Contributor: Nerd the Third
Nerd note: We cut our Nerd teeth on distance running, and specifically Class A distance running, and that’s still the sweet spot of our coverage. With so much talent, we asked Nerd the Third to take a deep dive into this year’s top prospects. Unlike the more reserved Nerd Senior, Nerd the Third isn’t afraid to throw down some predictions.
800 Meters Notable Returners
· Jack Witte, MW – 1:55.2 (4th)
· Reed Emsick, Burke – 1:56.2 (7th)
· Zack Schultz, MN – 1:58.5. (11th)
· Grant Dixon, Elkhorn South – 1:58.9 (13th)
· Sean Murphy, MW – 1:59.1 (14th)
A theme that will be repeated in several distance events, the boys 800 was dominated by seniors in 2022. Gabe Hinrichs and the Fremont crew led the field last year, and another 1:52 man in Daniel Romary (1:52.1) is now running at Iowa State. With those titans now competing collegiately, the door is open for the next great 800 runner. Jack Witte of Millard West proved himself early as a freshman and followed it up last year with a 4th place finish. He has incredible leg speed for a 15:07 cross country runner and always seems to have something left in the tank at the end of the race. The only returner with a PR under 1:55, Witte enters with the strongest 800 background.
Reed Emsick of Omaha Burke (UNK commit) spends the winter playing basketball, but the UNK track commit has plenty of reasons to be motivated this spring. He has medaled in this event two years in a row and only seems to be getting faster. Zack Schultz of Millard North (USD commit) is looking for redemption after an up-and-down XC season. He possesses 1:57.6 speed and sub-10-minute 3200 strength, and he threw down a 4:19 indoor 1600 at a February meet. Beware of those pit viper sunglasses.
After training behind Gabe Hinrichs for several years, Grant Dixon of Elkhorn South (USD commit) is coming into his own. He had a breakout year, dropping times from 800-3200, but also watch out for his teammate Luke Johnson (South Dakota State). Sean Murphy (South Dakota State) of Millard West brings some 400-meter speed to the table, which could prove effective against a group of mostly distance runners. Drew Arduser of Lincoln East (2:00.3) and Lucas Steuter (2:00.5) of Pius could sneak in for a medal or two.
Our prediction: Witte takes the win, followed by challenges from Emsick, Dixon and Schultz.
1600 Meters Notable Returners
· Jack Witte, MW - 4:20.3 (4th)
· Isaac Ochoa, Norfolk - 4:22.4 (8th)
· Max Myers, LSW - 4:27.4 (10th)
· Zack Schultz, Millard North – 4:28.2 (12th)
· Luke Johnson, Elkhorn South – 4:29.1 (14th)
Just 9 meters short of being a distance that the non-running world understands, the 1600 looks fairly wide open this spring. Six of eight medalists last year were seniors, with Jack Witte again being the top returner. Witte (or perhaps his coach) has a knack for peaking at the right time. In the last three major state races he has competed in, he has PR'd. Sophomore Juan Gonzalez of Fremont is a top contender after winner the State XC meet in October; while we weren’t sure he’d be near the top of the 1600 due to his youth, his 4:23 indoor 1600 in early February suggests that he’s got what it takes to hang with the older boys. Isaac Ochoa has been the leader of Norfolk distance running since he burst onto the scene as a freshman. He has medaled in each of his first three years in XC and has run 15:06 for 5k. Needless to say, he will pose a huge threat in the 1600 and the 3200, although we’d say his strongest event is the 3200.
Max Myers, long viewed as “the grittiest runner in the state” by at one least Nerd, backed that up this past cross-country season. While never ranked higher than 4th during the XC season, he rose to the occasion at State by placing 2nd. Myers is not the type to train half-heartedly (check his Strava account for proof), so the state needs to be on watch for him to be fit early in the season. Zack Schultz is not afraid of competing in multiple races, and we are sure a podium finish in the 1600 is in his mind. SDSU commit Luke Johnson dropped his 800 time by 10 seconds and his 3200 time by 45+ seconds in 2022, proving he is getting better and better. After a strong fall campaign, we expect Luke to continue to put himself in big races and fight for medals.
Lincoln East runner Isaac Graff (KU commit) holds personal bests of 4:27 and 9:29. He raced 3 or four events in almost every meet last spring, which may have affected his postseason success, but from personal experience, with age comes old-man strength. We have been hearing good things about Graff’s training and will not be surprised to see him at the front of his races. Junior Ethan Mann of Papio LaVista has snuck under the radar to some extent, and he kept to that theme with a quiet winter season. However, he has run sub-4:30 so he has the credentials for success. Keep an eye on Fremont’s Wes Pleskac (6th at State XC after running 9:56 last spring) and Millard West’s Piercze Marshall (4:32 this winter plus 9:28 last year). Gretna sophomore Braden Lofquest was a surprising 10th at State XC last fall and has continued that momentum in the winter, establishing new PRs of 2:04 and 4:34 on February 19th. As always, there will be some shockers in this event, but these are some guys to look out for.
