History makers

Fort Calhoun XC boys claim state championship gold

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The Fort Calhoun cross-country program has a storied history.
Just five Nebraska schools have more girls state championships, and just a select few can say they've been home to three-time state champions like Taya Skelton, who earned hers 2015 through 2017.
Mike Marcheck won the school's first individual championship in 1981, and the Pioneers have earned 55 state medals overall since 1977.
But even with all of that history behind it, FCHS accomplished something new Friday during the NSAA State Cross-Country Championships at Kearney Country Club. The Pioneers earned a Class C1 boys title, besting second-place Sidney, 46-58.
“I don't really know what I'm saying right now,” coach Kyle McMahon joked. “I'm having a hard time processing this.”
It'd been a long time coming for his program, which has been a longtime contender and finished as runner-up as recently as 2017.
“We've been trying to chase this for a long time,” the coach said.
The district and Nebraska Capitol Conference champions believed they'd be in contention before they ever arrived in Kearney, though.
“All week we've kind of known that it was right here, it was within reach,” junior Lance Olberding said.
The Pioneer relayed a motivating message to his teammates before the race, too.
“I said to them, 'Let's just go run here. Leave it all out there,'” Olberding said. “We didn't really have anything to lose.”
Calhoun didn't lose at all. It seized its opportunity and won with Jacob Rupp, Ely Olberding and Lance all medaling within the top five.
“I want to watch this race over and over again,” McMahon said. “I just couldn't believe those guys, 3-4-5. They were just not going to leave a doubt in anybody's mind today.”
Though record-breaker Carson Noecker of Hartington and Adams Central's Luke Bonifas were several seconds ahead, finishing first and second, Rupp comfortably took third. The senior's third medal-winning state effort was his finest.
“Best performance at state and of the year,” he said. “It felt great. The race plan went just about exactly as I planned it to except I'd hope to be, you know, top 10. Third place, I wasn't quite thinking there, but I'm definitely very happy with it.”
Rupp exceeded his own expectations with a 17:08.3 run.
“I guess we just felt good today,” Ely Olberding said, laughing as he tried to explain how the Pioneers pulled off their win. The junior was fourth in 17:13.6, crediting the effort of his brother and Rupp for their help.
“We definitely worked together,” Ely said. “We had a plan going into the race.”
There was a plan and a friendly wager pushing Lance Olberding to his fifth-place finish in 17:19.8. State alternate Gage Nixon and he agreed Lance would shave the long blond hair off of his head if he didn't place. A haircut won't be necessary, though, as the FCHS trio led their team to a title.
“They just performed like champions today,” McMahon said.
In fourth for the Pioneers was sophomore Johnathon Schwarte, who earned 39th in 18:23.5.
“Johnathon stepped up there,” McMahon said. “He heard they were in the top-five there and he was like, 'Alright, I'm going to get the next 10 guys here' and he did.”
The Pioneer was passing runners through the final stretch to the finish line.
“We've been working hard,” Schwarte said. “It's great to finally do this.”
Lawson Tjardes added a 109th-place finish in 20:40.45 and Travis Skelton was 113th in 21:04.48 for the state champions, too.
Many photos were taken of the Pioneers' accomplishment afterward. Rupp held the Class C1 trophy over his head during the awards ceremony, celebrating the latest chapter in FCHS cross-country history.

FCHS girls earn 11th
Alongside the Fort Calhoun boys, the cross-country girls earned 11th in Kearney.
Sophomore Bria Bench led the way, earning 21st in 21:18.75 after medaling as a freshman.
“I wish I would have gone out faster, a little bit,” she said. “Just more like I usually have been.”
Overall, though, the Pioneer was pleased were effort against a tough field of Class C1 athletes.
“It was just an overall good run,” Bench said.
Junior Dala Drowne added a 35th-place finish in 22:03.48, while senior Tess Skelton claimed 68th.
“I tried to tell myself to just enjoy it instead of be nervous,” the latter said of her final cross-country race.
Harley Schwarte finished 87th, Kaitlyn Thalman was 107th and Xinzhi Huang was 113th, too.
“I think everyone did really good,” Skelton said. “I think a lot people did better than they were projected to do, so that's exciting.”

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