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Our Story: Is Our 2023 Boys’ XC Team The Best In 3A Since The Start of 4 Classes In 2003?

Aaron Thomas chuckled, but he didn’t hesitate. He’s far too modest to bite on such a “hot take” question.

Is his 2023 Gilbert boys’ cross country team the best Class 3A squad since the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union adopted a four-class system in 2003?

“I would say no, I think there are other teams that were probably better,” Thomas, the Tigers’ longtime head coach who now boasts four 3A state championships — 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2023 — said. “I would probably have to take a closer look to see how we would stack up.”

No worries, Coach Thomas, I did that for you. And I’m here to tell him and all of you — this year’s group of Tigers has a pretty strong case to sit on that throne.

Before I go any further, let me lay down this disclaimer: This is all in good fun. There are a number of factors that go into any state cross country race, so to definitively say our 2023 boys’ team is the best in 3A over the past 21 seasons is impossible. Does anyone remember the weather conditions at the 2004 state meet? How about 2008? I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. And this is not meant to demean any of the other incredible programs — Pella, Mount Vernon, Dallas Center-Grimes, Dubuque Wahlert, the list goes on and on — that have made 3A such a formidable field year after year.

So, let’s go ahead and have some fun.

Since 2003, only one 3A state champion — Mount Vernon in 2015 — has scored fewer than the 57 points our boys tallied on Saturday to eek out a six-point win over defending state champion Pella. But if you compare Mount Vernon’s five scoring times to our boys, we win that match-up handily by an average of 38.2 seconds at the five positions, if my calculations are correct. In fact, Gilbert wins that head-to-head match-up at each of the five scoring positions.

So there’s that.

Next, I put together a chart of the times of the five scoring runners (minus the tenths and hundredths of a second since that hasn’t been recorded every season going back to 2003) for each of the state champions over the past 21 seasons and then added them together. When you add our five scoring times from Saturday — Logan Bleich at 15:55, Jacob Tallman at 15:59, Carson Squiers at 16:09, Emmett Barber at 16:18, and Zain Mueller at 16:32 — you get a combined time of 80 minutes, 53 seconds.

No other 3A state champion since 2003 has had a combined time of under 81 minutes. Pella’s state championship team in 2011 was the closest at 81:12, followed by Decorah in 2012 at 81:23. Gilbert’s 2014 title team that featured individual state gold medalist Thomas Pollard is fifth on the list at 82:11.

Oh by the way, Pollard’s winning and school-record time of 15:04.50 is the fastest recorded clocking by a 3A runner since the shift to four classes.

To be completely up front, Pella’s runner-up team on Saturday actually had a better combined time than Gilbert at 80:35 thanks to the 15:18 posted by individual champion Canaan Dunham, but the Tigers’ depth was just a smidgen better.

Now let’s take this to the extreme. Since the state cross country meet has been run at Lakeside Golf Course on the outskirts of Fort Dodge throughout this entire scenario, let’s put all of the state championship teams in the same mythical race and score it out. Again, a disclaimer, because not every year was timed out to tenths and hundredths of a second, the results could be skewed by a few points.

And what are the results of that mythical race? Our 2023 team tallies 110 points to win the title by 18 points over the 2012 Decorah Team (128). The 2011 Pella team is third with 156, while 2008 Algona (197) and 2007 Cedar Rapids Xavier (213) round out the top five.

Whew! I’m exhausted.

So, Coach Thomas, does any of this data change your initial opinion?

“Yeah, I still don’t know,” he said when presented with the evidence. “For whatever reason, times as a whole seem to be faster now. At the Ballard meet this year, I looked at the times we ran and thought ‘holy cow,’ because our times were incredibly fast compared to our 2017 and 2018 state championship teams that were really good.”

OK, Coach Thomas, will you at least concede that maybe — just maybe — this 2023 group is the best boys’ team that Gilbert has ever had?

“Yeah, I could probably say that,” he said. “With what this group did, just the tightness of the pack, it was probably closer together than those 2017 and 2018 teams, and we were a lot further up in the race.”

