At the beginning of the cross country season, the Swede boys set some goals that head coach Tony Neels said were plenty lofty, but attainable.

While individual participants may have seen some of those goals come to fruition, the team reaped the rewards of its hard work this past week when they qualified for the State meet in Kearney after tremendous performances at the Oct. 14 district meet in Ogallala.

“I’m very proud of every one of those boys and the way they competed,” Neels said. “They left it all on the course and we had numerous personal bests set at districts.”

Four Swede boys not only ran their best personal races, but shaved generous time off their race times.

Ethan Olsen ran like his hair was on fire, keeping pace with the front runners of the race, and actually leading the field for a short time.

Olsen was edged out by a pair of runners from Sidney, one of whom beat Gothenburg’s Will Anderson at the district finish line in 2020, and took third place, running a personal-best 16:49.41.

Yahriel Gaeta shaved nearly a minute off his race time, crossing the line in 17:19.7, good for the fifth-place medal.

Nathan Sager took more than a minute off his best race time and finished in 17th place and Alec Winney set his personal record with a time of 18:43.3.

Neels continued to say that the team came into the race focused on the task at hand before the race.

“They were locked in and ready to go and I knew they would have a good race,” he said.

The team has seen a number of injuries and has run through the illnesses as they’ve worked to this moment, and Neels said that each participant, no matter who was gone from the meet, stepped up to compete.

“Ethan has had a fantastic season and he has really come on strong at the end of the year,” Neels said. “It is really nice to see kids peaking at the right time, just the way the training we put them through is designed to do.

“Yahriel also had a fantastic race,” Neels continued. “Anytime you can be a state qualifier, let alone a top-five district finisher as a freshman, you are really doing something right. This kid has a very bright future ahead of him if he keeps working the way he has this year.”

In preparing for the Oct. 22 State Cross Country Meet at Kearney, Neels said that having a few members of the team compete at the state meet last season is beneficial for the team.

“That experience is so valuable this time around,” he said. “They know what to expect and can mentor the others who are making their first appearance. We have mostly freshmen and sophomores running at state and our approach will be to treat this just like any other race we have run - control what you can control and give all you can to help the team succeed.”

The Lady Swede runners also had a promising day. Although there were not state qualifiers, there were multiple personal-best races and some foreshadowing of future years with some of the younger runners.

“While the girls did not have any state qualifiers, they had a very good day at districts,” Neels said. “Four of the five girls had season-best times and both freshman runners set personal bests.”

Freshman Avery Salomon ran a personal-best 21:31.3, placing 16th, just out of medal and state qualification territory.

“I know Avery was disappointed about missing state by one place but she gave all she had and ran a great race,” Neels said. “I think she has a bright future ahead of her if she keeps working as hard as she did this season.”

Seniors Arissa Ackerman and Shania Wear ran their season-best races, crossing the finish line of their final race in a Swede uniform in 23rd and 24th place, respectively.

Neels said that the senior duo will be greatly missed.

“They have been very important and steady contributors to our program for the past four years and although they didn’t end their season at the state meet, it says a lot about the grit they both possess to end their season with their best times of the year.”

After a successful day for the Swede runners, Neels said that he was exceedingly proud of how his athletes performed and trained to get to the point they did.

“All you can ask for as a coach is that your runners are competing at their best at the end of the year and those girls did exactly that,” Neels said. “I was so happy for all of them and the way they ended their seasons.”

The Swede boys cross country team will compete at the Class C State Cross Country Meet on Oct. 22 at the Kearney Country Club at 1:30 p.m. with the awards ceremony to follow at 2 p.m.

Contact Rebecca Steward at rebecca@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.537.9498