ORANGE CITY, Iowa — Western Christian High School senior Tage Hulstein hopes that the fourth time is the charm.
On Thursday afternoon at Landsmeer Golf Club in Orange City, Hulstein won the boys Class 2A state qualifying meet with a time of 16 minutes, 56.97 seconds. It's the fourth time Hulstein has clinched a spot at state. c
After finishing sixth at state in each of the past two seasons, Hulstein is hopeful that he might end his high school career with a top-five finish.
“I really want to beat that sixth place this year, and I want to get on the podium as a team too,” Hulstein said. “The team really matters to me quite a bit.”
Hulstein was one of four Western Christian runners to finish in the Top 15, but the entire Wolfpack will make the trip after the team finished second at the qualifying meet. The other top Wolfpack finisher was sophomore Caleb Douma, who placed 10th with a time of 17:52.96. Sophomore Noah Deweerd was close behind, finishing 13th at 17:59.21, while Aric DeKam rounded out the individual qualifiers with a time of 18:02.02, good for 15th overall.
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Over his four seasons with the Wolfpack, Hulstein has become a strong team leader, according to Western Christian coach Dalton Lems. In practice and in meets, the senior can always be counted on to set the tone.
As a four-time state qualifier, his word carries weight with the Wolfpack.
“He’s the perfect team leader, essentially,” Lems said. “The other guys have learned a ton from him, and continue to learn a ton from him every time they step out there on the course or in practice.”
Western Christian finished second in the team standings with 67 points, six points back of first-place Okoboji. The third and final team to qualify for the state meet was Unity Christian, which finished third with 74 team points.
Hulstein’s finish put him 14 seconds ahead of individual runner-up Damon VandenBerg of Spirit Lake, who finished at 17:10.83, and 24 seconds ahead of Okoboji freshman Evan Osler, who placed third at 17:20.91.
Sibley-Ocheyedan sophomore Bernal Alejandro finished fourth with a time of 17:25.07, and Estherville-Lincoln Central sophomore Parker Duitsman placed fifth at 17:38.6.
In the final week of his school cross country career, Hulstein admitted that it might be a bit challenging to focus on his school work this week as he gets his body ready for next Friday’s meet in Fort Dodge, while Lems mentioned that he will will have some mixed feelings about heading into his top runners final competition.
“It’s probably going to be a little bit bittersweet for him, and me as well you know, coaching him for four years and getting him to state for four years,” Lems said. “The workload is going to be there. We’re going to stick right on course with what we usually do, and we’ll push him until it’s time to go.”
For Hulstein, the chance to run with his teammates in Fort Dodge means a lot.
"It's everything," Hulstein said. "As a freshman, I ran just with one teammate and it didn't feel like an actual meet, because you're not with your team, and you don't have the support that I love about cross country."
Third-ranked Sibley-Ocheyedan junior Madison Brouwer was the meet champion, with a first place finish and a time 19:18.5. Brouwer was one of three Generals to place in the Top 10, as junior Madison Marco placed third with a mark of 20:06.64, and junior Bria Wasmund took eighth at 20:46.04.
The Generals finished third in the team standings with a score of 67, to qualify for state.
Like Hulstein, Brouwer is hoping to improve on last year's performance at the big meet, after placing 19th in 2020. With Thursday’s finish, she has already improved her 2020 postseason by beating last year's state qualifying time by well over a minute. At the 2020 state qualifying meet, Brouwer finished second, with a time of 20:43.
“It really motivated me during the summer, just to see myself out here and getting it on top this year,” Brouwer said. “It makes me feel really good too, but I just know too that I still have work to put in if I want to see the outcome at state.”
Brouwer finished 27 seconds ahead of Cherokee senior Kyrstin Agnitsch, who finished with a time of 19:45.71. After Marco came a pair of Unity Christian runners, as senior Amaya Van Essen and sophomore Olivia Hoogland placed fourth and fifth with respective times of 20:32.38, and 20:41.88.
Cherokee junior Riley Lubeck took sixth place, just ahead of Western Christian-Kingsley-Pierson senior Erika Kuntz, with a time of 20:44.05.
All three qualifying teams also made it in 2020. Cherokee placed No. 7 last year in Class 2A, while Sibley-Ocheyedan finished eighth, and Unity Christian came in 10th in 2020.
Brouwer, a junior, will be making her third appearance at the state meet. Before placing 19th as a sophomore, she finished 87th overall in 2019 with a time of 21:41.8.
With just over a week until the season finale, Brouwer plans to push her body to she can peak at the right time.
"I'm going to rest up the body, and then make sure I'm fueling myself with the right amount of food," Brouwer said. "When we have those hard workouts, just to really get after it and push myself."
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