HOLSTEIN, Iowa – A couple of individual milestones plus some strong team efforts highlighted Saturday’s 29th annual Tim Thomas XC Invitational at the Holstein Country Club.

Sioux City North senior Merga Gemeda and Le Mars Gehlen Catholic sophomore Will Roder broke individual time barriers in winning the Class A and Class B individual races, respectively.

Woodbury Central senior Suzanne Putze kept her strong season going by pulling away from Pocahontas senior Jill Vonnahme over the final mile to win the girls Class A race. Logan-Magnolia sophomore Taylor Sporrer won the Class B girls race.

Gemeda, earning his second victory of the young season, eclipsed the 16-minute barrier as he covered the 5,000-meter course in 15:59.85 while also leading the Stars to the team championship in the Class A boys division.

“It felt really great,” said Gemeda. “I’m happy that I went under 16 for the first time, that was my goal more than winning and I’m so happy for that.

“If you want to go under 16, you have to push yourself, so that’s what I did today.”

Roder, meanwhile, earned his first career victory, eclipsing the 17-minute barrier by finishing in 16:55.50 during the Class B boys race.

“I was hoping to get at least 16:59 so i got a little bit faster for a time,” said Roder. “I just tried to hold my pace as long as I could. It’s my first time winning a cross country race so it felt pretty good.”

The Stars, coming off a second-place finish behind Sergeant Bluff-Luton at the season-opening Heelan Invite, used strong depth with five runners in the top 20 to secure the team title. Sergeant Bluff-Luton, ranked ninth in Class 3A, was second while Le Mars finished third in Class A.

“I’m happy because today we came here to win and I think we did it,” said Gemeda, prior to official race results being posted. “I’m happy, we were kind of scared of the Sergeant Bluff-Luton team, they beat us at the Heelan meet, but this time, I think we got them.”

Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson junior Eric Hoffman and South Central Calhoun junior Spencer Moon, a pair of ranked Class 2A runners, finished second and third, respectively behind Gemeda.

Sergeant Bluff-Luton senior Miles Scott ran fourth while MOC-Floyd Valley senior Jakob Vander Werff was fifth. North’s team championship saw Deven Pace finished sixth, Jackson Baker 11th, Lami Geemda 14th and Drake Beller 18th.

“Today for the first time this year we had all five guys under 18 minutes, then we had Merga under 16 and another guy under 17:10,” said North coach Abdier Marrero. “They’re starting to click and starting to buy into what each one, what their role is on the team.

“Today was really just about putting all the pieces together to see how good we could be and we’re just going to keep driving forward.”

Putze won her fourth individual race of the season and the 21st of her career, but more importantly the combined Woodbury Central/Kingsley-Pierson girls squad, that’s ranked third in Class 2A, came away team champions in a tough Class A field. Bishop Heelan, ranked third in Class 3A, was second, edging city rival East by five points.

Putze and Vonnahme ran stride for stride through much of the first two miles before Putze slowly pulled away and eventually win by nine seconds.

“It is definitely a good feeling, it makes you have to really mentally push yourself and physically stay right there with that person,” said Putze. “Something that I haven’t seen this season, but it was definitely a great help.”

WC/KP senior Rylee Wright was third followed by Bishop Heelan sophomore Amber Aesoph and East sophomore Olivia Barnes.

The WC/KP team title was aided by three seniors and four freshmen as freshman Makayla Archer finished 10th, senior KayLynne Bechen 12th along with freshmen Mary Putze (23rd), Sarah Putze (24th) and Kalyn Cameron (33rd).

“It’s a crazy feeling, the freshmen, you know, have so many questions, I’m like guys we have a really, really good chance but we have to push each other. We just have to come out and be consistent and do what we’ve done,” said Suzanne Putze. “Just try and move up and push ourselves toward that person in front of us. That was definitely what we had planned to do today and I’m very proud of the team and I think we did a great job.”

Okoboji had both individual runners-up in the Class B division with Ethan Albright and Mari Stein. The Pioneers were also the Class B team champions.

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