Somewhere in central Iowa this summer, as the sun starts to dip in the background, a young girl will stripe a drive down the middle of the fairway. She’ll turn to her dad, smile, and say, “I hit that just like Eden.”
In a backyard not far away at about the same time, a little boy will loudly set the scene to the hundreds of invisible fans in attendance — Connor Rash lines up the penalty kick for the state championship! — before he sprints toward the soccer ball and blasts it into the back of the net. It will set off a one-boy celebration that lasts until his mom calls him in for supper.
The next morning, in the hours before the heat gets so intense that it’s hard to breathe, a group of young girls will set out on a run around town. Their mission: To be just like Clare. And Sophia. And Keira. And Sarah.
It’s an amazing thing, isn’t it? In just one season, a blip in time that barely lasted two months, this generation of Gilbert student-athletes not only etched their names into school lore forever, but they also inspired the next generation of kids to be just like them.
And “just like them” is pretty special.
Two team state championships. An individual state championship. A relay state championship. A team state runner-up. A pair of third-place team finishes at state. Multiple state medals. Seven all-tournament team members.
And the victories … So. Many. Victories.
If you’re lucky — and we all were — it’s a season that occurs once in a lifetime. Different teams in different sports all focused on one goal: Being the best of the best. These kids dedicated themselves to it. Probably obsessed over it. And instead of shying away from the seemingly impossible expectations, they embraced them. They ran right into the light and grabbed what they felt was rightfully theirs.
You did that, kids.
You. Did. That.
And you should be extremely proud of yourselves. We all are.
That girls’ 4×800-meter relay — Clare Stahr, Sophia Bleich, Keira Andersen, and Sarah Feddersen — lit the fuse in mid-May when it broke the school record and won a Class 3A title by 10 seconds at the state track and field meet. Feddersen won a bronze medal in the 800, and added another medal in the 4×400 relay. Andersen wasn’t far behind, in fifth, in that same two-tour individual circuit of the blue oval. And both broke the school record.
Other girls — names like Claire Grandgenett, Rebecca Schrader, and Laurel Mizerak — played their roles as well. And William Wadsley put the Gilbert boys’ program in the spotlight with a pair of medal-winning runs in the mile and two-mile.
Cut to three days later and the boys’ golf team bagged another state trophy. The top of the leaderboard alluded the team for the first time since 2019, but third-place is nothing to disregard. For a program that sets its standards in the clouds, another Raccoon River Conference crown and high finish at state should be and is applauded. And with five of the six players back next season, including sixth-place finisher Zach Wilson, it’s not far-fetched to think the Tigers will be a state title contender again in 2024.
And then we get to the girls golfers, arguably the most dominant spring team in any sport, and we’re not just talking about here at Gilbert. We’re talking about the state.
An unbeaten spring for the team and an unbeaten spring for junior Eden Lohrbach. It just doesn’t get better than that. The bow was the program’s first state championship at the 3A meet in Cedar Falls only three days after the boys’ tournament wrapped up. The Lady Tigers were the wire-to-wire leaders, winning by 19 strokes against a field that never stood a chance.
Now here’s the scary part — that team comes back almost fully intact in 2024. Eden Lohrbach, the University of Nebraska recruit, will go in search of her third individual state gold medal. And it’s not far-fetched to say her biggest competition could come from her own household — twin sisters Ava and Ella Lohrbach. Macy Underwood, Josie Dukes, and Haley Loonan, they’ll all be back too.
The rest of the state just bellowed a collective YIKES!
Head coach Grant Walker is a lucky man.
And while all of this was going on, our Esports team was quietly going about its own scintillating spring playing Mario Kart. It took an unbeaten regular season into the state tournament and finished third. For a second-year program under head coach Troy Staudt, I’d say that’s a win no matter how you look at it.
Which brings us to soccer and five days that are hard to top if you’re a Gilbert Tiger.
Two teams. Two state finalists. Only one other school in the state — behemoth Johnston — could also make that claim.
But it wasn’t just the success, it was how the success was achieved. None of us will ever forget the first-half hat trick by Tyler Holtan in the quarterfinals, or the “are you kidding me?!” goal with 4 seconds left in the semifinal win over Sioux City Heelan. How about Connor Rash’s championship hat trick, capped by the walk-off PK that brought the thunder roaring down from the pro-Gilbert crowd as the Tiger boys celebrated their first-ever state soccer title? From beginning to end, it’s a movie script.
Girls, you captivated our minds and hearts equally on your way to a state runner-up finish. Shutouts in the opening two rounds, highlighted by Elle O’Brien streaking down the middle of the pitch as she chased down a perfect pass from Abby Patel to give the team a monumental double-overtime win over reigning state champion Des Moines Christian in the semifinal round.
And can we all give Sydney Lynch a standing ovation? A state golf champion, a state finalist and all-tournament team soccer player, and a two-week stretch that will still make her smile when she tells her grandkids all about it someday.
If somebody told you these stories, you wouldn’t believe them had you not seen them.
But you did. We all did.
All of those little kids watched in awe too. You better believe they were paying attention. And you are who they now emulate.
Isn’t that the greatest win of all?