ANAMOSA - Today, Thursday, May 14, was supposed to be the day that Anamosa senior Olivia Nebergall, and the rest of her talented Raider girls track and field teammates, would make more memories by battling for berths to Drake Stadium in Des Moines competing at the class 3A state meet qualifier.
But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tracks are no longer filled with gifted athletes trying to make their dreams come true. Instead, they’re empty, with thoughts now of only what could have been.
For Nebergall, who leaves the Raider program as one of the most decorated athletes in school history, this was not how her amazing career was supposed to come to an end.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I worked so hard to get to this point, and now I don’t get any closure. I didn’t know what was going to happen at the qualifier meet, but I sure would have at least liked a chance at making it back to the state meet in four events and competing for championships with my teammates. It’s sad knowing that I’m never going to get to compete at this level ever again.”
For the last three years, Nebergall competed at the highest level earning the maximum berths to the state meet allowed (four) and brought home numerous hardware for a Raider program who proved they can compete with the elite teams in Iowa.
For Nebergall, success started quickly in what proved to be her namesake event, the high jump, where she was a three-time state qualifier and two-time state place-winner.
“I didn’t even start high jumping until the eighth grade,” she said. “Coach (Jack) Leighty talked to me about high jumping and then talked to my mom about it, too. It was an event that seemed to just come naturally for me. I wouldn’t get too nervous about it and would just go out and jump as high as I could. Running however, that’s where I would get much more nervous.”
Nebergall was sensational as a middle schooler, jumping near Anamosa High School record heights as a mere eighth grader while also dominating on the track in the 100, 200 and 400 events.
“I ran more 400s in middle school and had a lot of fun doing it,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to get to high school and see what I could do against all the older girls.”
In her first-ever high school meet at an indoor event in Mount Vernon back in 2017, Nebergall flew 5-5 in the high jump to set a school record she would tie on numerous occasions over the next three years.
“That was another one of my goals that I now won’t get a shot at,” she said. “I wanted to jump 5-6 or 5-7 and break my school record and hopefully win a state championship.”
Nebergall burst onto the scene as a freshman and earned her way to the state meet not only in the high jump, where she placed sixth in the state, but also the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 4x100 relay events.
Nebergall medaled in the 200 that season as well.
“I remember my first outdoor meet by freshman year at Solon and I had to do the high jump, 400 and sprint medley relays all within an hour,” she said. “I had no breaks. I asked my dad is this how all high school meets are? Because this is not fun.”
Nebergall would go on to have a lot of fun, and leave a lasting legacy at Anamosa.
“I’m pretty happy with what I was able to accomplish during my high school career,” she said. “I have always loved track. It was something that fortunately came pretty easily to me, and the more success I had the more I wanted to work and try and get better.”
That natural ability led Nebergall back to state in four more events as a sophomore, scoring in the distance medley relay (7th) and 4x400 relay (8th), while also competing in the 200 and high jump events.
Last spring as a junior, Nebergall brought home two more state medals, scoring fifth in the distance medley and soaring seventh in the high jump. She also competed at state in the 200 and 4x400 and finished her career with a total of six state medals.
Nebergall was a three-time high jump qualifier to the prestigious Drake Relays as well.
As successful as her three-year run was, there are still plenty of things she’s going to miss.
“The one thing I’m going to miss the most is not being able to run with Maggie McQuillen,” she said. “Maggie and I are so close and we ran together all the time. We pushed each other to get better. We are both such competitive people.”
Nebergall had plans of continuing her track career at the University of Northern Iowa, but decided recently to make a change.
“Back in January I was 95-percent sure I was going to UNI to jump,” she said. “Now I’m going to Kirkwood to start my education in radiology sciences. The track to my future job was going to be better through Kirkwood than it would have been at UNI, so I decided to pick my school for the school and not the sport. A lot of the D-III schools who were recruiting me for track but didn’t have the major I was looking for, so in the end the decision to end my running and jumping career was pretty easy.
“I’m grateful for the years I was able to compete though. Something like this pandemic makes you realize how easily things can be taken away, and makes me appreciate the times I had on the track. I’m glad I had the chance be out there with my teammates, we made so many amazing memories.”