This year’s team beats the previous three Gilbert championship teams at every scoring position except for one — Pollard’s gold-medal run in 2014. To all future Tigers, good luck chasing down that record.

Fun hypotheticals aside, this year’s group was special. It was seven strong with Preston Stensland and Harrison Kraehling providing scoring points in plenty of meets throughout the season. To have four individuals earn all-state status simply doesn’t happen very often, and when you compare the veterans’ times on Saturday to one year earlier, you just say wow.

Squiers improved by 1 minute, 13 seconds from the 2022 state meet. Barber was 1:19 faster. Mueller improved by 1:05. Stensland was 16 seconds better, and Kraehling improved by 29 seconds.

But as I crunched the numbers and marveled, I kept going back to a tweet sent out by a friend of mine Saturday night. Jeff Linder, one of our state’s best prep sports writers for the Cedar Rapids Gazette said this: “Random Saturday-night tweet. Almost without fail, cross country kids are cream-of-the-crop humans.”

I could not agree more, and we’ve got two big rosters that fit that description. Coach Thomas and girls’ head coach Laura Kautman are two of the best in the state at developing state-championship-caliber teams, but they’re even better at teaching our student-athletes how to be respectful, kind, and outstanding individuals. At the end of the day, that means just as much or more than the state trophies they pile up.

We’re very lucky here at Gilbert.

Mythical State Championship of Class 3A State Champions (2003-2023)

  1. 2023 Gilbert — 110
  2. 2012 Decorah — 128
  3. 2011 Pella — 156
  4. 2008 Algona — 197
  5. 2007 Cedar Rapids Xavier — 213
  6. 2022 Pella — 217
  7. 2017 Gilbert — 240
  8. 2014 Gilbert — 249
  9. 2006 Cedar Rapids Xavier — 258
  10. 2021 Dallas Center-Grimes — 260
  11. 2013 Boone — 263
  12. 2020 Dallas Center-Grimes — 266
  13. 2003 Dubuque Wahlert — 285
  14. 2018 Gilbert — 291
  15. 2009 Pella — 295
  16. 2019 Dallas Center-Grimes — 299
  17. 2015 Mount Vernon — 319
  18. 2016 Mount Vernon — 325
  19. 2004 Dubuque Wahlert — 349
  20. 2010 Dubuque Wahlert — 372
  21. 2005 Mount Vernon — 473

Top 8 Combined Scoring Times For 3A State Championship Teams Since 2003

  1. 2023 Gilbert — 80:53
  2. 2011 Pella — 81:12
  3. 2012 Decorah — 81:23
  4. 2008 Algona — 82:03
  5. 2014 Gilbert — 82:11
  6. 2013 Boone — 82:16
  7. 2022 Pella — 82:29
  8. 2021 Dallas Center-Grimes — 82:51

Learning On The Job, Right From The Classroom

Employability Through Externships and Entrepreneurship offer GHS students real-world business experiences

Vicki Hales walks quietly around her classroom on the second floor of Gilbert High School, stopping every few steps to have hushed conversations with pockets of students sitting at computers. Each chat lasts no longer than a minute or two before she moves on to the next group.

This isn’t your typical classroom. Hales isn’t at the front of the room near a chalkboard, nor is she submitting her students to a lecture with note taking. Hales intentionally sets this class up more like a business because, well, that’s who these students are actually working for.

Welcome to Employability through Externships — a unique class that offers high school students opportunities to join the real world of business while earning high school credits.

“What excites me about teaching business is being able to give these kids real-world experience and make sure they really do know what’s next after they’re done with education,” Hales said. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Employability through Externships — colloquially known as Em2Ex — is in its second year of existence at GHS, and it was brought here by Hales, who taught a similar class at Ames High School before she joined the Gilbert staff.

Essentially, Hales and her students solicit area businesses for projects they need done. Whether it’s help with marketing on social media, or perhaps a video project to help bring in customers, or any number of projects — her students are willing to tackle them for the area businesses.

