Fort Calhoun cross-country runners Bria Bench and Jacob Rupp earned state medals Friday during the NSAA State Cross Country Championships in Kearney.
Bench, a freshman, sat on the cold grass after the Class C awards ceremony and held the medal hanging from her neck in her hand. The ninth-place prize, she said, will make her medal rack next to others won in cross-country and basketball.
“Hopefully, I can just keep pushing,” Bench added.
Rupp, a junior, claimed 13th in the boys race.
“I'm definitely happy with it,” he said. “I was hoping to do a little bit better, maybe a top-five finish, but I still medaled. Can't be mad about that.”
Like Bench, though, he wants more. While the FCHS girls were eighth overall, the Pioneer boys were just two points from a runner-up state trophy Friday.
“It's still a really good placing, but I think we're all really hungry to put another banner up on the gym wall,” he said. “It just kind of excites us more for next year.”
Coach Kyle McMahon said he was “ecstatic” with his team's 2020 finish, but also saw Friday's 5-kilometer race as a preview to Fort Calhoun's potential.
“We return five of our six boys and all six girls,” he said. “So, hopefully, we use this experience and come back next year and contend again.”
This fall's success in Kearney could be a big motivator.
“Hopefully, this year just gave them that taste in their mouth to get more next year,” the coach said.
Bench admitted she was nervous going into her first state race, but calmed down once the Pioneers arrived at the course. It was her first career race in such cold conditions, but her legs felt good as she earned ninth in 20:16.7.
“My dad said, 'It's your race,'” the freshman said. “And, 'Just think that it's not cold out.'”
Dala Drowne, Bench's sophomore teammate, was next in for Fort Calhoun, finishing 26th in 21:05.2. Tessa Skelton was 54th in 21:53.1 before Kaitlyn Thalman earned 85th, Rowan Roehr was 95th and Kylie Perfetti claimed 111th in Class C.
“Our girls ran right at or above expectations today,” McMahon said. “We predicted them to get eighth. They got eighth. They were 26 points out of state runner-up.”
Boone Central earned the state title with 74 points, while Douglas County West was second with 100.
“We were getting close to the hunt by the end of the season, which is exciting,” McMahon added.
Rupp, meanwhile, claimed his state medal with a time of 17:11.1. He was 2 seconds ahead of the final medalist, while Lance Olberding was just 9 seconds out of that position with a time of 17:22.9. He was 17th in the coldest race of the season, while Milford won the team title and Sidney was second.
“The wind on some of those open spots definitely kind of hurt especially because I wasn't really in a pack at any point,” Rupp noted. “I was just, kind of, on my own.”
Ely Olberding, meanwhile, finished 38th in 17:49.6 before John McKennan claimed 83rd and Luke Gustafson was 92nd. Johnathon Schwarte was 103rd.
“At the start, we weren't quite in the right spots, so it was a little bit of a rough start,” McMahon said. “But we settled in.”
While five Fort Calhoun boys are hungry to return next fall and contend for more, Friday's race was McKennan's last as a Pioneer. He was the only senior on the 2020 team's roster.
“From his freshman year to his senior year, he improved every single year,” McMahon said. “He got a lot stronger and bigger as a senior, and was a big part — the glue — of this team.”
McKennan was the glue that could someday help his teammates earn more banners to hang from the FCHS gym's walls.