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04/26/23 Nerdsletter

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

Contributor: The Nerd


Nebraska weather

Wisner-Pilger, 4/23 (Dr. Nerd)

I had a DM exchange over the weekend with a coach regarding a jump/sprint athlete who hasn't been competing much this season as he works back from an injury. The coach's explanation: they're not going to risk an injury setback just to compete in cold, windy meets.


If your team has been lucky enough to compete on that one day each week where the temps are moderate and the winds are legal, then good for you. If you don't win the lottery and are forced to compete in high-winds and below-freezing windchill, then by all means do whatever you have to do to stay warm.


I LOVE the above picture and I am absolutely not judging Diego. My side of the bed at home is next to a drafty window, so my wintertime sleepwear roughly resembles what he was wearing for the 400 meter dash.


Race of the week

The past two years the Harold Scott meet has been highlighted by an outstanding girls 1600 race. In 2022, Alea Hardie (O'Gorman HS, now at UNL), Stella Miner (Westside) and Jaci Sievers (Elkhorn South) all ran sub-5:00 times. This year's heat sheet reflected a potential battle between Sievers (4:51 PR), Libby Castelli (O'Gorman, 4:57 PR), Ruth Pardy (O'Gorman, 5:06), Berlyn Schutz (Lincoln East, 5:07) and Mia Murray (Lincoln East, 5:08). In the pre-race chatter I had with coaches, the prevailing opinion was that Sievers and Castelli would run sub-4:55 and likely pull along one of the other girls to a huge sub-5:00 PR.


Sievers told me a few days ago that she had gone out a bit too hard in 70 seconds in races the past two weeks and wanted to try a different strategy, so on Thursday she let Castelli take the initiative during the first 200. The pace turned out to be slower than Sievers wanted, so she took over the lead before 400 meters, splitting 74.16 compared to Castelli's 74.38 and Schutz's 75.65. The timing system didn't record an 800-meter split but Sievers came through in well below 2:30 per my photos while Castelli was 30 meters behind with Schutz on her shoulder, both in around 2:30/2:31.


Schutz told me she was shocked at how fast the 800 split was and she expected to have dead legs because of it, but her legs felt great so she pushed ahead. She passed Castelli near the 900-meter mark and based on the race video (click on link) filmed by Nerd Ricky Bobby, she had pulled within 5-7 meters of Sievers by 1200 meters. On the final lap, when Berlyn should have been the most tired, she split a 70.46 compared to Sievers' 76.24. Berlyn finished with a mind-blowing 4:51.73, followed by Siever's third sub-5:00 1600 this spring in 4:56.35. Castelli finished in 5:01.98, Murray improved her PR by two seconds to 5:06, Pardy finished in 5:07 and Peyton Svehla of Lincoln East ran 5:10 to improve her PR from State 2022 by 0.19 seconds (in our house, that would earn her a PR dinner).


Schutz's PR prior to the race was a 5:01.98 she ran in 8th grade, and the 4:51 was a 16-second improvement over her best high school mark. She saw the clock before she passed the finish line and had a huge smile. With her family screaming in joy near the finish line, she bent over and began to cry.


A wild ride

We first encountered Berlyn in October 2017 when she won the State Junior High XC title, and she won again as an 8th grader in 2018. (You would recognize many of the top-10 competitors from that 2018 race: Britt Prince, Claire White, Alayna Vargas, Jordyn Arens, Jaci Sievers and Kassidy Stuckey.) She dominated the junior high scene and carried that momentum into her freshman year, finishing 2nd at State while propelling Lincoln East to one of its many State titles.


The next spring she was hit with a double whammy: the onset of puberty and the cancellation of her freshman track season due to COVID. In the ten months between Nike Regionals in November 2019 and her next race in September 2020, Berlyn had essentially changed from a little girl to a woman. She had an older sister so she knew it was coming, but it changed nearly everything she knew about running.


