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KEARNEY – Bella Hogue sailed into Friday’s state cross country meet riding waves of confidence, cheerfulness and contentment.

She finished her inaugural state appearance in a successful harbor at Kearney Country Club.

Hogue secured fourth place in the Class C State Meet with a personal-best time of 20:26.30. The Conestoga junior joined an elite group of Nebraska runners with her performance. Three of the top five finishers in the race – Lucia McKeag of Ogallala, Jordan Soto-Stopak of Boone Central/Newman Grove and Taya Skelton of Fort Calhoun – were returning state medalists.

Hogue said she was thrilled with the way the race unfolded. She lowered her previous personal-best mark by four seconds and shattered the 21:00 barrier for the fourth straight meet. She also ran 25 seconds faster than she had at the University of Nebraska-Kearney Invite in late September. The UNK Invite took place on the same state course.

“I ran the best time that I’ve ever had today, so I’m really happy with how things went,” a beaming Hogue said. “It’s a dream come true to be able to run like this at a state meet.”

Conestoga head coach Sean Trampe said he was excited to see Hogue’s work ethic pay off with a major state medal. Hogue came into the contest with a district championship on her resume. Trampe said that achievement helped her realize she could be part of the lead pack in the Class C field.

“After districts Bella and I sat down and we talked about the whole range of possibilities for state, including the fact that she could be anywhere from 1-15,” Trampe said. “Both of us were hoping for the upper end of that spectrum, and it turned out that’s where she finished. I’m very proud of her. She ran a great race.”

Hogue began her season with a time of 21:40.80 at the Auburn Quad and began slicing her totals from there. She ran 20:51.80 at the UNK Invite and cut additional seconds at both the East Central Nebraska Conference Meet (20:47.10) and District C-1 Meet (20:30.70). She defeated several returning state medalists during her district performance.

“Districts helped a lot,” Hogue said. “I was honestly a little nervous before today’s race, but after it started I just kept thinking about districts and how everything went well there. That gave me a lot of confidence because I knew I could stick with the top flight of girls.”

Hogue joined the first group of runners during the initial 1,000 meters and maintained her placement in the top eight the rest of the way. She moved around several competitors midway through the race and found herself trailing Skelton in the last section. The defending Class B 800 meters champion then relied on her sprinting abilities to pass Skelton in the final stretch.

“Running the 800 in track helped me a lot toward the end,” Hogue said. “At that point I knew it was all about running as fast as I could, so I just went for it. I was really happy with the way I was able to finish the race.”

Hogue said her first year of cross country has been filled with oceans of positive moments. She said that made Friday’s state result even more special.

“This season has been really fun,” Hogue said. “I have the best teammates ever and the best coaches ever, and they’ve made cross country one of the highlights of my high school career. It’s been a really great experience.”

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