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Lursen matches his NCC title performance as Gael boys advance

—Messenger photo GAEL District champion Aaron Lursen hugs Pat Hassett after winning a Class 1A race on Thursday.

HOLSTEIN — As a freshman, Aaron Lursen competed in the state meet all by himself with his teammates cheering along the sidelines.

Now — as a junior with his team in tow for a second straight time — Lursen feels whole again.

Lursen and the Gaels captured a qualifying title on Thursday at Ridge View, advancing to their home course together in back-to-back seasons.

“My freshman year I qualified individually, but my team didn’t. I was crushed — the experience just isn’t the same,” Lursen said. “It was very hard to celebrate my success when I was also feeling the pain of not being able to run with my team.”

St. Edmond captured their second straight state berth as Lursen staked claim to the individual crown.

“Winning districts feels incredible, not only because I get to move on to run at state, but I also get to lead my team there,” Lursen said. “Going as a team is way more important to me than individually. I would much rather bring my brothers with me.”

The Gaels accumulated 66 points, with all five counting runners finishing in the Top-20 and all seven in the Top-30.

“I was a coach and a dad — it was awesome,” said SEHS head coach Mike Szalat. “I know it sounds like a broken record, but it literally took one through seven for us to win this. We also needed runners from other teams to place ahead of Woodbine and Missouri Valley.”

Woodbine (71) was the runner-up and Missouri Valley (87) placed third.

Lursen, who set his PR two weeks straight heading into the state qualifying meet, finished in 17:24 — 12 seconds ahead of runner-up Kaden Galles of MMCRU (17:36).

“Although I didn’t run as fast as I wanted to, I think I’ve set myself up to run the best race I can at state,” Lursen said. “My times toward the end of the year have dropped significantly and I finally feel as if I am tapping into the true potential that I have.

“Because I wasn’t able to do it (Thursday), I will still be looking for that sub 17 minutes at state and hopefully medal.”

Freshman Liam Shannon (18:10) grabbed a to-15 spot, placing 12th, while junior Ronnie Orres (18:28) was 14th. Thomas Cosgrove (18:52) and senior Drew Szalat (18:54) were 19th and 20th, respectively.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Orres said. “We came into the meet just hoping for second place, but everyone on the team ran the best race of our season and we were able to come home with another title.

“We have been working very hard all year with two great coaches pushing us trying to get us prepared to qualify for state.

“It means a lot getting back to state, and I can’t wait to run hard and see what we can do.”

Rounding out the Gael lineup was senior Hayden Mayer (18:58) and classmate Zach Loerts (19:13) were 23rd and 30th, respectively.

Mayer, the sixth runner for the Gaels, placed ahead of every fifth runner and all but one opponent’s fourth runner. Loerts, the No. 7, was ahead of all five No. 5s and all but four of the No. 4s.

“It was a team effort on both sides,” Szalat said. “Liam still dropped time, as did Ronnie. Thomas and Drew dropped. Hayden and Zach got ahead of the other teams fours and fives.”

Szalat was pleased with the way his squad performed in the clutch.

“I was worried about the seniors, hoping we could get in for them (to state),” Szalat said. “This is the end for the Shellys, Mayers, Szalats and Loerts — some of the families that have helped build this program.”

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