Keelianne Green cried in nervousness before the Class C1 state cross-country race and in joy after it. The Arlington High School junior completed a perfect season Friday at Kearney Country Club, topping her closest contender by 34.4 seconds for a state championship — the Eagles' first since 2001 and only their second ever.
The tears of joy capped a whirlwind three months for Green, who went from cross-country newcomer in her first season to the very, very best. It's been such a magnificent time in the AHS student-athlete's life that she couldn't quite keep all of her tears happy.
“There's also sad tears because this season is at an end now,” said the C1 state meet record-holder across 5 kilometers. “I had the most fun I've ever had in one of my sports seasons this year. I really found something that I truly love, and a family that's always going to be there for me no matter what.”
Green's title-winning effort helped her Arlington girls team to a fifth-place finish under coach Michaela Curran, which is its best finish since earning runner-up honors in 1998. The boys, meanwhile, earned seventh — their best spot in the standings since doing the same in 1992.
Medalists Hailey O'Daniel and Nolan May contributed to the Eagles' landmark day alongside Green, who finished in 18:50.1 — Friday's third-best girls time across all NSAA classes.
“I'm seriously ecstatic,” Green said. “I don't know how to feel right now.”
Both she and O'Daniel cried before the race, but once it started the champion dominated it. Lindee Henning of Ogallala stuck with Green early, but only motivated her to keep going faster.
“When she would get closer, I would see her shadow in my peripheral vision and I knew I needed to push more,” Green said. “I needed to push every time she got a little closer to me. I needed to push.”
The junior pushed until Henning, a sophomore, was no longer a threat. She crossed the finish line first and cried through interviews before meeting back with her family and coaches and crying some more.
Last spring, Green watched as track and field relay teammate Kailynn Gubbels earned statewide attention for her record-breaking season. Now, after a switch from softball to cross-country, she's seeing it first hand as media members and colleges reach out.
“It's truly insane,” Green said. “I'm so thankful and grateful for this team that has put me to work. They're the reason I'm here. My coaches are the reason I'm here.”
The champ's coach, Curran, won her own state title in 2009. She said Green's win, and her team's overall performance Friday, were on par with that experience.
“They're little me's out there,” the coach said. “My heart is with each and every one of them. To see them do well is all I can ask for.”
O'Daniel took eighth in the girls' race, finishing the 5K state course in 20:36.26. She felt she'd started her freshman campaign slow, learning how to run the longer high school races and about the runners she was competing against. Things started to click, however, as the Eagles reduced practice miles for their most important races during the final stages of the fall.
“Championship season is what we call it,” O'Daniel said. “I just flew out of my comfort zone. Thirty second PR on our first race. I was surprised.”
The state stage provided more surprise.
“This morning I woke up, and I had a great night sleep, and I thought, 'I'm ready to do this,'” O'Daniel said. “Then the hour before the race came and I was like, 'Holy crap, it's actually happening.'”
She finished ahead of classmate Whitney Wollberg, who earned 65th out of 118 runners in her first state attempt, and AHS sophomore Brynn Eckhart, who was 72nd. Kelise Cook-Krivohlavek and Brooke Hilgenkamp finished 97th and 110th, respectively.
May, meanwhile, earned the Arlington boys' top finish. He, too, was eighth in 17:25.22 — his school's best boys state finish since John Morrison won the title in 2001.
Kevin Flesner added a 28th-place result, while Luke Hammang was 69th and Dallin Franzluebbers was 80th. Kolby Tighe and Barrett Nielsen added 94th and 99th finishes, too.
All told, the Eagles ran so well that more than one of them cried.
“That's the tears of joy, saying 'We did it.' We did what we came to do,” Curran said. “They competed hard. They competed well.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here