In October 2022 she spoke with the Omaha World Herald about the difficulties of her transition; a link to her soul-bearing interview on this not-talked-about-enough topic is included on her dad's Twitter page. Jaci Sievers told me this week that Berlyn's authenticity in that article was incredible, and Elkhorn South's distance coaches shared the article with all of their runners. This week I asked what advice she'd give to a female junior high distance runner on the precipice of puberty. "You have to let your body do what it needs to do; you can't stop it or slow it down. You may have a few bad years as an athlete, and no one is going to look exactly like you, but do what you need to do to be healthy. Avoid the scale, eat when you're hungry, don't buy into the social media posts that distance runners have to be skinny."


The path wasn't easy. Her 1600 season-bests were 5:01 (8th grade), 5:22 (10th), 5:10 (11th) and 5:08 this season before her breakout 4:51. Her 800 season-bests were 2:21 (7th), 2:16 (8th), 2:22 (10th), 2:18 (11th) and 2:16 this season. She didn't run the 3200 until this season, but her 11:04 (3rd best this year) on March 30th left her wanting to try once or twice more before she graduates.


In the grand scheme of things, last Thursday was just a mid-season race that will have no bearing on post-season results. And yet, in some ways it seems like that 1600 was the most important race Berlyn had ever run in high school because of everything she'd been through. She agreed. "Before Thursday, I wasn't really thinking about my capabilities or what I could do at State. That race showed me how good I can be. It took away a lot of doubt that I've been holding inside."


I've noticed that high school boys competing in football and basketball seem to view boys from other schools as enemies, but in the last week I've had multiple athletes and coaches tell me that Berlyn was an even better person than runner. Berlyn loves her competitors. "Distance running is so different from other sports. I'm rooting for Jaci, Brianne Travis (LNS), Kennedy Bartee (Links), Maddie Seiler (Gering), everyone. We push and support each other. The messages I've received on Twitter and Instagram the last week have been so touching."


Harold Scott (Nerdsam)

After the race one of our photographers captured a hug between Berlyn and Coach Brian Kabourek. Berlyn said they both shed a few tears. "He has stuck with me for four years. He wouldn't give up on me and always builds me up. He's been consistent whether I've felt good or bad; he didn't ease up but he also didn't push too hard. He emphasizes that the team is greater than the individual, and that made me feel like I was contributing even when I wasn't running my best."


In addition to their last four years together, Coach Kabourek and Berlyn share an unwanted experience. Coach Kabourek lost his wife to cancer; Berlyn's mom passed away from cancer in 2014. Without her mom, Berlyn's dad has been a rock for her. "My dad has been incredibly supportive. He's always by my side and attends almost every event, often wearing a cowboy hat and flip-flops. He's raised three crazy daughters (older sister Ani, younger sister Cecilia). I don't know why, but I usually get emotional when I see him after a race."


At the start and finish of every race, Berlyn thinks about her mom. "I'm not superstitious but I know she's always with me. One of my first thoughts after the race on Thursday was how happy she would have been for me."


Berlyn, we're all happy for you.


Jaci keeps plugging away

It's difficult to comprehend that a 4:56 2nd-place finish in Thursday's 1600 was below Jaci Siever's expectations, but that's an indication of how good she is. She continues to be Nebraska's most consistent high school distance runner this season, as evidenced by her three sub-5:00 and two sub-10:40 performances this season. She finished the 2022 season with PRs of 4:51 (full mile) and 10:22 (two-mile) at Nike Nationals. That 2-mile time converts to a 10:18.57 3200 that would have eclipsed Karlene Erickson's 1982 record of 10:19 if it had been run in-season.


However, Jaci hasn't had a straight path from last season to this season. After a brief layoff after 2022 Nike Nationals, she began training for cross country with perhaps too rapid of an increase in intensity, and the result was a painful case of tendonitis that extended from her ankle to her upper calf. Her official XC season began with 2-3 weeks of no running and another 2-3 weeks of limited Alter-G training. She didn't run on dry land until early September and didn't race until late September, and yet somehow she finished 4th at State XC with an 18:46. She continued to gain fitness after State, running 18:17 and 18:20, respectively, at Nike and Champs regionals in November.