Additionally, 2-time State XC medalist Denny Chapman of Creighton Prep has elected to switch from soccer to track this spring. He has set his sights high and that seems reasonable: he ran 2:02 and 4:28 at the CSM indoor meet on February 19. He entered the winter not having raced a 1600 since he was a 7th grader, so he should continue to improve with more experience.
The Nerd’s Prediction: Witte wins another with Gonzalez, Graff, and Myers in the mix.
3200 Meter Notable Returners
· Max Myers, LSW - 9:27.8 (6th)
· Juan Gonzalez, Fremont - 9:29.6 (8th)
· Isaac Graff, LE - 9:29.6 (9th)
· Piercze Marshall, MW - 9:35.2 (10th)
· Luke Johnson, Elkhorn South - 9:41.3 (11th)
A year ago, the top 5 spots on the 3200 were taken by seniors, 3 of whom now compete at UNL. Max Myers has gained valuable experience in championship racing, going head-to-head with the state’s best. We expect him to improve on his 6th place from last year considering the experience he has gained and the tremendous cross-country season he had. Tyler Boyle of Lincoln Southwest won the 3200 title in 2019, so Myers will look to bring the title back home. Juan Gonzalez also has some big shoes to fill, especially if Fremont wants to back up their team victory from a year ago. His times on the cross-country course speak for themself, and his 4:23/9:20 indoor results in February suggest he’s already fit. We spoke above about Isaac Graff, but it is important to note that he was the first man out of the medals last year, narrowly being outleaned by none other than Juan Gonzalez. That would motivate any one of these guys to achieve their best. Piercze Marshall once ran one mile each hour for a whole day, so do not expect Piercze to get bored during this 8-lap race. Luke Johnson will be looking to give Elkhorn South their third straight 3200 title and, though this is a tall task, he has the chops to do it. Like most of these distance races, the 3200 could be anybody’s race.
Isaac Ochoa presents a threat with his strong aerobic engine and this is probably his best track event. Grant Dixon proved himself last spring as a quality 3200 runner, and we will see if he can raise that bar again this year. You may not see him wearing spiked shoes, but you will see Tommy Vasquez (NWU T&F and swimming) run fast. A former Cornhusker Flyer teammate of Nerd the Third, Tommy has a 9:48.6 PR and absolutely went off during the XC season, finishing 9th at State and running all eight of his races under 16:40. A sleeper pick could be Bo Crews (South Alabama) of Papio La-Vista South. Bo was off to a hot start this fall, running 16:15 and beating many ranked opponents. Unfortunately, an injury halted his momentum, but we expect his track PRs to fall very quickly. Wes Pleskac should be in the mix after a breakout fall, as should Noah Lawrence (UNK) of Columbus and Millard West’s Porter Bickley.
The Nerd’s Prediction: This one should be tight, but Gonzalez must be favored. Graff and Myers could be right there with him, while Johnson and Marshall have a good of chance as anyone.
4x800 Top Five in 2022
· Fremont, 7:48.81 (1st)
· Millard West, 7:53.6 (2nd)
· Lincoln Pius X, 7:56.9 (3rd)
· Lincoln North Star, 7:59.1 (4th)
· Millard North, 7:59.7 (5th)
Historically, the boys 4x800 has stayed with one school for a few years. Creighton Prep won in 2017, 2018, and 2019. While Fremont was 2nd in each of those years, they have won the last two editions. After seeing Fremont take down a state record last year, it would be hard to imagine there will be as much excitement in the 4x800 this year, but you never know. Their group ran 7:42.4 on a humid day in April before sending a similar team to dominate the state meet. They lost all four of those incredibly talented 800 runners to D1 programs, so there may be a changing of the guard. Millard West retains Jack Witte and Sean Murphy, who are both stellar runners, but the key will be in the remaining two legs. Perhaps Porter Bickley and Piercze Marshall can step down in distance to help the team. Lincoln Pius had a great year that ended with a race at Nike Nationals in Eugene. Lucas Steuter and Joe Dustin remain from that quartet and perhaps the national experience will be helpful. Lincoln North Star was fourth a year ago but will need several boys to step up to go that high again this year. Zack Schultz is the lone member of the 5th place Millard North from last year. One team that looks promising is Lincoln East. Isaac Graff and Drew Arduser could lead them to a high-place finish. Omaha Burke could be another team in contention. However, like all of these teams, it is going to come down to which team can replace the seniors that have graduated.
The Nerd’s Prediction: This race should come down to Lincoln East and Millard West, though Fremont always develops new talent. Millard West is our favorite.
