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10/5/22 Nerdsletter

Updated: Oct 5, 2022

Contributor: The Nerd

Failing forward

We have a joke in our family that since Nerd Junior was three or four years old, he has had an endless series of obsessions. For one to three months at a time, he would spend all of his free time on his current obsession and then, for no discernible reason, move onto the next 'thing.' As a young child, the obsession often involved collecting things like Silly Bands, Pokemon cards or bouncy balls, but in grade school he moved more towards physical things like making God's eyes, knitting yarn hot pads by the dozen, learning yo-yo tricks, designing paper airplanes, reading the Harry Potter book series multiple times, and solving a Rubik's cube. Once puberty hit, I now realize, his obsessions started to get progressively harder. He bought a 4x4 Rubik's cube. He took piano lessons and excelled at playing technically difficult songs. He found a pogo stick at Goodwill; after bouncing around the block became too easy, he figured out how to play basketball while on a pogo stick. He bought a unicycle and learned how to ride it. A few years ago he memorized the college of every active NBA player. Once he mastered each task to his liking, he found the next challenge.

At the time, these endeavors were mostly entertaining to my wife and me, and we encouraged them as alternatives to television or video games. However, as I look back at them, I now realize that Junior kept taking on challenges that required repeated failures to reach mastery. Much like Thomas Edison was rumored to have failed thousands of times to find the best filament for the electric light bulb, Junior gravitated towards hobbies that required weeks or months of failures. For example, when he first got his unicyle, over a hundred times each night he failed to go more than a few feet before losing his balance. When he learned a new piano piece, he would play the same brief section 10 to 50 times until he could play it at the correct tempo without errors. When he decided he wasn't memorizing the NBA players quickly enough, he created his own Quizlet to speed up the process.

Junior embraced failure as an essential process to get better, and he wasn't afraid to invest his time and ego into each venture, even if no one else thought it was an interesting effort. It now seems clear that this early-developing personality was perfect for the distance running career he began in 7th grade; running features long hours of practice, repeated failures, limited fanfare, and the biggest reward is often accomplishing something that few other people could do... or would even attempt.

The Papio South girls' team has a motto this fall: "Do tough things." It's a take on Steve Magness' recent book, "Do Hard Things," but it's also a concept that Coach Jeremy Haselhorst has been ruminating on for several years. He teaches a leadership class at Papio South and he's noticed the past few years (perhaps because of the COVID shutdown) that high school students are increasingly shying away from attempting hard things. "Running is never easy, no matter how fit you are," Coach Haselhorst told me on Monday night, "because all of us naturally want to reach the next level." He wanted his team to buy into the idea that they were doing something tough that less bold teenagers wouldn't even try. He also needed newly-minted varsity runners to take on leadership roles which, again, included responsibilities that high school students seem less excited about embracing.

The reason I'm writing about Junior (this is really the first time I've written about him during my five years as the Nerd) is because of what I saw at the UNK meet nine days ago. For those of you who stuck around for the eighth and final race, you saw Mia Murray of Lincoln fly around the course in 18:19, just 22 seconds off the course record despite the relatively hot conditions. What you might have missed was Jaci Sievers (Elkhorn South) who maintained contact with Mia through about 3000 meters. Jaci hasn't raced since mid-June when she competed at Nike Nationals in Eugene. If the Nike meet had been in-season, the converted results (4:51 mile, 10:22 2-mile) would have placed Jaci in the top three girls in Nebraska high school history.

In large part because of Nike Nationals and her 4:51 (1600) and 10:27 (3200) victories at the State meet in May, Jaci was ranked #1 in Class A in the pre-season polls. We kept her at #1 even though she didn't race the first five weeks due to an injury, and it wasn't a given that she would compete at UNK. Jaci had no shortage of excuses. She hadn't completed a legitimate workout this fall prior to UNK, but it was clear that the course and the competition would offer a fitness check for her. She could have waited until she was in better shape and maybe held onto that #1 ranking for another week. She could have ran conservatively. Instead, she went out fast with Mia and held on for dear life.