While she lost a chance to win her first State XC title, Jaci described her injury as a blessing. "Running is just something I do, not who I am, and I started to lose sight of that who I am in Christ after all the success I had during last year's track season. The injury gave me time to step back and reset."


In mid-March Jaci ran 4:52 and 10:37 indoor at New Balance Nationals, but her best effort this season was the 10:23 3200 she ran in Tennessee in early April while competing against a number of her future Tennessee teammates.


Claire White (Westside) and Berlyn will certainly be a challenge for Jaci at State, but her remaining goals have little to do with State titles or PRs. "I just want to have fun and enjoy the final weeks of this journey. I've found that I run better when I put less pressure on myself. While I'd love to get a State record, I've learned to run within myself and trust my training."


She gives much of the credit for her incremental development the last four years to coaches Tim Ebers and Peter Cosimi, but also to Gabe Hinrichs (now at Notre Dame). "Gabe was a great example of what someone needs to do to go from good to great. He set a high bar but his work ethic was a great example for all of us."


With her high school days numbered, I asked if she had any advice for the next crop of distance runners. She had plenty. "Distance running is a journey; you may not be where you want to be now but be patient because it takes a while to become good at it. Develop a good work ethic and realize that you don't have to be like anyone else or share their goals; chase your own dreams."


Fast and fresh

We caught up with Hazel Haarberg of Kearney Catholic on Tuesday night. If you haven't heard of her... here's a recap. She's freshman who has burst on the T&F scene this spring, but her coming out party really started in 8th grade. Last spring she won the Nebraska State junior high titles (see below) in the 100 and 200, edging Katie Shafer, a Papio South athlete who has top-10 Class A performances this season in the 100, 200 and 400.


Hazel has both genetics and a strong work ethic on her side. Her dad Rod was a fullback for Nebraska and her mom (Elizabeth Williams Haarberg) was a walk-on heptathlete at Oklahoma State after a successful prep career in Arkansas. Older brother Heinrich is a third-year quarterback at Nebraska, her sister Margaret (a junior) has the second-best high jump in Class C this season, and younger sister Chandler is starting her first track season as a 7th grader.


In terms of work ethic, the three Haarberg girls spent much of this past winter working out at Jon Webster's (former strength coach at Utah) gym in Kearney, with Hazel's focus on developing speed and explosive power. The work has paid off. She has the top mark in Class C in the 100 (12.21) and 200 (25.28), she's ranked 3rd in the Class C long jump (17-07), and she and Margaret are members of the top 4x100 team (49.77) in Class C. She's ranked in the All-Class top 15 in all three of her individual events, and the 4x100 team is ranked 9th.


Despite her success in eighth grade, Hazel had low expectations for her freshman year. She hoped that she would win a few races but she's done more than that: she's won all six 100 finals and all five 200 finals she's competed in this season, the 4x100 team is five-for-five, and she's jumped 17-05 or longer at three meets. She'd like to have more consistent results in her 200-meter races and she'd love to get an 18-00 jump this season. In terms of the State meet, she simply wants to stick with her competitors and see what happens.


Kearney Catholic looks to be a solid contender in the Class C team race. In addition to the Haarbergs, freshman Alyssa Onnen has the top pole vault in Class C and has top-6 marks in the long jump and triple jump. Sophomore Payton Dzingle is ranked in the top 15 in Class C in the 100 and 400, while sophomore Maya Moxley is ranked 10th in the Class C 1600. The team has had this success despite the absence of an all-weather track at their school. The Kearney Catholic track has been described to me as dirt and rocks in shape of a track - yet another example that facilities don't define a program.


Results/schedules

We continue to attempt to track down results from every high school track meet in Nebraska at https://www.preprunningnerd.com/trackresults. We are missing a few meets from last week but we do our best to chase them down.