It’s a win-win scenario. For the business, it gets a project taken off its plate without devoting its own time and energy. For the students, they get firsthand exposure to the business environment that will help them down the road as they prepare for life after school.

“My ask of these businesses is always, ‘Do you have any projects that you would be willing to let 11th and 12th graders try their hand at,’” Hales said. “It’s awesome if the (business) can use it. If not, it’s still a great learning experience for these kids. They’re learning all sorts of skills. They’re learning the actual hands-on skills, but they’re also learning about communication, problem-solving, and they’re having to be creative in different ways.”

Students have performed duties for various businesses throughout the area and have tackled projects for the school as well. Joey Currans, a current senior who is back for a second year with Hales in an advanced employability class, was part of a team who worked with Permanent Christmas Lights in Ames to help streamline their business practice.

“They wanted to go completely paperless,” Hales explained. “When they reached out to customers, they wanted to be able to give them a paperless quote. They wanted to give them an invoice by email, and have all of these papers talk to each other. So I had a group that had to figure out spreadsheets and all of the formulas, and that’s a beast all on its own. But then they wanted to take it a step further and connect it to Google Maps, so there was some coding involved.”

Currans grins slightly as he leans back in his chair and thinks back to that project. It was tough, he admitted, but extremely rewarding. A hopeful future business owner, Currans says the Em2Ex classes give him the chance to learn things at an early age that might not happen in the classroom setting.

“It’s cool to work with businesses and people in the community,” he said. “I’ve also done some marketing projects and it’s a snippet of what you’d actually do, and I get to see the business behind everything. And all of my projects are being used, so that’s cool too.”

Sophie Chitty and Jack Hackett, both seniors, sit at two computer terminals in the back of the classroom discussing their own projects. They have similar, and different, thoughts when it comes to the class. Both say it’s incredibly beneficial to learning about the business world and it’s also a great advisement tool for the future. While Chitty says it’s only validated her desire to enter the business sector, Hackett says it’s proven to him that business isn’t his preferred career path.

“We have little projects that we do every day and it’s not like Mrs. Hales is telling us exactly what to do,” Chitty said. “It’s us taking charge and making sure we’re being consistent. I really like the freedom and I feel like I’m getting experience for the real world.

“I’m going to Iowa State for graphic design and I’m going to minor in either general business or marketing, so this is a really good step. I think (Em2Ex) is going to be super helpful for the next few years because there’s not going to be somebody to hold my hand throughout college. And I think people will like someone who can take charge.”

Said Hackett: “This helps us get a jumpstart into the future, but business is not what I want to go into. But even if you’re not going into business, it’s still a good class. It has skills you’ll need in all professions like emailing, etiquette, and communication skills.”

Hales said the experience generated for her students is crucial, but so is the career aspect. If her students take the class and know they want to get into business, great. And if not? That’s great also.

“I try to give kids all sorts of different experiences with the idea of let’s try it because you never know,” she said. “You have kids that might have no idea what they want to do, which is very common. I had one kid at Ames who didn’t know what he wanted to do, but found out he was really good at video production. It’s not what he ultimately wanted to do, but he started a video production business to help him pay his way through college. I had another student who really wanted to be in marketing. He took on a marketing project and realized he absolutely hated it, which is just as valuable.”

Through the ups and downs, the wins and losses, the students are learning valuable lessons along the way. The key part of that — they’re learning. Every single day.


During the spring semester, Hales teaches Entrepreneurship, formerly known as Principals of Business, that adds another element into real-world business learning. Rather than work with already established businesses, this class allows students the freedom to create their own small businesses from the ground up.

Think of it this way: in Em2Ex, students are consultants. In Entrepreneurship, students are the boss.

“This one is probably more work, yes,” Hales said. “Primarily because when you start a business, you’re typically not doing that in 20 weeks. That’s not reality, but here we are crunching it into a very short time frame.”