Last fall, Jaci's slowest race was 19:08. At UNK last week, she lost contact with Mia after 3000 meters and faded quickly, finishing 16th in 20:18. During in-state competition over the last 14 months, Jaci had only been beaten by three high school runners: Elli Dahl and Alea Hardie (both now at UNL) and Stella Miner. At UNK, she was passed by fourteen runners in just the last mile.

A few hours after the UNK race, Elkhorn South coach Peter Cosimi received a text from another Class A coach: "What Jaci did today was more impressive than anything she's ever done before."

Jaci failed to win the race, failed to run a good time (by her standards), and failed to finish strong.

It was not a wasted day. The race humbled her; nearly all runners are humbled by races and workouts. It informed her; she now knows where she stands relative to the new #1 runner in state. It also advanced her training; the UNK race was arguably her first workout of the season. Finally, it also took the target off her back; she's now the hunter, not the hunted.

Successful people tackle hard things. They don't avoid failure; they seek it out.

They fail forward.

Because the UNK meet is so large, the organizers award medals to the top 20 finishers instead of the traditional top 15. After Jaci received her 16th-place medal, Coach Tim Ebers had a message for her: "Keep that medal. Don’t throw it away. Don’t put it in the closet; put it with your gold medals. You need to remember that you did something special today."

I shared a draft of this article with Coach Haselhorst and his response was so good that I had to include it:

"Failing forward is a message that is so important for young people. Honestly, it's something that we adults don't model very well. As we get older, 'hard' comes looking for us - raising a family, health issues, the deaths of loved ones. Perhaps because of that, not many adults seek out hard things. I ran a 50-mile race a couple of years ago because I personally needed to be reminded what it's like to choose to do something hard, to do something with a high likelihood of failure. Training in season is hard, and that race helped remind me of what our ladies are going through."

Is modeling important and can failing forward be contagious? I'd say 'yes' to both questions. From my Nerd perspective, I see this mentality baked into the culture of successful XC programs. As a father, I see how Jack impacted his little brother: Henry can also ride a unicycle, play pogo-stick basketball (they were 13 and 10 in the video above from 2013) and do a bunch of other really hard things that I have never attempted. I think they will teach my grandchildren about failing forward.


We get it. You suffer through our sappy articles but you're really a fan because of the photos. We kind of slacked off last week and only hit five meets: UNK, York, LPS, Millard West and the collegiate meet at Mizzou. We've posted Class C and D photos from UNK but we still owe you Class A and B. By this end of this week, we will have attended (and shot) 50 meets since late August. FIFTY! We should also be close to 90 for all of 2022. No wonder all of the Nerds are tired.

Rather than sort through our Facebook posts, you can find links to our meet albums at Here are some of the best photos of last week:

York (Nerdlee)

UNK (Dr. Nerd)

Millard West (Nerd HD)

LPS (Nerd Central)

Where are the Nerds?

This week could be our busiest of the season, thanks to a guest Nerd. John Elftmann is shooting the Bennington meet for us on Thursday, and that may allow us to cover as many as nine meets this week. The others we're planning on attending, subject to no unexpected work or school conflicts: Centennial at Pioneer Park (Nerd Central), St. Paul (Broken Nerd), NCC at Ashland (Nerd HD), HAC at Kearney (Dr. Nerd), East Husker at Oakland (Nerd Sr.), Metros at Papio South (Nerd Jr.), Sidney (CW Nerd) and the junior high state meet at Papio South (Nerd Jr. and Sr.).

Junior high kids are cool

The second best XC State championship in October is being held this weekend at Papio South. Yes, I'm talking about the junior high State meet, a huge and incredibly well-run meet. While not every school competes at this meet, it has a history of launching the careers of some pretty spectacular high school athletes. Here is a partial list of past JH champs who later won HS State titles: Aidan Wheelock (Minden), Rylee Rice (Ainsworth), Ryan Zavadil (Skutt), Jordyn Arens (Crofton), Isaac Ochoa (Norfolk) and Carson Noecker (Hartington).

