Contributor: Nerd the Third and Nerd Junior
Top teams in 2022:
1. Lincoln East
2. Omaha Westside
3. Millard West
4. Papio South
5. Elkhorn South
Top returners in 2023:
1) Mia Murray, LE (1st)
2) Stella Miner, Westside (2nd)
3) Claire White, Westside (3rd)
4) Kaitlyn Swartz, Papio South (5th)
5) Mia Urosevich, Westside (7th)
6) Abbigail Durow, Millard South (8th)
7) Peyton Svehla, LE (11th)
8) Alexis Chadek, Papio (12th)
9) Claire Karjalainen, Kearney (13th)
10) Norah Stewart, Pius (16th)
For the past two years we’ve been saying that we’re living in the golden age of Nebraska high school girls distance running, and that still apples in 2023-2024. A whopping seventeen of the top twenty-five finishers from 2022 State XC are expected to return in 2023.
Mia Murray of Lincoln East was the Class A state champion after a dominant fall. She won every cross country race except one (Stella Miner at the Millard South meet) in 2022 and simply was the strongest in Kearney, topping Stella Miner by seven seconds and Claire White by 22 seconds. She also had a strong spring, setting PRs of 5:04 and 11:04 before finishing, respectively, 4th and 3rd at State. There was a possibility that Mia wouldn’t return to East this fall after her father moved from UNL to another collegiate athletic department, but all of the family except dad are staying in Lincoln for another year. If Mia can replicate her confident running again, she will be hard to beat. In the team battle, Murray will be leading her teammates Peyton Svehla (11th at State XC, rising junior, 2:19/5:09, three 2023 State track medals), Jordyn Wissing (19th, senior, 1:01/2:18, two 2023 State medals) and Ella Herzberg (61st, junior, 11:59). Svehla placed 13th and 10th her first two years, has earned five state track medals, and certainly has the chops to be in the top 5 this year. Wissing, while her strongest event may be the 800m (6th in class A), has great strength on the cross country course. She has improved steadily, and we are sure she wants to cap off her senior year with another state title. These four will be the key leaders for a loaded LE team.
One of the biggest talents in Nebraska, Stella Miner (Omaha Westside) won the title as a freshman at Marian in 2020, sat out 2021 due to transfer rules, and then placed second in 2022. She sat out the 2021 season due to transfer rules and couldn’t defend the State title she won in 2020. She missed most of the 2023 outdoor track season with an injury but returned at Districts to nab an open 400 berth at State. She has lifetime PRs of 2:10 (3rd all-time in Nebraska) and 4:53.9 (5th all-time). Stella has needed very little mileage to run her best times, and she proved that by running 59/2:12/4:57 at Nike Nationals in June.
Claire White’s (Westside) middle name is consistency. Ok, it is probably is something like Marie or Grace, but ‘Consistency’ could be a nice replacement. She had a tactically perfect race her sophomore year to take third behind Elli Dahl and Jaci Sievers, and then ran another patient race last fall for 3rd. She started off strong in this past winter and it seemed like she was on her game every time out. She was 4th (800), 3rd (1600), and 2nd (3200) at State in May, and her PRs are 2:15, 4:58 and 10:52.
Kaitlyn Swartz (Papio South) is another runner coming off of a great track season. She earned State medals in the 800, 1600, and 3200, a feat matched only by Jaci Sievers (now at Tennessee) and Claire White - and Kaitlyn ran a 2:19 4x800 split before all of those races. She has earned a reputation of aggressive front-running and Coach Haselhorst is a mental-prep guru, so expect her to be in the mix come October.
Mia Urosevich (Westside) was just a freshman last fall but ran with confidence all year. She placed 7th in 2022 as the top freshman. Mia plays soccer in the spring but is reportedly training well, so look for her to gain fitness as the season progresses.
