get him,” he said.
Pioneers and Bears raced to the finish line at Rhylander Park, but both coaches agreed that Thursday's opener was just a start for their teams. Fort Calhoun was fourth in the girls' race and eighth in the boys' for coach Kyle McMahon, while Blair was fifth and sixth for Steve Callaghan.
“I think a lot of us are still getting into shape, you can tell that,” McMahon said. “We've got plenty of work to keep doing, but I thought, overall, we competed well — which is good. That's what I'm looking for in this first meet.”
The Bears' coach had similar feelings.
“We're pleased with the performances. We had a lot of kids step up,” Callaghan said. “But we also see where we need work and, again, we train for the 19th.”
The Nebraska state meet is Oct. 19 in Kearney.
Rupp, Galbraith lead Blair in opener
The Blair boys were without returning state-qualifier Sam Lueders on Thursday thanks to a minor injury.
In his place, Rupp led the way with a 13th-place finish. It was his first high school race and he admitted that his lack of experience showed early.
“I took off a little fast,” he said. “I felt good for about the first mile, I was running third first mile, but then coach yelled out '5:16 first mile' and I just knew it wasn't good.”
Rupp still managed to lead the Blair varsity lineup, which included Kadan English, Kyle Thomas, Adam Brehm, Zac Boswell and senior Jarod Jones, who coaches say earned his spot through hard work during the offseason.
English, another senior, was 21st in 19:01.5, while Thomas (19:12.3), Brehm (19:59.7), Boswell (20:40.6) and Jones (22:31.3) followed.
The Blair girls, meanwhile, logged two top-15 finishers who were presented medals at the race's conclusion. Sophomore Grace Galbraith was the leader, stopping the clock in 22:23.8. She was 14th, while junior Alli Nielsen was 15th in 22:26.4.
“We pack ran really good today. Me, Alli and Mary (Roskens) really stuck together,” Galbraith said. “We've been training, and we're already better and stronger than we were at the beginning of last season.”
Roskens, who is in her first year as a varsity runner, was 17th in 22:43.7. Freshman Sophia Baedke then clocked in at 24:35.6 with Lillian Knudtson (25:33.9) not too far behind.
Altogether, both Galbraith and Rupp were excited about how the Bears started their year.
“I think it's going to be a good season, starting off this good,” Galbraith said. “It shows how much potential we have and what's yet to come this season.”
“Especially when we get Sam gets back,” Rupp added.
Skelton, McKennan lead Pioneers to start
Haggar was 12th in the boys' race, but Fort Calhoun's Taya Skelton and Avery McKennan logged top-10 finishes for the Pioneer girls. Skelton was seventh in 21:20.8, while her fellow senior, McKennan, was 10th in 21:54.5.
“We kind of use this race as an indicator later on because we get to compete against some bigger class schools and some stronger teams,” McKennan said. “It's always a good thing to work on our conditioning.”
The pair's teammates weren't too far behind as four Fort Calhoun girls finished in the top 30 of Thursday's race. Morgan Miller was 19th in 22:54.7, while freshman Tessa Skelton was 27th in 23:55.5. Kelsie Premer (24:39.3) and Katie Barta (25:00.7) rounded out the Pioneers' lineup.
“We're coming up stronger this season than we did last season,” McKennan said. “We have a couple of freshmen coming up that are just kind of jumping in and really working well on the team. It's been a good experience so far.”
Ben Haggar was the second Fort Calhoun boy to finish Thursday, placing 14th in 18:30.8. Dylan Blair, meanwhile, was 33rd in 19:32.1 with John Wiese (21:21.7), Zack Marshall (21:32.3) and Nathan Premer (21:46.6) clocking in behind him.
Coach McMahon called Thursday's races a “starting point.” They were just the beginning of Fort Calhoun's season, but the coach was pleased, in particular, with Jacob Haggar's finish — legging out a 12th-place finish ahead of a sprinting opponent, the aforementioned Rupp.
“Every point matters. Every person they pass is a point, and you can be beat in a meet by a point,” McMahon said. “We should be fighting for every single person, no matter what. I never want them to see a person and not be competitive. That competitive spirit is what I want to see in every one of my athletes.”
Thursday's results may not be remembered past the second meet, but every finish matters for the Bears and Pioneers, including the first. They all lead up to the finish Callaghan specifically pointed out — the state finish on Oct. 19.