During the spring of 2023, the Entrepreneurship class held its first-ever Market Day, where students — either as an individual or in groups — were able to display and sell their products or services to potential clients.

Some students sold baked goods. One group created a T-shirt printing business. Another group created tote bags. One of Hales’ more memorable small businesses was a group of students who utilized downed trees from the derecho to create wood-working projects. One of the top sellers was a set of laser-engraved coasters.

“They were high-quality projects, so that was super cool,” Hales said.

Starting something from the ground up and taking it all the way to market was eye-opening for students. Some enjoyed the freedom that came from being their own bosses. Others realized being a business owner wasn’t as enjoyable as they envisioned. Again, that’s a wonderful learning tool at such a young age.

“Some say, ‘oh, I could see myself doing this,’ and some said, ‘I could not see myself doing this,’ but maybe they like the marketing aspects or how the financing works,” Hales said. “They see almost every single part of a business.”

Hales’ eyes light up as she talks about her students and reminisces on the projects they’ve created or the established businesses they’ve worked with. This is why she got into education. This is why she enjoys being a part of the Gilbert Schools faculty. She has students who are willing and eager to learn. Not just for today, but for their future.

“When you have that kid who has that moment of, ‘Oh, I can do this,’ and then they realize they’re actually good at this … those are big wins,” Hales said.

Gilbert Band, Choir Earn 10 All-State Honors

Members of the Gilbert High School band and choir traveled to Indianola High School on Saturday for the Iowa High School Music Association (IHSMA) All-State Auditions, and to say it went well would be an understatement.

Band, choir, strings — Gilbert will be represented at the All-State Musical Festival across the board.

Under the direction of high school band director Byron Tinder, Gilbert corralled eight all-state honors and had a second individual earn the prestigious honor of being a four-time all-state honoree.

Jonah White, a senior, joins 2022 GHS graduate Aubrey Mizerak as the school’s only four-time all-state members. He will play clarinet in the band.

Two more Mizerak family members, junior twins Laurel and Gretchen, are well on their way to becoming the third and fourth four-time members, as they each earned their third consecutive all-state honor. Laurel Mizerak, playing the clarinet, earned a position in the orchestra, while Gretchen Mizerak, also playing the clarinet, will be in the band.

Nathan Lee, a junior cello player, earned a spot in the orchestra. It’s the second time he’s been selected all-state.

First-time all-state members include:

•Aldo Escalera, senior — first flute, band.
•Jacob Tallman, freshman — third trombone, band.
•Tyler Anderson, junior — bass trombone, orchestra.
•Lillian Dahlstrom, sophomore — first alternate Bari sax, band.

Under the direction of choir director Tanner Stutzman, the GHS choir earned two all-state honors for:

•Molly Weiler, freshman — alto 1, choir.
•Evan Goetz, junior — bass 2, choir.

According to Mr. Tinder, there were 1,575 band members who auditioned statewide with approximately 300 earning all-state status. Of all music students — band and choir — statewide, approximately 1 percent make all state, Mr. Tinder said.

Congratulations to all of our all-state members! They will perform during the IHSMA All-State Festival, Nov. 16-18, at Iowa State University in Ames. The concert will be held at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 18.

Gilbert Runners Head To XC State Qualifier Tagged With The Moniker Of Favorite

Look, we could speak in cliches when it comes to Wednesday’s Class 3A state qualifying cross country meet at Spencer Municipal Golf Course.

It’s anybody’s ballgame, so to speak.

You never know what’s going to happen when the runners hit the course.

Nothing is a given.

That’s all true, of course, but the reality is this — our No. 1-ranked boys’ and No. 2-ranked girls’ teams will be the favorites when racing gets underway at 4 p.m. Heavy favorites, actually. The type of favorites where it’s almost unthinkable that another team could sneak up from behind and pass them on the final leaderboards.


That’s what happens when you put a regular season together the way the Tigers have this fall. They’ve been dominant, capped by last week’s sweep of the Raccoon River Conference championships. Of the 15 ranked individuals in the two races on Wednesday, nine of them will wear Gilbert uniforms.