Top performances

Our leaderboard is continually updated as meets are uploaded to athletic.net. Meets that aren't listed as 'Official' or 'Complete' have to be manually input, as do the results that aren't on athletic.net. If you see a glaring error, let us know at jayslagle@hotmail.com. If the information is wrong on athletic.net, we cannot override the information on the leaderboard. The leaderboard at https://www.preprunningnerd.com/rankings provides top-15 marks for each Class as well as All-Class rankings. Here are a few efforts that jumped out to us this week:


* Kennedy Wade of Bennington popped off a 12.11 100 (#2 All-Class) and 25.02 200 (#1 All-Class) last Tuesday at her home meet.


* Macy Richardson of Sterling and Mia Hunke of West Point-Beemer both ran sub-46:00 300s in the last week, joining Kate Campos of Pius (43.56).


* Berlyn Schutz now has the All-Class lead in the 800 (2:16.73) and 1600 (4:51.73).


* Ella Gardner of Superior tripled jumped 37-05.5 on April 18 at her home meet, marking her third consecutive season topping 37'. Only Amari Laing (Millard South, 37-10) and Jocelynn Skoda (GACC, 37-08) have longer jumps this season.


* I'm still trying to track down the results, but I've been told that Kaylee Pribyl of Meridian cleared 12-00 in the pole vault at Friend on April 18, which would put her five inches behind All-Class leader Tayler Evans of Fremont.


* The Elkhorn South girls ran a 4:03.23 4x400 to drop into second behind Waverly's 4:02.04.


* The star-studded 4x800 quartet from Lincoln East ran 9:21.63 at Harold Scott to extend their State lead to 26 seconds. The timing system says that Berlyn Schutz ran a 2:13.97 anchor leg about six hours before she ran her 4:51 1600. The Spartan times ranged between 2:13 and 2:24. Lincoln East's 2018 squad owns the All-Class State record of 9:12.7, and that mark appears to be in jeopardy.


* Andrew Jones of Creighton Prep took over the 100 All-Class lead with a 10.56; there was no wind reading.


* Jackson Roberts of Boone Central ran a State-leading time of 38.29 in the 300H at the CNTC meet on Monday. He briefly populated our spreadsheet before the CNTC results were changed to 'partial', so we'll have to manually input those results if the status doesn't change. He's the first boy to dip under 39 seconds this season. Jacob Horner of Elkhorn North, Malachi Swallow of Chadron and Rhett Cullers of Chadron all ran between 39.19 and 39.25 last Thursday.


* Riley Boonstra of Norris has been a force in cross country the past two seasons and he's now the Class B 1600 leader after his 4:24 on Saturday at York in subpar conditions.


* Jack Witte of Millard West and Isaac Ochoa of Norfolk faced off in the 3200 last Thursday at Norfolk, with Witte running 9:25 and Ochoa at 9:26. Witte is now the Class A leader in all three distance events. Austin Carrera of Hastings popped off a 9:33 at Platteview on Thursday to take over the Class B lead.


* Carson Staehr of Aurora improved his PR by three inches with a 23-03 effort at last Thursday's GINW meet. He jumped 47-03.5 at the CNTC meet on Monday, just short of his All-Class leading effort of 47-11.50.


* Landon Scott of Waverly registered the 2nd-best All-Class pole vault this season with his 14-06 on Saturday at York.


* Creighton Prep ran a 3:34.53 4x400 at Papio South on Thursday to move into second place All-Class behind Waverly's impressive 3:21.98 from April 6th.


Photos

Over 90% of the Nerd team's time is devoted to taking and editing photos. For every hour you see a Nerd at the track, he or she is devoting at least another hour to editing. Just like parents, they're juggling they're volunteer roles along with work, family, medical care and all of the other obligations of being a good human. A year ago I felt like the three Nerds in our family were really cooking, but the 2022 track season pales in comparison to what the other fourteen Nerd superheroes have done this season.


Our Facebook albums - all 185 meets - for the last 16 months are linked at our website at https://www.preprunningnerd.com/2022. Our media policy is also on that page. We want athletes, families and coaches to share the photos, and we'd love it if you'd give us credit on social media so we reach more T&F fans. If you're a coach, we'd love it if you told your athletes and families about our coverage. No one in Nebraska covers T&F like the Nerd team.


