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LONG LIVE THE QUEEN

’Cats Gidel makes history, becomes NCC’s first 4-time champion

Humboldt senior Bryce Gidel flashes four fingers moments after becoming the first four-time North Central Conference cross country champion on Tuesday at the Webster City Links. Gidel broke her own course record to fend off rival and runner-up Ellie Meyer of Iowa Falls-Alden. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Yeah, I get it — this newspaper is called the Webster City Daily Freeman-Journal, not the Humboldt Daily Freeman-Journal. Columns are usually reserved for the accomplishments of Lynx athletes, not their adversaries 45 minutes to the north and west.

But every so often someone comes along and accomplishes something so rare, so spectacular, that it has to be appreciated and recognized regardless of where he or she resides.

Humboldt senior Bryce Gidel did just that on Tuesday. And it needs to be screamed from the rooftops.

In the four-plus decades that the North Central Conference has been hosting league meets, no athlete — male or female — had won four individual titles entering Tuesday’s spectacle at the Webster City Links. Gidel was just the sixth to win three, and to make history she was going to have to buck a season-long trend.

Did she do it? Would I be writing this otherwise?

Humboldt’s Bryce Gidel (left) and Iowa Falls-Alden’s Ellie Meyer go stride-for-stride during Tuesday’s NCC meet in Webster City. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

With a ferocious kick that began with 400 metes remaining, Gidel left nemesis Ellie Meyer of Iowa Falls-Alden in the rearview mirror and sprinted down the homestretch to a thunderous applause to become the one and only four-time conference champion. Gidel’s winning time of 19:05 shattered her own course record (19:39 set in 2017) and beat Meyer (19:15) by 10 seconds.

Her first thought as she crossed the finish line? Thank you Jesus!

“It is so special and so exciting,” Gidel, still smiling more than an hour later as the sky continued to darken, said. “Cross country has meant so much to me, so it’s really exciting to get this done.”

Here’s the thing: even as a three-time champion, it was still somewhat surprising Gidel was able to pull this off. Meyer, a junior, was 3-0 in head-to-head meetings this fall entering Tuesday’s showdown. Meyer has run on a pair of Class 3A state championship 4×800-meter relays in track, so for Gidel to beat her with a closing kick, I mean, are you kidding me?

It just goes to show that sometimes the mind can push the body to do incredible things.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“I really wanted to get that done,” Gidel, who will run collegiately at Iowa, said. “I’m just so thankful to have run a great race and stay mentally in the game.”

Gidel, who was unbeaten in the regular season in her career — in her career! — until Meyer ended that streak earlier this season, admits that mental toughness hasn’t always been a weapon in her arsenal. Even with all of the wins, all of the accolades and all of the headlines, she’s had plenty of moments of doubt.

But here’s what makes her a champion. She identified her own shortcomings and then went to work to close that loophole in her psyche.

“I kind of had a mental breakdown halfway through the season,” she said. “I was getting really frustrated with myself and my times weren’t great. So I started working with a mental strength coach because I decided it’s now or never. It’s my senior year and I had to pick it up.”

Throughout Tuesday’s race, it appeared that Meyer held the upper-hand. The two stars separated from the rest of the field almost immediately and then went shoelace-to-shoelace for more than three miles. Meyer set the pace and Gidel hung on her right shoulder around every curve, up every hill and down every straightaway.

Humboldt’s Bryce Gidel (facing) and Iowa Falls-Alden’s Ellie Meyer embrace following the girls’ race at Tuesday’s NCC meet in Webster City. Both runners broke the course record. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

But Gidel wasn’t just keeping up with Meyer. As it turns out, she was simply setting her up.

“It wasn’t so much about wind blocking, but more so keeping myself mentally in the game,” Gidel said of racing a half-step behind Meyer. “I wanted to give myself the best shot I could because Ellie is a very talented athlete. She’s got a great kick, so I knew if I really wanted it I’d have to get out a little bit earlier. So with 400 to go I decided it was now or never and gave it my best shot.”

It was a race only a champion could envision and then pull off. And Gidel is now the greatest champion in NCC history.

She earned it. And until someone matches her, Gidel is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

Not bad, young lady.

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