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07/30/23 Nerdsletter

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Contributor: The Nerd

We'll be dropping season previews in late August, but we couldn't wait until then to share a bunch of bite-sized running news that we've collected in the last four weeks.

Nebraska Coaches Association convention

Last week the NCA generously allowed me to attend their convention as a media member. The NCA education tracks are very good, which means it's one of the few times that a lot of XC coaches are together in one room. While I didn't get to meet as many coaches as I'd like, here were some take-aways from the meeting:

  • The NSAA is moving forward with its plan to eliminate preliminary heats for the 300H and 400 at the State meet.

  • The National Federation of High Schools rules have been changed to give state associations the freedom to allow track athletes to compete in up to six different events at a meet. I haven't heard any whispers that this is being considered in Nebraska.

  • One presenter said that he never likes his kids to 'fail' in a workout session, so he'll back off reps/distance on the fly if a session isn't going well. It's an interesting observation since I've heard a number of coaches say that failure is an integral part of the process of getting better.

  • One coach likes to give his team a number of mantras to use for their running and personal lives, including "If you think you can, you can", "You can be happy today if you choose to be," and "Figure out what you love, and then do it a lot."

  • It was only a sample size of three, but I mentioned Strava during lunch and all three coaches told me how they wished it went away. In addition to the 'comparison trap' that is often the most negative part of Instagram, the coaches fear that Strava encourages some of their runners to overtrain.

Class classifications

The distribution of Fall 2023 class classifications was delayed due to computer issues, but they are now available at Schools have until August 3rd to inform the NSAA if they want to opt-up to the next larger class. As of July 27, only Omaha Westview, Omaha Buena Vista and Lincoln Pius have opted up. Because of those opt-ups, the draft schedule has Class A with 33 schools in each gender while Class B will have 24 boys teams and 26 girls teams (Duchesne and Mercy). I haven't studied the classifications in detail because they may change, but two notable shifts are Mount Michael and Roncalli from Class B to Class C. Mount Michael returns three boys from its 2022 District Championship team, while Roncalli returns Gus Lampe, who was 9th in 2022 XC and 4th in 2023 3200.

One notable addition to Class B is the new Gretna East High School. Unlike most school districts that have open enrollment policies, I've been told that the Gretna/Gretna East split is largely based on a fixed map. Unless you're a student that falls into one of the few exceptions (for example, you're a rising senior), you'll be headed to Gretna East if you fall on its side of their map. That means that Braden Lofquest, who finished 10th in Class A XC and won the 800 in May, will be a Griffin this fall.

We'll examine the classifications a little harder once they're final and we'll do our best to include them in the season previews.

Anxiety and failure

Performance psychiatrist Larry Widman, who has consulted with a number of UNL and CU teams, spoke at the NCA meeting and noted that 15-21% of D1 athletes experience depression while 30% report that they have anxiety. A July 24 Wall Street article, "Lazy Girl Jobs Won't Make Gen Z Less Anxious," notes that the prevalence of self-reported anxiety and doctor-confirmed anxiety disorder is higher in the sub-30 age group than among older people. The WSJ article suggests that one reason for this increase is that over-protective parents like me try to eliminate every hardship and obstacle that their children could face. According to a NYU psychiatrist, parents are often the "reason why Gen Z is terrified of anxiety: They have no experience with it." Indeed, she said, they have been taught anxiety is a harmful emotion rather than a beneficial one that, once navigated successfully a few times, motivates us to reflect and change. It turns out that with anxiety, she gently noted, “practice makes perfect.”"

This isn't to say that anxiety and anxiety disorders aren't real. Some people are crippled by anxiety and truly need medical attention and counseling to deal with it. However, it can also be true that anxiety is partially caused by hyper-connectedness through social media, a reduction of face-to-face interactions due to our obsession with technology, and yes, a shortage of difficult challenges.

One of the reasons I love distance running so much is that it serves up constant servings of failure. If a runner works through those setbacks, I think they can develop a resilience 'muscle' that will help them in athletics, school, work and relationships. Failures can be the foundation of success, and people who run headlong into failure-prone situations are often the best prepared to handle challenges. Last fall I wrote an article "Failing Forward" at that addressed this approach to life.

I don't know what to think about you guys

During a NCA session break I was introduced to a XC coach. When I said that I was with Prep Running Nerd, her first response was, "I don't know what to think about you guys." I asked her why, and she replied that she felt our weekly runner rankings were negatively impacting her runners.

Individual rankings were not our invention. We took over the rankings from NETC, and someone told me last week that Coach Musiel was putting them out twenty years ago when he was still at Bellevue. However, I understand that runners can get caught up in their ranking or lack thereof, and it's one of the reasons I was hesitant to do it. However, we decided to take it over for a few reasons:

  • XC kids work their tails off. They deserve recognition when they excel.

  • XC is incredibly undercovered by the media. Why are there weekly NCAA football or volleyball rankings? Because it draws attention to the sport, it gets people talking about the sport, and it provides a carrot for teams that want to get better.