Every week our Nerd photographers raise the bar, as evidenced by the photos they took last week:


Wisner-Pilger, 4/23 (Dr. Nerd)

Yowell Invite (Nerdlee)

Wisner-Pilger, 4/18 (Nor'easter Nerd)

GINW (Hurdle Nerd)

Tri-County and its cows (Nerdka)

Arapahoe (High Mileage Nerd)

Norfolk (Nerd Dawg)

Harold Scott (Nerd Sr.)

Harold Scott (Nerd Ricky Bobby)

Harold Scott (Nerdsam)

Mudecas (Nerdka)

We had one follower check with us to see when the Schuyler photos would be posted since she had met a photographer there who said he was a Nerd. We didn't have anyone at Schuyler last week, so I think the guy might have been saying he was a nerd instead of a NERD. That distinction is very important.


Junior High State track meet

The Nebraska Championship Meet was created in 2005 to host the best 7th and 8th graders in Nebraska. This year's meet will be held on May 13 in Gothenburg, and the 24 best marks in each event (16 top marks in relays) will be accepted for entry. Marks must be entered online in a very specific way by May 5; see https://nebraskachampionshipmeet.com/ for more info.

Nerd Junior competed in this meet as a 8th grader, and he was one of the few kids from the Omaha metro area. The organizers expect up to 3,000 fans this year, and it's staffed by USATF-certified officials who routinely work collegiate meets. If you want to see how good the competition is, check out last year's results at https://www.athletic.net/TrackAndField/meet/462227/results/all.


Camps

We have a new addition to the camp list from last week:


* Cozad High School is hosting a one-day cross country camp on July 11 from 9:00-2:30. Speakers include collegiate coaches Matt Beisel (Concordia), Brad Jenny (Doane), Ryan Mahoney (Hastings), and Brady Bonsall (UNK). The flyer for the camp is linked here.


* David Ramsey is again hosting a Cross Country Running Camp in Pueblo Colorado on July 9-16. I don't have any experience with the camp but a number of Nebraska runners have attended the camp in the pre-COVID era. Here is the link for that camp.


* The Eyes Up camp led by Coach Chris Gannon at Creighton has two two-days sessions: an elite camp on July 17-18 and a second camp on July 24-25. You might even have Nerd the Third as a camp counselor. Go to www.eyesup.run for more information.


* Homer High School is hosting a one-day camp on July 13. Speakers include Creighton coaches Chris Gannon and Matthew Fayers and Mount Marty's Dan Fitzsimmons. Click here for more information and the registration form.


* The Fellowship of Christian Athletes hosts a very popular camp June 13-16 in Kearney. A lot of distance running friendships have started here, and we know a few collegiate athletes who have been counselors there. For more info, go to https://search.fcacamps.org/CampDetail.aspx?ID=9389. Another link is https://www.omahafca.org/camp#DistanceCamp.


* Millard South is hosting a track camp June 13-15 and a cross country camp June 19-21 for kids through 8th grade. More info at https://sites.google.com/a/mpsomaha.org/ms-track-field/camps.


* Westside Middle School is the location for a K-6 camp every Tuesday and Thursday from May 30th through June 29th. More info at https://www.westvalleytrack.com/?fbclid=IwAR2teWrQGIlQAF_jkVT6ggaMwzTtInhVHhnS5jHfgmcgBxFmf1JWti_Rgj0.


Girls in sports

I starting saying this last year, but we're in the golden age of girls distance running in Nebraska. However, every event in every class has an abundance of talent, and I'm thankful that 1972's Title IX has leveled the playing field for girls. Nearly every girl I interview or simply interact with at a track meet will eventually mention how track and field has changed her life for the better, from the back-of-the-pack runner to the State champion. Teamwork, friendship, resilience, stress relief, good health... there are more positives to athletic participation than I can count.


