PIERCE — Two-time defending Class C state cross country champion — and last year's all-class gold medalist — Carson Noecker of Hartington-Newcastle served notice that he plans to make it three in a row next Friday when he competes in the state meet at the Kearney Country Club, after winning the C-3 district at the Pierce Community Golf Course.

"I knew it was going  to be fast just because of the flat course, so I just wanted to improve, just tried to go every mile at a consistent pace and ask God to continue to help me keep going," Noecker said.

The Cedar Catholic High School student turned in a course-record time of 14 minutes, 58 seconds, nearly two minutes ahead of second-place finisher Addison Smith of Bloomfield/Wausa.

Smith, a Wausa High student, admitted Noecker is in a league of his own and that it is “cool” to race against him. "He's such a humble guy, and I just like racing him because it's just good competition to kind of base yourself off of."

The top three teams as well as the top 15 individuals qualified for the state meet, and Noecker led his Hartington-Newcastle teammates to a third-place finish.  

Meanwhile, Battle Creek won its first ever cross country district title, edging out runner-up Pierce, 59-61.

"It was something that coming into this season I knew was possible but I don't think the boys believed in themselves," Battle Creek coach Jonah Heng said. "So, throughout the season, they pleasantly surprised themselves every single meet and slowly they started forming a bond with each other and that bond turned to them competing hard in practice and ended up with them competing hard in meets."

When Heng, the 2016 Class D state champion while competing for Norfolk Catholic, took over the Battle Creek program as a student teacher in 2019, he said there had never been a lot of team success.

"But we slowly built the program and having a couple of freshmen join the team this year made a huge splash. We had freshmen pushing seniors and, of course, seniors don't want to lose to freshmen, so it was a circle of competition all around at practice and even at meets."

Jaxon Kilmurry (sixth), Hunter Oestreich (eighth) and Kolton Wiehn (15th) all earned medals for the purple and gold.

Pierce coach Gary Shada said his team wasn't quite where he wanted it to be. "But hats off to Battle Creek," he said. "They ran a great race today. Their top three really got out and really kind of pushed things from the beginning, but I was proud of our boys.

Two Bluejay boys earned medals: Chris Efta (seventh) and Brock Bolling (10th).

ON THE GIRLS side, Darla Nelson of Bloomfield/Wausa was the only runner to break 20 minutes, finishing the 5-kilometer course in a time of 19 minutes, 56 seconds.

Nelson, a Wausa High School student, said she ran with Callie Arnold and Alexus Sindelar, both of Pierce, for the first mile. "After the first mile, I kind of started pulling away. That was my goal because they're really good runners; I just wanted to stick with them."

Nelson said she'd never felt so good all season. "The weather was really nice. We trained a lot for it, so I felt prepared and I felt good."

Arnold finished second, but before the race, she received some inspiration in the form of a FaceTime visit from her brother who earlier in the day had graduated from Air Force basic training.

"My cousins came over and they're like, ‘Here's Colton,’ and I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh, Hi.' I can't get too absorbed in that because I've missed him a lot, so I was like, 'OK, I can't see him,’ just got to stay focused, but I plan on calling him in a little bit."

Arnold said she felt like she ran her race. "I was comfortable and I got to the 3K mark and it was me, Alexus and the Hartington girl (Jessica Opfer). And I was just like I've got to keep the rhythm and keep pushing and really work the pace."

Opfer edged Sindelar for third. "It really gave me a good push at the end," Opfer said. "It was awesome competition. I've never really had that before, so it was really nice having that."

Pierce runners finished second, fourth and sixth and took the team trophy over runner-up Wayne, 33-41. Sixth-place runner Payten Simmons received heaps of praise from coach Shada.

"She ran a great race," Shada said. "She was 17th place at the 1,000-meter mark and finished sixth. But that's how she runs her races and her time today was 30 or 35 seconds faster than last week, so that's really stepping up and running big when you really need to in a big meet."

Shada also said it was a history-making day for the Pierce cross country program. "It's the first time that both teams have qualified for state in back-to-back years."

Wayne placed three runners in the top 15: Kyla Krusemark (fifth), Jada Krusemark (ninth) and Laura Haseman (11th), and also will compete as a team at state along with third-place finisher Bloomfield/Wausa.

Along with Nelson, Christina Martinson finished 14th for the Knox County co-op.  

C-3 AT PIERCE

Girls team scores: Pierce, 33; Wayne, 41; Bloomfield/Wausa, 54; Hartington-Newcastle, 65; North Bend Central, 73; Battle Creek, 101; Logan View, 102; O'Neill, 135; West Point-Beemer, 157; Columbus Lakeview, 209.

Girls top 15: 1. Darla Nelson, BW, 19:56; 2. Callie Arnold, PIE, 20:07; 3. Jessica Opfer, HN, 20:21; 4. Alexus Sindelar, PIE, 20:23; 5. Kyla Krusemark, WAY, 20:33; 6. Payten Simmons, PIE, 20:43; 7. Sydney Emanuel, NBC, 20:43; 8. Aleya Bourek, NBC, 20:44; 9. Jala Krusemark, WAY, 20:49; 10. Ashley Dickau, O'N, 20:55; 11. Laura Hasemann, WAY, 20:59; 12. Afftynn Stusse, BC, 21:22; 13. Malorie Weaklend, LV, 21:40; 14. Christina Martinson, BW, 21:50; 15. Ava Noecker, HN, 21:55.

Boys team scores: Battle Creek, 59; Pierce, 61; Hartington-Newcastle, 69; O'Neill, 73; BRLD, 74; Wayne, 77; Logan View, 102; Bloomfield/Wausa, 129; Winnebago, 144; North Bend Central, 152; West Point-Beemer, 171; Columbus Lakeview, 174.

Boys top 15: 1. Carson Noecker, HN, 14:58; 2. Addison Smith, BW, 16:47; 3. Jesus Zavala, WAY, 17:02; 4. Dyami Berridge, BAGO, 17:05; 5. Brady Thompson, O'N, 17:16; 6. Jaxon Kilmurry, BC, 17:18; 7. Chris Efta, PIE, 17:26; 8. Hunter Oestreich, BC, 17:26; 9. Caleb Schlichting, BRLD, 17:31; 10. Brock Bolling, PIE, 17:33; 11. Kayl Francis, LV, 17:34; 12. Edward Pena, WPB, 17:39; 13. Brayden Hegge, BRLD, 17:43; 14. Sam Peters, LV, 17:46; 15. Kolton Wiehn, BC, 17:47.

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