FORT DODGE — A year ago, Northeast’s Andrew Hilgendorf went to the state cross country meet in search of a state medal.

He came back home empty handed.

There was disappointment, to be sure, but it was softened by the possibility that he could be back at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course again.

Saturday, that possibility had come to fruition.

Hilgendorf was back at the starting line of the 2A boys race, a state medal again in his sight, and this time propelled by a big motivator.

“I didn’t get what I wanted last year, but I thought ‘I’ll have another chance next year,’” Hilgendorf said. “As a senior, I don’t get to say ‘next year…’.”

Instead, Hilgendorf saved the best performance of his prep career for the present, running a personal-best 16:44 to earn his long-awaited state medal by taking 12th overall.

“Having Andrew back to state was the goal,” Northeast head coach Trent Weaver said. “And then to go beyond that and place 12th was achieving that goal and then some.”

The clocking was three seconds better than his previous best, set nine days earlier at the 2A state-qualifying meet, and more than 40 seconds better than either of his two previous times at the state meet.

But it was also in line with the performances, Hilgendorf had been putting together during his senior season.

“I’ve been having a real good year with my times on the same courses,” the senior said.

The numbers bear witness to that, Hilgendorf ran in eight meets this year that he also competed in as a junior and improved his time in six of them.

In addition, Hilgendorf ran four of the five fastest times of his career in the past three months.

Hilgendorf’s medal-winning performance was part of a dominant display for the River Valley Conference.

Of the top-15 runners awarded medals, nearly half (seven) hailed from the league, including the top three finishers — Camanche’s Dylan Darsidan, Bellevue’s Brady Griebel and Tipton’s Caleb Shumaker.

Not to be outdone, Tipton — the River Valley Conference team champion — repeated as the 2A team champion.

Hilgendorf is the Rebels’ first state medalist since Wyatt Schmidt in 2017.

Coincidentally, Schmidt followed a near-identical path to Hilgendorf — the two ran together at state in 2017 — earning his state medal as a senior after two previous trips.

Looking to buck that trend and earn his medal a year earlier is junior Thomas Machande, who made his state debut Saturday.

Like his senior teammate, Machande put together the best performance of his career, running a personal-best 17:38 to finish 53rd overall.

“Thomas coming in 53rd out of 137 runners is awesome,” Weaver said.

It was the perfect capper to a breakout junior season for Machande, who ran in just three varsity meets as a sophomore.

This fall, the Rebel ran a new personal-best in Northeast’s opening meet and then lowered it again five more times throughout the season, including each of his last two races.