OMAHA – Bella Hogue has been a leader in the Conestoga community with her positive attitude, generous spirit and industrious work ethic.

She became a leader in the track and field community as well Saturday with a championship effort in front of thousands of fans.

Hogue claimed first place in the 400 meters at the Class B State Meet. She outkicked Bennington senior Michaela Bartels down the stretch to win in 57.51 seconds. Bartels collected the silver medal in 57.75 seconds.

Hogue pocketed the second state track title of her career. She earned a place on the Conestoga Wall of Fame last year with a championship in the Class B 800 meters. She said she was grateful for the opportunity to repeat the feat in a different distance this spring.

“It’s insane to think about,” a beaming Hogue said. “I just feel so blessed. It’s amazing to be able to be in this position and have a chance to get to do this. I can’t begin to tell you how blessed and happy I feel right now.”

Hogue said she was even more overjoyed because of what had happened earlier in the day. She finished eighth in the championship race of the 100 meters against several of the same competitors. Lexington’s Madison Smith won the 100 title and Bartels placed fourth. Both of those decorated runners were also in the 400 meters.

“At the beginning I was a little unsure of myself, because I had a pretty slow 100 earlier today,” Hogue said. “I knew I needed to have a pretty good start, so I tried to push myself and get out as fast as I could. I knew there were a lot of good runners in this race, so I felt I had to come close to getting a school record in order to win.”

Bartels gained a lead midway through the event and was in a first-place position entering the final turn. The Eastern Midlands Conference champion was several steps in front of the other seven runners with less than 200 meters to go.

Hogue said she was inspired at that moment by her experience in last year’s East Central Nebraska Conference Meet. Hogue was running the final leg of the 3,200-meter relay and was well behind Louisville’s anchor runner. She made up the difference in the last 500 meters to help Conestoga win the league title in 10:12.04.

“At the ECNC last year I caught a girl who was probably 100 meters ahead of me in the 4x800, and that was something I thought about today,” Hogue said. “When I was coming down the final stretch I kept telling myself that nothing is impossible. I knew she was a really good runner, but I kept believing that I could do it.”

Hogue caught up to Bartels in the final 25 meters and matched her step for step as they approached the finish line. She leaned forward as she crossed the tape and edged her Bennington opponent by a quarter-step. She closed her eyes and smiled as the public address announcer said she was the winner.

Hogue’s time of 57.51 was the top performance in Conestoga history. Reagan Ruffner had set the previous school-best mark of 58.86 in 2018.

Hogue ran under one minute for the fourth straight race. She soared past her Freeman Invite opponents in 59.42 on May 2 and ran 59.77 at the district meet one week later. She qualified for Saturday’s championship event by posting a time of 59.139 in one of Friday’s preliminary heats.

Hogue left Omaha Burke Stadium with three state medals. She finished fifth in the 200 meters in 25.976 seconds and was eighth in the 100 in 12.965 seconds. She also qualified for state in the 300-meter hurdles. She ran her preliminary race of the event Friday in 49.06 seconds.

Hogue said her parents have taught her about the value of hard work through their actions both at home and in the Conestoga community. She said that allowed her to become a leader on the track in one of the biggest moments of her career.

“Mom and Dad always say do your best and then some,” Hogue said. “I always want to do my absolute best. I think that’s what helped me today. I didn’t want to leave anything out there.”

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