Junior high races are relatively localized, so this is a rare chance for Omaha kids to race Lincoln kids and for big-city kids to race small-town kids. We're not sure if the 3000-meter course record of 10:02 (Eli Murillo, 2021) is at risk, but Beryln Schutz's 10:51 mark from 2018 may be. While the actual distance of '3000-meter' courses at junior high meets can vary widely, Leah Robinson (Elkhorn St. Pats) has had a great fall after running 2:26/5:19 during track season. Grace Volzke of Elkhorn Ridge ran 2:29/5:23 during the spring and should be among the leaders if she's in the race. Henry Dawes (Buffett) has dominated the OPS scene this fall, Conno Menning (Elkhorn St. Pat's) and Max Teetor (St. Wenc) have battled at multiple Omaha PAL meets, and several boys from Beatrice have been cleaning up medals in their meets. Isaac Portillo-Munoz of Lexington is the top returner (3rd in 2021) and he's undefeated in six events this season.

We don't have advance notice as to who will compete at State but we can guarantee this: the crowd will be huge and the racing will be intense. The first race starts at 1:00 on Saturday.


We worked overtime last week to have the 9/27 rankings reflect the results of the UNK meet held the prior day, and the races later in the week featured athletes running their second race of the week or competing in much smaller events. We give a lot of weight to the UNK results since they reflect so many head-to-head battles in every class, so we only have a few changes in this week's rankings:

*Zack Schultz (Millard North) moved from #9 to #7 after running 15:59 to win Friday's Millard West meet. Piercze Marshall (Millard West) and Denny Chapman (Prep) slide back one spot each to #8 and #9, respectively. Piercze and Denny both ran well at UNK and were likely tired on Friday, but we're giving Zack the bump based on his solid time.

* When we prepared last week's rankings we overlooked that Oscar Aguado-Mendez was the first Lexington finisher at Rim Rock (9/24), so we ranked teammate Jayden Ureste at #5 after his UNK performance. According to our records, Oscar has been the top Lex finisher in four of six meets, so we've moved him to #5 and put Jayden at #8.

* We added Josie Jansen (Omaha Gross) to our watch list after a series of strong efforts, including 20:40 at Prep and 21:33 at South Sioux City.

* Gannon Walsch (Pender) joins the Class D watch list after his third consecutive sub-18:00 race.

* Cecilia Kann (Norfolk Catholic) and Alexis Hill (Bridgeport) join the Class D watch list after strong races at, respectively, Battle Creek and Bayard.

Here are a few notable performances among the ranked athletes:

Class A #1 Isaac Ochoa ran 16:15 to win the Columbus meet while #2 Juan Gonzalez and #11 Wes Pleskac of Fremont tied at 16:58. #12 Tommy Vasquez of Burke improved his PR by two seconds with his 16:18 4th-place finish at MWest. #4 Max Myers (LSW) cruised to a 16:03 win at the LPS meet, followed by #3 Isaac Graff (Lincoln East) in 16:27. LSW did not run at UNK while Lincoln East did.

Class A #1 Mia Murray (Lincoln East) ran an 18:11 at the LPS meet to win by 69 seconds; her teammates took four of the next five spots. Kennedy Bartee (Lincoln High) was 3rd at LPS and broke up the Spartan sweep; her 19:44 keeps her at #11. #5 Kaitlyn Swartz (Papio South) ran an impressive 18:56 to win the MWest meet; she first broke the 19:00 barrier on Monday when she ran 18:57 at UNK.

Class B #1 Mesuidi Ejerso (SSC) ran 16:52 at his home meet. #4 Austin Carrerra (Hastings) won the York meet in 16:46. A few other ranked runners competed at both UNK and the Syracuse meet, but the Syracuse results are too mixed (see Results section below) to be helpful.

Class B #1 Maddie Seiler followed up her UNK win with a 19:19 win at Scottsbluff. #2 Kassidy Stuckey (York) won her home meet in 19:33. #11 Emma Steffenson (Waverly) bounced back from a DNF at UNK to run 20:17 at York.

Class C #1 and all-world Carson Noecker (Hartington) ran 15:17 at Battle Creek, while #14 Jaxon Kilmurry (Battle Creek) was second in 17:49. #12 Ely Olberding (Fort Calhoun) was the first Class C finisher at Aquinas in 17:15, while brother and #7 Lance ran 17:39. Several of the ranked runners who competed on Monday at UNK did not race well later in the week; as explained above, we're not penalizing them for running in tired legs in a smaller meet.