800 Meters Notable Returners
· Stella Miner, Westside – 2:10.1 (1st)
· Berlyn Schutz, LE – 2:18.3 (4th)
· Natalie Prichard, Pius X – 2:21.5 (8th)
· Lindsay Neill, Elkhorn South – 2:21.7 (9th)
· Lily Schwartz, Lincoln SW – 2:23.1 (11th)
Last spring, with so much talent in the mix, we were on high alert for state records to fall. This season is no different, though the record-threats will more likely come on the girl’s side. The fastest underclassman in 2022 was Westside's Stella Miner, who ran an indoor 2:14.7 in February 2022 on very little mileage and then carried that momentum to a state title (2:10.1) and a Class A record. Unfortunately, Stella will be out the entire season with an injury, so we hope to see her back and healthy in the fall. In Stella's absence, look for big things from teammate Claire White. Claire was considered more of a 3200/5K specialist until she popped off exceptional 800 and 1600 marks this winter – a 2:19 800 and a 5:02 mile, plus a 5:03 mile last weekend at New Balance Nationals.
Berlyn Schutz of Lincoln East (UNL commit) started her career as a cross country specialist, nearly winning state as a freshman. Her times slowed a bit over the next two years but her work ethic never wavered. Before placing 10th at Kearney this past October, she had an interview with the Omaha World-Herald. “People just kind of overlook the changes that girls go through. You can’t just take a break; you have to learn to grow with what you have… If more young girls accept the changes that their body goes through, we would all be much happier.” Berlyn has no lack of mature insight nor 800 speed, so watch out for some fast times from her.
Natalie Prichard of Pius is an 800 specialist with a 2:21.5 PR. Lindsay Neill of Elkhorn South, another 2:21 runner, placed 9th last year and is coming off of a very strong fall. Lincoln Southwest’s Lily Schwartz (2:22.9, 11th in 2022) will look to step up after Brianna Rinn’s graduation.
Peyton Svehla is just one part of Lincoln East’s dominating distance crew. She has great range and has proven herself in postseason competition, as has teammate Jordyn Wissing. Both will be crucial to their team’s scoring and 4x800 hopes.
The Nerd team also thinks that Elkhorn South’s Jaci Sievers (Tennessee commit) could be a strong contender in the 800 if her coaches think she's up to the workload after a summer 2022 injury. Similarly, there’s an outside chance we could see Mia Murray, the 2022 XC Gatorade winner after her State title, competing at State in the 800. Mia was injured for most of last spring but that shouldn’t be the case this year. While Mia may decide to only run the 1600 and 3200 at State, she would be an instant medal contender if she chose to run the 800.
Molly Chapman (Pius X), Abigail Burger (Kearney), and Mattie Dalton (Fremont) are also strong runners.
The Nerd’s Prediction: It’s anyone’s guess. Any number of other studs could be in the mix depending on who races.
1600 Meters Notable Returners
· Jaci Sievers, Elkhorn South – 4:51.6 (1st)
· Stella Miner, Westside – 4:57.6 (2nd)
· Mia Murray, LE – 5:08.0 (5th)
· Claire White, Westside – 5:09.1 (6th)
· Isabelle Hartnett, MW – 5:09.9 (7th)
Another event on record watch, the 1600 will see five of eight 2022 medalists return this spring. We’ll start off with Jaci Sievers. Jaci already has the Class A State meet record of 4:51.67, so her next challenge is the all-time mark of 4:49.2 set by Elizabeth Lange in 2003. You had to be impressed by Jaci's 2022 in-state track season: she only lost two individual races (both to Stella Miner), she dropped her PRs from 5:13 and 11:32 to 4:51.67 and 10:27.7, and she swept the 1600 and 3200 titles with the 5th and 4th fastest times in state history. However, she also continued racing into June and ran a 4:49.35 1600 (converted) at Nike Nationals. She ran a 4:54 mile at New Balance Nationals last weekend so... that injury from last fall appears to be far behind her.
Mia Murray, the dominating force from this past cross-country season, will look to apply her winning ways on the track. She placed 5th last year despite dealing with an injury, so we predict an improvement there. Claire White will be the leader for Westside and could take a crack at Stella Miner's school record of 4:53 after running 5:02 and 5:03 indoor miles this winter. As noted earlier, her strength before this winter was primarily thought to be as a 3200 and cross-country runner, but her winter results suggest that she can excel from 800 to 5k. Isabelle Hartnett has been a picture of consistency in high school, proving to be a strong leader for Millard West in past years.
As noted in the 800 preview, teammates Peyton Svehla and Berlyn Schutz both seem to be improving rapidly. One, if not both, should be in podium contention. Lily Schwartz will also bring a speed background to the event. Kennedy Bartee will be a hard runner to be as she has proven to be a tough competitor. With a PR of 5:20, she seeks her first state track medal. Watch out for improvements from Kearney’s Sam Stava, Lincoln North Star’s Hope Riedel, and Papio South’s Kaitlyn Swartz, who all made strides in the fall.