  • While rankings deflate some athletes or add pressure, others are motivated by it. Austin Carrera of Hastings told a reporter last fall that his goal was to join our rankings, and he worked his tail off to medal at State as a sophomore. The Homer XC team celebrated their first team ranking that they received a few years after they started their program.

Our weekly rankings are subjective. They don't take into account that you had a hard week of school, that your coach is purposely over-working you with a long-term goal in mind, or that you are struggling with an injury. If we rank you first, we won't ridicule you if you don't win State; our only point is that, at that specific point in the season, we thought you deserved to be ranked first.

Have I ever had a coach e-mail me to request that I delay ranking one of their kids for another week or two because remaining unranked would fuel the athlete's fire? Maybe that's happened. However, at the end of the day we're here to celebrate runners, and we'll do our best to shine a light on them.

Shawn Gray fundraiser

Shawn Gray, the head girls Cross Country Coach and co-head T&F coach at Papio La Vista, was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer. He's in his early 40s and has three young children - 7, 5, and 1. His wife Julie Gray is a teacher and track and field coach in Millard at Russell Middle School. Obviously, it is devastating news to have this type of advanced cancer at his age.

Shawn's treatment will be extensive and will likely involve some travel and time away from family. Any cancer treatment is certainly costly. To that end, the Papio community has started a GoFundMe page for Shawn and his family at

In addition, Papio and Papio South are going to host a community-wide 3K/5K and 1 mile walk this Saturday, August 5th, at Walnut Creek. A link for more race information and to register for the race is at Since NSAA XC Season begins on August 7th, any athlete can participant without risking eligibility. In addition, it's a great opportunity for parents and siblings to run on the updated course that will be used for Class of Metro, Metros and a number of other events.

Table talk

I spent some time with Coach Haselhorst of Papio South at the NCA meeting, and he told me that during the season he sends periodic e-mails to parents with updates on the season, upcoming meets, and general information that will help them understand the sport a bit better. He also gives the parents a topic/question that they can discuss at the dinner table. Here's one I really like: "What do you want me to say before, during and after a race, and how is that different based on how well you think you did?"

Confidence Camp

Speaking of Coach Haselhorst, several weeks ago he invited me to attend the first Confidence Camp that he offers to distance runners. I found the presentations interesting and helpful even as an adult, and I highly recommend the camp for athletes who want to have a mental game that matches their physical preparation. A second Confidence Camp is being offered on Saturday, August 19 at College of St. Mary in Omaha. Go to for more information.

I know that many people think that social media is toxic, but @Free2Compete is also a great follow on Twitter if you'd like to see more material from the two coaches behind Confidence Camp.

Nerd gear

We can't order any new Nerd gear until we sell last year's models. We've got white short- and long-sleeve t-shirts, black t-shirts, hats and a limited supply of sweatshirts. You can find pictures of the gear and order links at

We need more Nerds

Our springtime Nerd roster swelled to seventeen volunteers, but we know we're going to lose a few Nerds once XC season arrives. We're in desperate need of Nerds from all over Nebraska. However, we especially need one or two based in Grand Island, Kearney and Hastings, and we know there are sports nuts in all three towns. What are the qualifications? A love for the sport, a good sports camera and lens, the ability to edit photos, and a working knowledge of Facebook. If you have the slightest glimmer of interest, shoot me an e-mail at and I'll give you more details.

National champs

We lose a bit of focus during the summer, but I believe we've had three national champs from Nebraska during the summer season. During the past week Ike Ackerman of Omaha Central won the USATF 15-16 shot put national championship while Corey Vaughn of Omaha Westside won the USATF 17-18 triple jump title. Claire Hellbusch of Lincoln North Star won the AAU 15-16 high jump national title at Drake Stadium on 7/31. Let us know if we've missed anyone and we'll update this list.

USATF photos

Nerd Dawg continues to grind, and he had already shot over 30 track meets this year before he went to USATF regionals in Lacrosse and USATF nationals in Eugene. Did he get a photo of every Nebraskan? Not a chance. However, once he's firmly back into his routine he'll begin posting photos of the meets.

Interestingly, Nerd Dawg was the only regional photographer at USATF Nationals alongside DyeStat, MileSplit and other big websites. Dawg could not get over what gracious hosts the USATF staff were for a simple Nerd, and he had nearly full access to the incredible Hayward Field. Even more interestingly, the USATF had no qualms with photographers sitting at the end of the long/triple jump pit to take pictures. If a national meet allows it - run by the entity that puts on the Olympic Trials - why isn't it allowed at the Nebraska State meet?

Story ideas?

We're always on the look for great stories to share with our growing follower base. If you stumble across something that you think the cross country community would appreciate, please e-mail me at and we'll take a look at it.


First published at by Jay Slagle on July 30, 2023. Like this coverage of Nebraska high school distance running? There's more of this at Check out the Blog tab for our frequent stories, the Articles tab for long-form articles, and the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we can find. Once the season starts, we'll also rank the top 15 athletes in each Class at the Rankings tab. 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

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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