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Sturdy veterans will be the theme of Saturday’s 1A boys’ state cross country meet. 

And once again, the AC/GC boys’ cross country program is represented at the annual state meet for the fourth straight year thanks to a pair of talented seniors. 

Tenth-ranked Noah Nelsen and fellow cohort Clay Billheimer secured yet another trip to state during last week’s state qualifying meet in Guthrie Center while West Central Valley’s Louden Foster punched his ticket as well with a strong performance. 

Nelsen snagged a runner-up finish Oct. 18, running to a time of 17:41, just behind third-ranked Josh Baudler of Nodaway Valley (17:31). 

A triumphant return to state is a tribute to all the Charger duo’s hardwork over the past four years, head coach Colin Shawgo said.  

“It is awesome for both boys to have made it. As our two seniors that have made it before, I love to see them make it again,” the coach said. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to take the whole team this year, but having our returning boys see the success that these two have had is huge for us. 

It validates what I tell them when they join our team, which is ‘if you work hard year after year, you can find unprecedented success.’”

Foster wasn’t far behind in third, finishing with a time of 17:46. Billheimer secured a spot at Saturday’s meet in Fort Dodge by placing 11th with a time of 18:36. 

Billheimer is battle-tested as well, and has been a more than suitable side-kick for Nelsen throughout the year. 

“Clay has a lot of natural speed, and this translates well to cross country,” Shawgo said. “He had a great track season last year, and was able to build on that to have a great cross country season.”

Ninth-ranked Earlham squeaked out the state qualifying title by scoring 84 points, out-lasting three-time defending 1A champion and second-ranked Nodaway Valley (92). Woodward-Academy secured the final automatic state berth by placing third with a team score of 96, well ahead of Tri-Center (124). 

AC/GC placed fifth, just missing out on the top four with a score of 16). The top five was well clear of the other 12 teams, as Sidney came in a distant sixth with 206 points. 

Top-ranked Madrid and 2017 runner-up Sean McDermott will be the team to beat Saturday when the 1A boys toe the starting line at 2:30 p.m. in the final race of the day. The boys’ will compete at the Lakeside Golf Course outside of Fort Dodge. 

McDermott qualified with the fastest time at 16:32, a full minute ahead of Nelsen while the Tigers placed third a year ago. 

It’s a tall task in a loaded 1A field, but Shawgo believes Nelsen can make some significant noise in his final go at the state meet. Stick with what has gotten him to this point and the senior should do quite well, Shawgo said. On a big stage, with a big crowd, Nelsen has a chance to prove his worth. 

“Noah needs to go out and run his race, just that simple,” the coach said. “He is a top tier runner, and I think he just needs to go out and prove that this weekend. He has always done a good job of running his best race at the state meet, and I think that he will continue to trend that way with a great race this weekend.”

The AC/GC duo and Foster, who’s making his first state appearance, will also compete against runners from BCLUW, Denver (12th in 2017), South Winneshiek (5th), Pekin (7th), North Linn, Mount Ayr, Hudson and Durant, among others. 

Shawgo is thrilled to see two of AC/GC’s best runners ever finishing their careers at the top. Their consistent success sets the tone for Charger cross country moving forward. 

“Looking at how much these two seniors have grown from their freshmen year to now is amazing, and sets the bar high for the younger boys,”  Shawgo said. “Plus, experiencing the state meet in some fashion will help prepare the returning runners for next year.”