My daughter stopped participating in sports after 7th grade so she didn't have to balance athletics with her maturation into a woman. However, I watched my two boys grow into men, and it's a piece of cake compared to what girls experience. Over a few years, Nerd Junior and Nerd the Third each added 8 inches of height and 30-40 pounds of bone and muscle. The only drawbacks to puberty for them were sore joints and late-season fatigue from growing so quickly. Female puberty gives women the superpower to create other humans, but it rarely give them the rapid performance in athletics improvement that is accorded to men.


I'm not overtly political but I will die on this hill: girls deserve equal opportunity in sports, and we need to do everything we can to protect that equality.


Speed work

A few quick hits from the past week:


* Malachi Coleman of Lincoln East announced on Twitter that he won't be competing the remainder of the track season due to an injury. He joins Ben Nyogi (Lincoln High, early-enrollee at Iowa State) and Connor Millikan (Platteview, injury) as notable athletes who won't be returning to Burke in May.


* Claire White of Westside competed at the Harold Scott meet, running 11:14 in the 3200. When heat sheets were released and it became clear that the 1600 was stacked, the Westside coaches briefly considered moving Claire to that race. However, she had a heavy workload at the KU Relays the previous weekend, so the Westside coaches decided to keep Claire in the 3200 where she cruised to a 21-second victory.


* I noted a few weeks ago that Kara Goucher's book, "The Longest Run," was a great read, particularly for girl distance runners. I've had several followers also highly recommend Lauren Fleshman's "Good for a Girl."


* Abi Spargo, a 7th grader at Dundy County Stratton, ran a 61.64 400 last week at Harland Sutton.


* Jason Gay wrote a great article in the Wall Street Journal this week about the real purpose of youth sports - fun, teamwork, exercise - and not scholarships, weekend tourneys, etc. It may be behind a paywall but here's the link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/youth-sports-participation-trophies-debate-d10186fc?st=0idjakwpxdngbz8&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink.


* Millard South grad Noah Rasmussen won the Drake Relays 10k road race this weekend in 29:33. Creighton Prep alum Robert Nizzi won the Nebraska Marathon half-marathon in downtown Omaha in a blazing 1:13.14.


* We continue to track Class of 2023 T&F commitments at https://www.preprunningnerd.com/post/2023commits. If we've missed a commitment, shoot us a DM or e-mail jayslagle@hotmail.com.


* I was listening to a podcast with celeb Ryan Reynolds today and he said something that teenagers should embrace: "You can't be great at something unless you're first willing to be bad at it."


* On a personal note, my daughter-in-law Nerd Ever After completed her first 5K at UNO on Saturday, nailing her goal pace. She was coached and paced by her husband Nerd Junior. Nerd Ever After was a golfer at Marian, but I'm hoping she's caught the running bug.


Nerd gear

We said a few months ago that we weren't going to order any more Nerd gear until we sold the rest of our hats and white t-shirts. However, our Nerd team grew so much this spring that we needed to order gear for them. We have replenished our supply of Nerd sweatshirts and black t-shirts, and we still have the white t-shirts (long-sleeve or short) and Nerd hats. If you purchase an item at https://www.preprunningnerd.com/shop, that is a small step towards converting Fashion Nerd's room from a supply closet back into a bedroom.


*********


First published at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay Slagle on April 26, 2023. If you find an error, please DM or e-mail us at jayslagle@hotmail.com and we'll get it fixed.


Like this coverage of Nebraska high school distance running? There's more of this at www.preprunningnerd.com. Check out the Blog tab for our frequent stories, the Articles tab for long-form articles, the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we can find, and the Rankings tab for top-15 performances in each event. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow us on Twitter and Instagram @PrepRunningNerd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd.


Finally, if you think runners, jumpers and throwers are the best things on earth, you'll enjoy our two most popular articles. In 2018 we published "The Runner with the Broken Heart" about a high school boy who finished last in nearly every race he ran. In 2022 we published, "The Fall and Rise of Emmett Hassenstab," a story about a high school triple jumper who became a quadrapalegic after a swimming accident.



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