Similar to Urosevich, Abbigail Durow (Millard South, 8th in 2022) and Claire Karjalainen (Kearney, 13th) were both freshman medalists that we haven’t seen since last fall. They both lead their respective teams and were able to have their best races of the season on the right day. Durow was ranked for most of 2022 while Karjalainen was either ranked or on the watch list. Another returning freshman, Alexis Chadek (Papio-La Vista, 12th), kept very busy this spring. Using the open indoor season to gain racing experience, she was racing like a veteran by State, running 2:15 for 3rd in the 800 and anchoring Papio to a 2nd place 4x800 team. She’s also a sub-1:00 quarter miler, so watch out for her kick. Norah Stewart (Lincoln Pius X) placed 16th in her first high school XC season. She ran a 19:10 PR at State and should be Pius’ top runner this fall. She plays soccer in the spring but reportedly has established herself as Pius’ top runner again this fall. She was one of two Pius qualifiers (both return), so perhaps Pius can get a full squad there this October. Looking further down the results from last fall, some names stand out that could sneak up the ranks: Charlotte Gregor (Omaha South, 17th in 2022, 5:26/11:51) qualified for the 1600/3200 last May. Lindsay Neill (18th, senior, PRs of 2:21/5:26/12:06) of Elkhorn South no longer has Jaci Sievers to chase in practice, but her coaching staff has a knack for developing college-ready distance runners. Hope Riedel (21st, 5:21/11:44) Lincoln North Star) loses training partner Brianne Travis to South Dakota State but has high potential this fall. Hope was ranked the last two weeks of the 2022 season and may have just been off her game a little at State. Kara Muller (Bellevue West) has been a consistent grinder her first three years. She plays basketball over the winter and we watched her work herself into running shape over the course of the 2023 track season. The persistence paid off as she earned not just her first but three State medals in the 1600 (5:14), 3200 (11:39) and 4x800 (2:24 split). With a solid summer of training behind her, look for her to aim for her first State XC medal. The Fremont team returns two seniors, Chloe Hemmer (33rd, PRs of 5:10/11:28) and Maris Dahl (34th, 5:26/11:50). Their PRs from this spring reflect a step up from last fall’s races, so look for them to be medal threats. Sam Stava (20th, senior, PRs of 5:26/11:53) and Abigail Burger (DNF, junior, 2:27/5:29) should also be competitive this fall. Burger was either ranked or on the watch list for most of the season, peaking at 9th in our final ranking before State. It’s not unusual for a medal contender to have a bad day at State – they’re often the ones who push the hardest - and many athletes use a DNF as motivation to improve the following year. Stava was remarkably consistent in the 2023 track season, running five 1600’s between 5:30 and 5:38 despite a spring of widely-variable weather conditions.
Kendall Dobberstein is the 16th fastest returning finisher from 2022, but she won’t be competing in Class A this fall. The demarcation lines in Gretna now put her in the new Gretna East high school, but she is focusing on soccer. Gretna’s Addy Walker has been a top performer in XC, including a 14th place finish in 2021, but she is focusing exclusively on soccer for her senior year. There are several athletes who were not top finishers at 2022 State XC but recorded impressive track seasons. Over the summer we saw Molly Caruso (43rd, senior, 2:20/5:31) of Millard North competing at the Omaha Triathlon as well as the Shawn Gray 5k; she appears to fit heading into the season. Marissa Garcia (63rd, junior, 2:26/5:23) of Papio South had a breakout spring and should carry that into the fall. Sadie Yeager (junior) of Lincoln East did not compete at 2022 State XC but notched PRs of 5:29 and 11:45, and the latte earned her a 7th-place finish at State track. Freshman boys are rarely a factor in Class A (although Isaac Ochoa and Juan Gonzalez are two recent exceptions), but it’s an entirely different story for girls. Unfortunately, it’s a bit difficult to assess prospects when OPS doesn’t post junior high track results and most Omaha schools don’t send athletes to the Junior High State track meet in Gothenburg. In addition, stud runners in junior high are often studs in other sports like softball and volleyball, so there’s no guarantee they’ll choose XC in the fall. With those caveats, here are a few freshmen to watch: · We expect to see Izzy Gilbertson and Meredith Marsh compete for Lincoln Southwest. Izzy was 4th in the LPS XC meet last fall and ran a 5:32 1600 this spring; Meredith won the LPS XC title and clocked a 5:46 in the spring. · Gracie Suppes will be competing for Papio LaVista this fall. She finished 6th at the State JH meet last October. I don’t see any spring results for her but… I saw her run the Shawn Gray 5k a few weeks ago and she’s going to be a solid addition to the Monarchs. · Augusta Ganz appears to be headed to Kearney High. She finished 9th at JH State XC and has a 5:30 PR in the 1600. She’ll have the benefit of training with Claire Karjalainen, Abigail Burger and Sam Stava, so I’d expect her to compete well. · Grace Volzke finished 4th at JH State XC and has a 5:23 PR from 7th grade. She’ll compete for Elkhorn South. · Mollie Probasco is also running for Elkhorn South. She ran a 5:31 1600 this spring but doesn’t have a junior high XC profile on athletic.net. · Sadie Osher was a standout at OPS Lewis and Clark, finishing 7th at JH State XC and her only two 1600 results on athletic.net are both 5:28. She’s also active in the USATF world and should be a key contributor at Omaha Central. Our predictions: Nerd the Third: Stella Miner