SIOUX CITY – A slight weather delay didn’t keep Suzanne Putze from doing what she’s used to doing on the cross country course.

North senior Merga Gemeda raced to his first individual victory of his career, before the weather delay, as the prep cross country season got under way in Siouxland on Thursday with the annual Heelan Invite at the SYA Complex.

The Sergeant Bluff-Luton boys, ranked 11th in 3A, and the top-ranked (3A) Bishop Heelan girls used strong pack running to win team titles in the season opening meets.

Gemeda, an individual state qualifier last fall, covered the 5,000-meter course in 16:16.59 on a hot, humid afternoon that eventually saw a few rain drops and lightning that caused a delay between the varsity boys and girls races.

“This is my first win in cross country,” said Gemeda, ranked 12th in 4A by the IATC. “This is my first meet of the season and I feel so happy I won.

“I’m so excited but also I’m not excited, my goal was to go under 16, I’m happy that I won, it’s the first meet so I can get it next time.”

Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson junior Eric Hoffman, 11th at state last fall in 2A, finished second in 16:42.91 while Sergeant Bluff-Luton senior Miles Scott, third in 3A at state last fall, was third in 17:49.57.

The Warriors five runners in the top 11 to score 39 points and win the team title over North (46) by seven points.

Putze, the Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson senior, won her fourth consecutive Heelan Invite title, running 19:40.68. It was the 18th career individual title for the three-time state qualifier who finished 14th at state in 2A last fall.

“I’m not going to forget that, that’s what keeps you going, it helps to have that goal. It’s more special than a meet where your coming back inconsistent,” said Putze.

Putze shot to the front like she has done so many times before in her career while Bishop Heelan sophomore Amber Aesoph had a strong second half of the race to finish second in 19:53.86.

“It’s always my plan,” said Putze. “I don’t like overthinking, so I’m just going out like I’m used too, trying to go out fast is what I like to do. If somebody comes ahead of me, whatever happens, I just feel more comfortable going right out.”

Putze’s WC/KP teammate Rylee Wright made her return to the cross country course after missing her junior season with a third-place finish in 20:17.21.

The Crusaders had five runners in the top 15 to score 33 points while WC/KP finished second with 44 points, placing five runners in the top 20.

VARSITY BOYS

Team scoring: Sergeant Bluff-Luton 39, North 46, East 71, West 117, Bishop Heelan 134, Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson 189, Westwood 199, West Monona 204, Whiting 228.

Top 15 finishers (5,000): 1, Merga Gemeda, North, 16:16.59; 2, Eric Hoffman, WC/KP, 16:42.91; 3, Miles Scott, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 16:49.57; 4, Cole Taylor, East, 17:04.31; 5, Deven Pace, North, 17:32.56; 6, Jackson Baker, North, 17:34.61; 7, Gabe Hannemann, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 17:47.16; 8, Drew Marksbury, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 18:03.83; 9, John Greer, Bishop Heelan, 18:11.15; 10, Easton Ritz, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 18:17.56; 11, Payden Hofer, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 18:21.16; 12, Will DeWeerd, East, 18:21.92; 13, Kevin Greigg, East, 18:25.20; 14, Joe Lincoln, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 18:29.23; 15, Lami Gemeda, North, 18:33.80.

VARSITY GIRLS

Team scoring: Bishop Heelan 33, Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson 44, East 53, North 114, South Sioux City 119, West 185, Sergeant Bluff-Luton 187.

Top 15 finishers (5,000): 1, Suzanne Putze, WC/KP, 19:40.68; 2, Amber Aesoph, Bishop Heelan, 19:53.86; 3, Rylee Wright, WC/KP, 20:17.21; 4, Hannah Hutchinson, Bishop Heelan, 20:21.09; 5, Annie Jensen, Bishop Heelan, 20:21.42; 6, Olivia Barnes, East, 20:35.94; 7, Madison Jochum, Bishop Heelan, 20:47.86; 8, Paige Hanson, East, 21:05.15; 9, KayLynne Bechen, WC/KP, 21:05.92; 10, Sadie Rocha, South Sioux City, 21:16.32; 11, Makayla Archer, WC/KP, 21:22.03; 12, Karlee Phillips, East, 21:37.18; 13, Lauren Van Dyke, East, 21:43.74; 14, Alee Lewis, East, 21:45.27; 15, Ashlyn Peck, Bishop Heelan, 22:02.01.

JUNIOR VARSITY BOYS

Team scoring: North 32, Sergeant Bluff-Luton 52, East 55, Bishop Heelan 98

Top 10 finishers (4,000): Ty Shoulders, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 16:20.59; 2, Aaron Eybers, North, 16:22.06; 3, Nick Walters, North, 16:41.67; 4, Max Murphy, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 16:54.64; 5, Owen Hoak, East, 17:05.09; 6, Roope Russka, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 17:05.66; 7, Antonio Guerra, Bishop Heelan, 17:09.70; 8, Jaysen Bouwers, North, 17:16.59; 9, Owen Burrack, North, 17:17.58; 10, Quintin Greenwell, North, 17:20.46.

JUNIOR VARSITY GIRLS

Team scoring: East 38, Sergeant Bluff-Luton 55, North 70, South Sioux City 72, Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson 141, West 147.

Top 10 finishers (4,000): 1, Katie Lammers, East, 19:00.36; 2, Kalyn Cameron, WC/KP, 19:22.75; 3, Emane Ahmed, South Sioux City, 20:11.60; 4, Hannah Christensen, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 20:33.03; 5, Taylor Copple, East, 20:36.61; 6, Christina Ly, North, 20:40.64; 7, Yesenia Balderas, South Sioux City, 20:49.85; 8, Madi Van Dyke, East, 20:53.34; 9, Linkynn Garrett, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 20:59.54; 10, Jenna Courey, North, 21:02.39.

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