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Gael girls win NCC title

—Submitted photo The St. Edmond girls cross country team stands with their trophy after winning the North Central Conference Meet on Tuesday in Clear Lake.

CLEAR LAKE — Competing in the big-school dominated North Central Conference meet, St. Edmond head coach Mike Szalat never makes winning the conference meet a top priority.

When it does happen, though, it’s a significant event.

Szalat, who has been the Gael cross country coach for 22 years, only had one other group earn the NCC title. The 2020 SEHS girls joined the ranks on Tuesday.

“It has been 11 years since we’ve done this,” Szalat said. “I never make it a big deal as a goal, but when it happens — trust me: it’s a big deal.

“It’s a great memory for these girls to have. There will be a trophy in the case for them to come back and look at with their family. I’m really happy for these girls. To be coaching for 22 years and have 44 races and to win only twice — it’s a huge accomplishment.”

For the first time in 11 years, St. Edmond ran to the top of the league ladder by placing five runners in the Top-15 and winning the title for the first time since 2008.

“Winning the NCC means a lot to all of us,” said senior Aubrey Bemrich. “It’s only the second time the girls have won it, and it hasn’t happened since 2008.

“We all believed that we could do it, and we knew that every single one of us needed to give it 100 percent to achieve it. I think (Tuesday) really showed that we aren’t settling yet. We are determined to improve and continue to get more out of our season.”

The Gaels finished with 37 points behind Bemrich, who had just one race under her belt after a recent 14-day quarantine. She cruised to a fifth-place showing (20:32). Freshman Michaela Leiting was right behind her in sixth place (20:32).

“I don’t care who you are…when you take 14 days and have to work out isolated, it’s tough,” Szalat said. “Aubrey ran a great race. We talked to them about having realistic expectations coming out of the quarantine. Their times were great. It was just a great day for the entire school.

“We finished first in both girls races, second in the boys JV and fourth in the boys. So that is eight points for all the races. That ties Humboldt, who also has eight. We are the smallest school by far and it’s unbelievable what all of these kids did. This has been the best race and night since I’ve been coaching. This is just unbelievable, given what these kids did. They deserve it.”

Bemrich was disappointed after her first race back last week, but was pleased with the way she quickly turned things around.

“After my first meet back I got pretty discouraged,” Bemrich said. “I wasn’t very happy with my race, so I really wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it.

“I’m so proud of my team and how they continue to work hard every single day.”

St. Edmond was 18 points ahead of Iowa Falls-Alden (55). Algona (71) was third, followed by Humboldt (87), Webster City (124), and Clear Lake (156).

The freshman duo of Hannah Landwehr (21:18) and Reese Lemberg (21:34) were eighth and ninth, respectively. Junior Caroline Shelly (22:06) rounded out the counting runners in 15th place.

Also competing for the Gaels were senior Kelli Kersten (17th in 22:36) and junior Gracie Harvey (19th in 22:40).

“Michaela and Hannah were right there with Aubrey,” Szalat said. “We had a minute-and-a-half spread. Reese is starting to believe that she can run close with them and this was the third time that Caroline was our No. 5 runner.”

Algona placed two runners in the Top-10, with Moriah Knapp earning the highest showing in fourth place (20:28). Teammate Brooklyn Helmers was 10th (21:39).

Webster City’s best performance came from Emma Peck in 11th and Humboldt’s Joslyn Orr was 13th. Raven Kinnetz was 14th for Clarion-Goldfield/Dows.

Iowa Falls-Alden’s Ellie Meyer (18:17) was the individual champion, followed by Hampton-Dumont’s Lydia Maas (18:56.

The Gaels will be back in action on Thursday, Oct. 22, when they compete in the district meet.

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