returns to take the individual title followed by White and Murray. Nerd Senior: The gap between Murray, White and a healthy Miner is miniscule. As seniors, they all have something to prove, and I think White’s growth in stature and racing experience the last three years gives her a slight edge. Could Murray or Miner earn a second title? Absolutely. Team race: The last time Lincoln East did not win the girls team state title was 2017 when Gaby McGinn led a loaded Millard West team to a 22-point win. Lincoln East has a dynasty that reloads year after year with impressive talent. Out of last year’s squad, Izzy Apel, Berlyn Schutz, and Karen Kiratu have graduated, but they leave behind a group well equipped to target their 6th consecutive championship. Beyond Murray, Svehla, Wissing and Herzberg, Coach Kabourek appears to have a multitude of options. Junior Sadie Yager didn’t compete at 2022 State XC but finished 7th at State in the 3200 in 11:45, and classmate Kadence Hurley (PRs of 5:41/12:07 and a top-notch name for a runner) should also vie for a varsity spot. As many as ten other girls have a legitimate shot at earning a varsity spot. Omaha Westside finished 2nd in 2022, helped immensely by placing Miner, White and Urosevich in the top 7. Ellie Whitman (78th in 2022, sophomore, huge PRs of 5:34/12:19 in the spring) and Reece Quinlivan (64th, junior, injured much of the spring) rounded out Westside’s scoring in 2022, and they will be in the varsity mix again this year. Violet Collins dropped huge PRs in the spring and looks to continue that momentum. In addition, Westside has 3-4 newcomers who will compete for a varsity spot. Millard West will be without three of their top four finishers from 2022. However, they do have a young team deep in talent, and the development of a few low sticks will pay dividends either late this season or next. Brianna Hernandez Gutierrez (senior) leads the returners, which also include Thea Kutash (senior), Katelyn Sanne (sophomore) and Litzey Fredette (junior). Other varsity contenders include juniors Kate Ebmeier and Jenna Lake, sophomores Emily Scott, Olivia McKlem and Sammie Amenta, and freshmen Libby Frazer, Chaya Isaacson, Lucia Milone and Natalie McGranaghan. There is a strong USATF presence in West Omaha, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see a few other girls make a mark for the Wildcats. Papio South finished 4th in 2022 and only lost Isabel Clarke (2nd finisher) to graduation. Kaitlyn Swartz is the clear leader of this team, but Marissa Garcia made a huge leap in six months, going from placing sixth on the Lady Titan State team to spring PRs of 2:26/5:23. Other returners include Grace Baum (45th in 2022, junior, PRs of 5:34/12:02), Mia Cooley (54th, junior, 2:29), Kamryn Exner (56th, senior, 2:35) and Payton Jorczak (77th, senior, 12:35). Elkhorn South lost three of their runners to graduation, including Jaci Sievers, but they return Lindsay Neill (18th, senior), Alyssa Walker (65th, junior, 2:32/5:47), Josie Almquist (76th, senior) and Emily Tichota (senior, 2:31/5:33). They also add freshmen Grace Volzke (5:23) and Mollie Probasco (5:31). Fremont finished sixth last year but I would expect them to move up in 2023. Led by medal-threats Chloe Hemmer and Maris Dahl, they could return three other 2022 State competitors. Ayva Darmento (52nd in 2022, senior, PRs of 2:26/5.34) had a very productive track season, Sydney Glause (86th, senior) is that rare XC athlete who is a sprinter in the spring, and Madelyn Wagner (97th, sophomore) should revert to her mid-season form this fall. Lincoln Southwest only graduated their top runner, Lily Schwartz, and they have a solid team led by sophomore Silvy Munn. In addition, they should have a strong freshman class headlined by Izzy Gilbertson and Meredith Marsh. They will be young but other coaches expect them to be extremely competitive by October. Kearney finished 8th in 2022 but lost none of their seven to graduation. They return three medal contenders – Karjalainen, Burger and Stava – and they’re adding a good group of freshmen, including Augusta Ganz. Olivia Gaasch (5:38 in the spring) and Savannah Kelliher ran at 2022 State as freshmen and could be a crucial scorer in 2023. With the top five 2022 finishers and six of seven returning in 2023, we like Millard North’s senior-heavy roster. The top four returners, all seniors, are primarily mid-distance specialists: Emma Rhode (2:32), Rachael Chambers (2:32), Molly Caruso (2:20/5:31) and Ainsley Anderson (2:32/5:39). If they can convert their track success to XC, they could be in the mix for a top-5 finish. The 2022 Gretna team included no seniors on its 11th-place team, but there will plenty of new faces this year. They lose junior Kendall Dobberstein and sophomore Evyn Grave to Gretna East and, as noted above, Addy Walker is not competing this fall. In theory Gretna has four returners, but we suspect that Gretna East will have a big impact on Gretna High’s depth over the next five years. Our predictions: Nerd the Third: Lincoln East looks pretty good for a title defense, but Westside has tremendous upside. We imagine the 1-2 duos from East and Westside will generally even out (Murray and Svehla, Miner and White), and the race will be decided by Westside’s 4-5. The team race will be tight, but I’ll take the underdog Westside. Lincoln East and Papio South round out the podium. Nerd Senior: I love Nerd the Third’s out-of-the-box thinking, but I can’t argue with Lincoln East’s proven returners and depth. Westside is my favorite for runner-up, with Papio South, Kearney and Lincoln Southwest fighting for third.
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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.