The Nerd’s Prediction: Sievers survives a harsh challenge from White and Murray.
3200 Meter Notable Returners
· Jaci Sievers, Elkhorn South – 10:27.7 (1st)
· Claire White, Westside – 11:18.4 (4th)
· Isabelle Hartnett, MW – 11:24.6 (5th)
· Mia Murray, LE – 11:26.3 (6th)
· Marissa Holm, NP – 11:47.3 (11th)
Surprise surprise, the girls 3200 will also be stacked this spring. In Jaci Siever’s postseason running last year, she ran a converted 10:18 3200 at Nike Nationals, which would be a state record had it come a month earlier during the official season. To put it into perspective, only four Nebraska girls in history have run under 10:30, and Jaci will aim to *officially* break Karlene Erickson’s 10:19.00 record and Emily Sisson's state record of 10:23. Though Jaci struggled with an injury early this fall, she ran well at Nike Cross Regionals in November, ran a 4:54 indoor mile last weekend, and ran a solo 11:00 3200 in Kansas City in late February. Behind her, Claire White already has nine NSAA medals in 2.5 years and will be looking for more. Isabelle Hartnett placed 5th a year ago and with a few seniors out of the picture could move up even higher. If it is true that you are only as good as your last race, cross country champion Mia Murray may have the upper hand; she was clearly the best Class A XC girl last fall. Marissa Holm of North Platte ended up 11th last spring but is the 5th fastest returner. She broke 12 minutes for the first time at state last year, and another PR in the biggest stage would do her well this year.
Kennedy Bartee of Lincoln High and Kara Muller of Bellevue West are both riding momentum from cross country. We watched Kennedy take a hard spill at the start of the 800 at the LPS meet last spring; after five minutes in the medical tent, she came back for the restart and knocked out a then-PR of 2:30. She’s been racing this winter and looks to be fit.
Kara started the XC season incredibly well but slightly faded a bit late. She made an effort early in the winter to juggle both basketball and running, so she didn't perform up to her expectations. Look for her to do well once she's rested up from her basketball season. Molly Caruso could be Millard North’s best medal chance on the distance side for the girls. Expect to see big improvements from Brianne Travis (LNS) and Kaitlyn Swartz (Papio South). Freshmen Alexis Chadek (Papio) and Claire Karjalainen (Kearney) could make a big splash in their first high school track season. We won't see freshmen XC medalists Mia Urosevich (Westside) and Abbigail Durow (Millard South) this spring; they're playing soccer.
The Nerd’s Prediction: We can’t pick a favorite between Sievers, Murray and White, particularly since we have yet to see Murray fully healthy on the track. The athlete who has the fewest nagging injuries at State may be the victor.
4x800 top five from 2022
· Fremont, 9:17.3 (1st)
· Westside, 9:18.6 (2nd)
· Lincoln East, 9:25.1 (3rd)
· Lincoln Southwest, 9:31.7 (4th)
· Elkhorn South, 9:33.9 (5th)
As the first race of the day at the State meet on Day 1, the 4x800 is always full of excitement. Similar to the boy’s side, the Fremont girls’ team has won three straight titles. The road to a four-peat may be steep, though. They return only Mattie Dalton from last year’s squad. Westside also returns just Claire White this spring, so she may end up adding the open 800 instead of running the 4x800 relay so she's fresh for the 3200 on Day 1. Lincoln East appears to be the clear favorites in this field. They return all four runners from a year ago, and all four are very talented. Schutz, Svehla, Wissing, Murray and a handful of other Spartan studs remind us of the 2022 Fremont boys’ team, since whomever is on the squad will have the credentials to compete collegiately. Mya Kafka and Lily Schwartz return for Lincoln Southwest, but the keys for them will be filling the other two spots. Elkhorn South shows some promise. They retain three of the runners that placed 5th last spring although we don’t expect Jaci Sievers to run both the 4x800 and 3200 on State Day 1 unless she’s really feeling spry. Lincoln Pius X have two strong runners in Molly Chapman and Natalie Prichard to rally around, and could 200/400 specialist Vivian Dalton step up to an 800? Kearney has Sam Stava, Abigail Burger and historically a lot of depth in their mid-distance ranks. Don't count out Fremont; for all we know, they have four 2:25 girls ready to step into the limelight.
The Nerd’s Prediction: Lincoln East runs away with it. Pius X is our dark horse.
Originally written for and posted at www.preprunningnerd.com in March 2023 by Henry Slagle, aka Nerd the Third. Do you see any errors, typos or key omissions? Send an e-mail to email@example.com and we'll do our best to correct the article.
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