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Hempstead’s Julia Gehl (left) and teammate Keelee Leitzen finished 1-2 at the Iowa Class 4A state qualifying meet Wednesday afternoon at Seminole Valley Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Hempstead swept the girls and boys team championships.

Julia Gehl and Keelee Leitzen couldn’t have scripted a better finish to their Iowa Class 4A state cross country qualifying meet Wednesday.

Gehl crossed the 5K finish line in 18:17.61, and her sophomore classmate followed just .01 later to spark Dubuque Hempstead to a team title at Seminole Valley in Cedar Rapids. The Mustangs won their first state qualifying team title since the mid-1980s and will return to Fort Dodge for the eighth consecutive year.

The 1-2 finish highlighted a banner day for Dubuque County 3A and 4A programs heading into next Friday’s state meet.

Behind individual champ Derek Leicht, Hempstead also won the boys team title for its ninth straight state appearance, the Senior girls placed third for their sixth straight state appearance, and the Rams advanced Robert Howes in the individual boys race.

In the Class 3A qualifier at Decorah, Western Dubuque swept the boys and girls individual and team titles behind Eli Naumann and Alyssa Klein, and Wahlert advanced its runner-up girls team for the ninth straight year and Carter Hancock in the boys individual race. Western Dubuque will send both programs to state in the same season for the first time in program history.

Gehl and Leitzen entered the finishing shoot side by side and almost appeared content to cross the line simultaneously.

“Our plan was to go out and push each other, but I don’t necessarily think we expected it to end the way it did,” Gehl said. “But it was good. We kind of held each other accountable the whole race and didn’t allow each other to slack off at the end.

“It’s an amazing feeling to have a finish like that. We’ve been training together since we got to high school and we push each other every day, so it’s kind of a fitting way to finish.”

Leitzen said she and Gehl planned to run neck-and-neck at the beginning of the race.

“It just kind of happened that we finished that way, too,” said Leitzen, the defending state champion. “We knew we had to stay together the first couple of miles, but we ended up running together the whole race. It means even more that the whole team made it, because we’ve been working so hard for this all season.”

Brooke O’Brien finished third, nearly 18 seconds behind her teammates, while Evie Henneberry took fifth in 18:37.69, and Ellie Hermiston rounded out the team score of 28 with a 17th-place performance for Hempstead. Maddie Digman and Natalie Schlichte took 18th and 19th, but their scores did not factor.

The Mustangs defeated runner-up Cedar Rapids Prairie by 21 points. Senior finished with 62 points, 38 clear of Cedar Falls, for the third and final spot at state.

Leah Klapatauskas led the Rams with a seventh-place finish in 18:48.5, followed by Kaitlyn Miller in ninth in 19:21.46, Claire Hoyer in 11th in 19:32.86, Emily Gorton in 14th in 19:37.83 and Jayda Gooch in 21st in 20:35.82. The Rams didn’t count Emma Chambers’ 33rd-place finish.

“This was a big transition year for us,” said coach Louie Fischer, who graduated 16 runners from last year’s squad. “We weren’t going to set goals for the season until after we saw how summer workouts went. The girls worked hard and had a great summer, and they have stepped up all season.”

MUSTANGS CRUISE

The Hempstead boys placed all five scoring runners in the top 18 to win a state qualifying meet for the third time, joining the 2016 and 2020 squads. The Mustangs will be making their 16th state appearance.

Leicht ran the 5K course in 15:27.29, more than 15 seconds clear of runner-up Brayden Burnett, of Cedar Falls.

“I kind of feel like I needed a confidence boost and this definitely helps heading into state,” said Leicht, the No. 4-ranked runner who spent time earlier this season at No. 1. “When you win a race like this against quality competition, it gives you the confidence that you can do it again.

“We had a great team effort, all the way around. Guys were PRing left and right. We’re really looking forward to next week. This is going to be my fourth trip there, and I’m going to use that experience to help the rest of the guys any way I can.”

Hempstead’s John Maloney finished third in 15:51.12, followed by Brady Blean in fourth in 15:57.51, Caleb Kass in 10th in 16:38.49 and Marcus Leitzen in 18th in 17:02.09. Kyle Duehr finished 33rd and Johnathan O’Brien 48th, but they did not factor in the team score.

“It’s been a privilege to step into this role and continue what Coach (Mark) Ressler built the past 14 years,” first-year coach Chris Burke said. “It’s an honor to keep it rolling. Today, we just had the mentality of, ‘If not me, then who?’ and the guys really stepped up.”

Howes led Senior by finishing 14th in 16:54.60. The top 15 individuals and top three teams advanced to state.

HISTORY FOR BOBCATS

Western Dubuque will be sending both teams to state for the first time in school history after a pair of dominant performances. The boys qualified for the first time since 2007, while the girls made it two years ago.

“It was a really exciting day,” said Mark Digmann, who coaches both Bobcats squads. “When the district assignments came out, we thought we might have a chance. But this time of year, you run into kids getting colds or not being healthy. But both teams were healthy and they all ran really, really well.”

Naumann ran a 15:58.10 to beat runner-up Eli Larson, of Center Point-Urbana, by 4.3 seconds, followed by Isaiah Hammerand in fourth at 17:10.7, Brenden Begle in seventh in 17:34.5, Drew Meyer in 12th in 17:51.7 and Levi Meyer in 23rd in 18:18.3. Brody Staner and Derek Fangmann did not score as the Bobcats totaled 47 points to top Decorah by 24 points.

“Today was a testament to all the hard work and discipline we put into this season,” said Naumann, the Bobcats’ first state meet qualifying champion since 2003. “My part was finishing as high as possible and scoring as few points as possible. It’s such a rewarding feeling to work so hard and have it pay off on a day like today.”

Klein led the Western Dubuque girls to the first state qualifying meet championship in program history and became the first individual champ in school history since 1987. The Bobcats scored 54 points to beat runner-up Wahlert by 28 points.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting to win it, but it really gets you excited for what’s to come next week at state,” said Klein, who ran a 19:29.7 to edge teammate Lilly Boge by 13.2 seconds. “It’s so special to go to state, especially since the guys are going, too. We knew we were capable of it, but it was exciting to get it done. I’m really proud of both teams.”

Western Dubuque then went 16-17-18 behind recent University of Iowa commit Audrey Biermann (20:48.8), Leah Digmann (20:55.7) and Isabella Graber (21:02.7). Olivia Thule took 24th and Bella Meyers took 28th.

9 IN A ROW FOR WAHLERT

The Wahlert girls scored 25 fewer points than third-place Center Point-Urbana to easily claim their ninth straight state berth. Ellie Meyer led the way with a third-place 19:53.10, followed by Ellie Kirby in ninth in 20:29.4, Liliah Takes in 11th in 20:36.4, Laney Duggan in 27th in 21:36.5 and Josie Belken in 32nd in 21:57.2. Anna VanOtterloo took 56th and Rylee Steffen finished 67th.

“We’re all such close friends, it was pretty symbolic that we finished so close together,” Meyer said of placing three runners in the top 11. “It really was a collective group effort.”

Hancock finished third in the boys race with a 17:03.6 to punch his ticket to state.

West Delaware finished sixth in the boys race and eighth in the girls race. At the Solon qualifying meet, Maquoketa placed 10th in the girls race and 11th in the boys race.

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