Class C #3 Lilly Kenning (Milford) won the Aquinas meet in 20:34. #4 Talissa Tanquary (Sidney) finished 2nd behind Maddie Seiler at Scottsbluff, running 20:01. #13 Sawyer Benne (Lincoln Lutheran) was the first Class C finisher in 20:56 at her home meet. #7 Jessie Hurt (Minden) won the Gothenburg meet in 20:37, finishing seven seconds ahead of #6 Sammy Rodewald (McCook). #8 Liston Crotty (Auburn) was the first Class C finisher at Syracuse, ahead of Aurora super-frosh #15 Alexis Ericksen and watch-list Ella Eggleston.

Class D #1 Trey Robertson (Wallace) won the Gothenburg meet in 17:18 over a solid roster of Class C competitors. #4 Justin Sherman (Cornerstone Christian) won the Lincoln Lutheran invite in 17:14. #5 Jacob Swanson (Nebraska Christian) won the Raymond Central meet in 17:38. #12 Mason Hagan (North Central) won the West Holt meet in 17:52. #6 Brody Taylor (Ponca) was the first Class D finisher at SSC in 17:41, a second off his season best.

Class D #1 Jordyn Arens won the SSC meet in 19:34, while #2 Hannah Swanson (Nebraska Christian) matched her brother's Raymond Central title in 20:41. #7 Dakota Horstman (Hemingford) won the Bayard meet in 21:07, just ahead of #10 Peyton Paxton of Mullen. #12 Brekyn Kok (Cornerstone) won the Lincoln Lutheran meet at Pioneer Park in 20:49, topping #6 Isabelle Peters (Tri-County) who ran 21:06.

Team rankings

There were no updated team rankings issued this week, but they were all updated last week after the UNK meet. Links to those coaches' polls are at


The results for 19 high school meets held last week are listed on our website at In addition, we've added links to two consequential junior high championship meets (Omaha PAL and Lincoln Catholic), and the LPS junior high championship results are included on the LPS meet link.

As part of the rankings process, we do look at results every week to add to our database for ranked runners. Each year we stumble upon a few meets where the times are so fast that it seems likely that the race was not the full 5000 meters, and there were two courses last week that may have short. The top three boys finishers at the Twin Valley Conference meet on Thursday recorded an average improvement of 1:06 over their prior season bests (based on, while the top three girls averaged a 1:48 improvement. The Syracuse course on Friday also appears to be short but by a lesser amount; the top three girls improved their season bests by an average of 41 seconds while the top three boys saw an average improvement of 17 seconds. However, 12 boys dipped under 17:00 at Syracuse, and the average improvement for those 12 boys over season bests was 25 seconds. Conversely, perhaps it was perfectly measured, flat and there were ideal racing conditions.

I'm not raising this point to malign race directors. I was the lead organizer for the Creighton Prep meet for a few years, and I have no idea if the course was anywhere near 5000 meters. My primary foci at those meets was on porta potties, race packets and passed-out runners; if I had been a coach, I would also have to worry about my own runners.

In a world where every course has a different level of difficulty and very few courses are exactly 5000 meters long, does this even matter? Probably not, unless the times are being used for district seeding.

(Wednesday night update: multiple competitors at Syracuse posted their races to Strava, and the GPS data reflects a distance of 3.00 or 3.01 miles.)

District assignments

The Class A and B district assignments are based on actual meet results during the first half of the season, and those assignments were released yesterday. If you want to understand how the Class A seeding works, you can read my very boring 2020 article on it here.

The district assignments for every class can be found at these links: BOYS GIRLS

The raw data that goes into the Class A rankings can be found here: BOYS GIRLS

The raw date that goes into the Class B rankings can be found here: BOYS GIRLS

Five individual qualifiers?

As I was appreciating the dominance of Lincoln East's girls team, I started to wonder how often we see two Class A teams so deep at a Districts that the three team qualifiers effectively crowd out individual qualifiers for the 15 automatic spots. As the OPS talent becomes distributed among a higher number of public schools, do individuals at those schools face an uphill battle to qualify? What if the qualification rules were amended to ensure that at least five individuals - not including the athletes from the three teams that qualified - were advanced to State as automatic qualifiers? Maybe it's not a problem, but the Nerd likes to think about things like this.