Understand now?

The top three teams and top 15 individuals in each race will advance to next week’s state meet at Lakeside Golf Course inside Kennedy Park on the outskirts of Fort Dodge. Twelve other schools — Algona, Sioux City Heelan, Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, Denison-Schleswig, Humboldt, LeMars, MOC-Floyd Valley, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Sioux Center, Spencer, Storm Lake, and Webster City — will join Gilbert on Wednesday.

Other ranked girls’ teams include: No. 10 Sioux Center, No. 12 MOC-Floyd Valley, and No. 15 Heelan. Also ranked on the boys’ side are: No. 10 MOC-Floyd Valley and No. 18 Sioux Center.

With such lofty expectations comes the pressure to perform, but Gilbert head coaches Laura Kautman and Aaron Thomas embrace that pressure, and so do their pupils.

“Pressure is a privilege, and we’ve earned that privilege with how we’ve raced all year long,” Kautman, the girls’ head coach, said. “We are the favorites and we like that at this point.”

“If we do what we’re supposed to do, we should be fine,” Thomas, the boys’ head coach, said. “There are a lot of teams there that we haven’t seen, but regardless of who is and isn’t there, we just want to race well so that we can build that confidence for the state meet.”

Thomas’s club possesses six of the eight ranked individuals in the field, led by the underclassmen trio of freshman Logan Bleich (ranked No. 5), freshman Jacob Tallman (No. 9), and sophomore Carson Squiers (No. 13). Bleich and Tallman went 1-2 at last week’s conference meet, and Thomas says there hasn’t been a stage that has been too big for them this fall.

“They don’t seem like freshmen,” Thomas said. “We’ve run at big meets, like at Heartland or conference or Ballard, and they really haven’t let the moment get to them.”

Senior Zain Mueller enters the postseason ranked No. 15, sophomore Preston Stensland sits at No. 24, and senior Harrison Kraehling is No. 27.

Emmett Barber, a junior who was also ranked at various points throughout the season, will round out the roster.

Thomas sees Wednesday’s run as just another step toward the ultimate goal, which is a state championship 10 days later. But first things first on a flat Spencer course that should produce some fast times.

Fittingly enough, the last time Gilbert ran a state qualifier on the Spencer course was during its state championship 2017 season.

“When we went there in 2017, we ran well and had some fast times,” Thomas said. “As long as it’s not windy, you’re going to run fast on that course and it builds confidence for state.”

Freshman Emee Dani (No. 19-ranked), sophomore Keira Andersen (No. 20), and senior Clare Stahr (No. 25) spent the regular season swapping the team lead for the Tiger girls, and that competition at the front of races has fueled the team’s success. Dani emerged as the front-runner late in the season and challenged the school’s 5K record — she fell just four seconds short — en route to a runner-up finish at the league meet.

That friendly competition will likely continue on Wednesday.

“When you have competitive people, you’re always going to have that,” Kautman said. “That pushes them to be better, and that’s why we’ve had the success that we’ve had. When the race is over, they high-five each other and they hug each other.”

Dani, Andersen, and Stahr have forced their teammates to move faster as well, something that was apparent at the RRC meet when the Tigers put all seven runners in the top 17. Freshman Callie Hales, junior Abby Patel, sophomore Maggie Danilson, and junior Sophia Bleich will look to continue to show that talented depth in Spencer.

“We’ve been more effective this year with front-running than maybe we have been in the past,” Kautman said. “All year long, our mentality has been you belong. We run and race with confidence, and that’s not going to change going into the postseason.”

Denison-Schleswig junior Lola Mendlik is the highest-ranked girl in the field at No. 18.

We’ll be in Spencer on Wednesday for the state qualifying meet. Look for updates once the races end, and plenty of photos following the completion of the meet.

Go Tigers!

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

103 Mathews Drive, Gilbert, Iowa 50105  |  (515) 232-3740