Refer a friend - and maybe win a hat

This idea might go totally off the rails, but I've got about 80 nerd baseball hats in my spare bedroom that aren't selling very quickly. I will give away a Nerd hat to up to ten randomly-selected followers who do the following:

Compose a Twitter or Facebook post in which you tag the Prep Running Nerd account and explain, in your own words, why your followers should be following the Nerd for the best running coverage in Nebraska. You have until Sunday at 6:00 p.m. to make your post and tag us.

Coaches have a second option: write an e-mail to your team parents and tell them about the Nerd, and then forward that e-mail to For the sake of privacy, you can delete the parent e-mail addresses from the forwarded e-mail.

We'll compile a list of everyone who did this and then use a random-number generator to pick the winners. Exceptional posts/team e-mails will be entered twice. We'll announce the winners on social media next week and the winners will be asked to e-mail us their shipping address.

Why are we doing this? I don't know. It just seems crazy that cross country parents are missing out on all the stupid stuff we do.

I don't know what the legal disclaimers are supposed to be published for a give-away like this, but let's just cover the bases by saying that at any point during the contest we can change the rules, especially if this contest becomes horribly difficult to manage. Hopefully it won't be and ten of you will soon be the proud owners of a sweet hat.

Volunteering opportunity

Creighton and UNO are co-hosting the inaugural Platte River Rumble at Mahoney State Park next Friday, 10/14. The meet features two collegiate races with the first race at 1:00 p.m. Volunteers are needed Thursday or Friday for set-up, in-meet and tear-down duties. Free shirt and park entry for volunteers. Did I mention there's a beer garden? You can find more info on volunteering at


A few quick hits before we wrap up the Nerdsletter:

* News Channel Nebraska had a nice TV spot about Carson Noecker. You can see the video here.

* The Augustana and UNK men and women are both ranked in the top 5 in the D2 Central region and both appear to have good chances to qualify for the national championships.

* Alea Hardie of Nebraska won the Gold Division title at this weekend's meet at Notre Dame. Her 16:44 winning time would have placed 32nd in the more competitive Blue division, although we suspect she could have run faster with someone with to chase. She's won all three of her races this year: Augustana, Woody Greeno and Notre Dame. Alea's teammate Emma Ralston (Papio South) won the Briar Cliff 5k race in 17:46 this weekend.

* UNO freshman Kamryn Ensley ran with the leaders for the first 3k of the competitive Gans Creek Classic at Mizzou on Friday. She finished 19th, running 20:57 for the 6k course. Her high school PR was 17:53.

* UNK competed at the Chili Pepper Invite at Arkansas this weekend, finishing 6th in their division. Myles Bach (24:28) and Ben Arens (24:34) were the top UNK finishers, and Luke Stuckey and Justin Vrooman also finished the 8k course in under 25:00.

* I can't say enough great things about high school cross country coaches. They're great at responding on e-mail and social media, and they provide both on-the-record and off-the-record information that helps me give you better information. Coach Haselhorst and Coach Cosimi are just the latest examples of coaches who responded immediately to messages so that I can hit my deadlines. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Nerd gear

Being a running nerd is not just a frame of mind; it’s also a lifestyle. If you’re a nerd, we don’t think you should hide it, which is why we’ve opened a Nerd store on our website. All of the profits from last year’s sales went to provide t-shirts to OPS schools. The Nerd strategy team hasn’t decided what to do with the proceeds from this year’s sales; frankly, Mrs. Nerd is more concerned about taking back the bedroom that has turned into inventory storage.

In contrast to previous sales, we have the product in stock so the there is not a deadline for orders. However, once a product is out of stock, it won't be sold. My personal experience is that the shirts run a little small, but we're thrilled with the quality of the gear. Our store can be found here.


Do you see any errors, typos or key omissions? It's even more likely this week since we're still typing at midnight. Send an e-mail to and we'll do our best to correct the article. Originally written for and posted at by Jay Slagle. Did you love reading about Nebraska high school running? Visit for rankings, results, photos, long-form articles, frequent updates on our blog page, Nerd gear, and a bunch of other cool stuff that only running nerds would think to do. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow @PrepRunningNerd on Twitter and Instagram, or on Facebook at

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