Contributors: Nerd the Third and Nerd Senior
3) Elkhorn North
1) Atlee Wallman, Norris (2nd)
2) Emma Steffenson, Waverly (3rd)
3) Ellie Thomas, Norris (4th)
4) Kassidy Stuckey, York (6th)
5) Kendall Zavala, Norris (7th)
6) Gabi Westfall, Skutt (8th)
7) Margaret Lickteig, Duchesne (11th)
8) Tessa Griesen, Seward (13th)
9) Jenna Polking, Elkhorn North (14th)
10) Susana Calmo, Lexington (15th)
For the first time since 2020, there will be a new class B girls champion crowned. After dominating the distance events in 2022/2023, three-time XC winner Madison Seiler of Gering is now competing at Kennesaw State.
Atlee Wallman (PRs of 5:35/11:44) of Norris enters her junior year on a great trajectory. She has been steadily improving, running an 18:54 PR last fall and jumping from 11th as a freshman to 2nd as a sophomore. She will be the leader for a stacked Norris team. After winning the state title by 19 points in 2022, Norris returns all 6 runners and could be even more dominant. Ellie Thomas pulled off a spectacular 800m state title this spring in 2:13 (and has a PR of 57.87) and she could move up from her fourth-place finish in 2022. Kendall Zavala has finished 2nd and 7th at State XC, this past spring she rans PRs of 2:20 (relay split), 5:12 and 11:36; she left Burke with two individual and two relay medals. The quality of this team is so high that any one of this trio could end up as a state champion this fall simply based on who feels the best that day.
Emma Steffensen of Waverly finished no worse than fifth in the six XC races she ran during her freshman season, and she placed 3rd at State XC despite being Waverly’s lone qualifier. Her high placement at State was a bit of a surprise because she’s a 400/800 specialist in the spring. During track, she placed 4th in the open 800 in just under 2:16, helped her team to a 4x400 state title and was part of the runner-up 4x800 team that finished 2nd behind Elkhorn North’s super-squad. She was a also member of the 402 club track team in junior high, so she’s accumulated a lot of great racing experience in less than two years.
Placing in the top 10 in the state each year, Kassidy Stuckey of York will look to continue her streak in her senior year. She has a very high ceiling with a PR below 19 minutes and hasn’t slowed down on the track in the slightest (5:11, 11:21). In fact, we’d call her the most consistent Class B performer – girl or boy – the last three seasons, as evidenced by six State track medals in the 1600/3200 and 4th, 7th and 6th place medals in State XC. At State XC last fall, she was in 2nd place at the 1st and 2nd mile marks before fading a bit in the final mile, so we won’t be surprised if she goes all in for the win.
Gabi Westfall of Omaha Skutt peaked at the right time last year; her 38th place finish at the UNK meet and her 6th place finish at Districts weren’t predictive of her 8th place finish at State, and she was not ranked the last five weeks of the season. She put up some nice times on the track, with PRs of 2:33, 5:31 and 11:46, so she should be a top athlete this fall.
Gretna East High School opened this month. If you live within Gretna East's boundaries and are not a senior, you're probably transferring from Class A Gretna High to Class B Gretna East. That's the situation for junior Kendall Dobberstein and sophomore Evyn Grave, two members of Gretna's 2022 State XC team. Dobberstein finished 24th in Class A last fall but her time of 20:18 would have tied for 7th in Class B. Unfortunately, Dobberstein is focusing on soccer this year, so the picture above was probably the last time I will capture a her flashing the 'made-you-look' hand signal on a race course.
Duchesne’s Maggie Lickteig ran a consistent race at last year’s State meet; she was 14th after the first mile, 12th after the second mile, and then finishing 11th. Her XC times are more impressive than her track PRs of 5:56/12:19, and I’ve been told she had a solid summer.
Tessa Griesen, a junior at Seward, joined the 2022 XC rankings in Week 4 and remained there the final four weeks, peaking at 7th. She raced quite a few 1600/3200 doubles in the spring, establishing new PRs of 5:28/11:39, and she placed 6th in the State 3200. I would say her 3200 PR is more impressive than her 1600 PR, and her best distance may be 5000 meters. I’d expect her to move up the medal list this fall.
Susan Calmo of Lexington saw huge gains during her junior year, jumping from 38th at 2021 State XC to 15th last fall, and cutting her 1600 and 3200 PRs by 20 and 50 seconds, respectively. Her PRs of 5:46 and 12:23 make her a medal threat.
As a testament to the quality of the Class B field, Elkhorn North only had one medalist last fall (Jenna Polking, 14th) despite strong performances from their deep team. Polking returns and is reportedly well ahead of where she was last fall. She finished 7th in the State 1600 and notched PRs of 5:22 and 11:44 during the spring. Her teammate Ella Ford, who finished 19th last fall, had an even more impressive spring. She was a regular at the winter indoor open meets and by February had dropped her PR by 23 seconds to 5:19. During the outdoor season she ran all seven of her 1600s under 5:25 and all five 3200s under 12:00. She established new PRs of 5:16 and 11:22 and placed 4th in both races at the State meet.
Lorena Valdivia of South Sioux City finished 17th last fall after winning the RCC and District titles. She set PRs of 5:34 and 12:17 during track, the former a 48-second improvement over her best time from 2022. She qualified for State track in both events, so the experience of thousands of screaming fans should translate well to the Kearney course. Reece Ewoldt of Blair finished 28th at State XC, roughly equivalent to her 21st-place finish at the UNK meet. She shifted from being a 400/800 runner in 2021 and 2022 to a 1600 runner in 2023, dropping her PR to 5:34. She should be in the medal hunt this October. Hannah Rugroden of Scottsbluff had a breakthrough spring season, running 2:27 and 5:26.
We’ve scoured the junior high XC and track results – as limited as they are – and found a few girls who make may an impact this fall:
· Leah Robinson of Elkhorn North has dominated the PAL XC and track scene in Omaha the past two years while running for Elkhorn St. Pats. With PRs of 59.2, 2:21 and 5:19, she’s got a lot of upside. She joins a deep squad with solid training partners.
· Mallory Robbins of Plattsmouth finished 8th at JH State XC and ran 5:26 on the track.
· Madeline Scott of Bennington finished 2nd at the incredibly competitive JH State XC meet. I don’t see track results for her but she competed in the recent Shawn Gray 5K. Her teammates Lucy Lampe (1:03 400), Claire Miller (2:32 800) and Mazlynn Cornette (5:47 1600) finished 16th, 32nd and 42nd, respectively at JH State XC to help Bennington won the team championship.
· Lydia Dominy of Norris finished 12th at JH State XC and ran 2:23 on the track, a time that puts her in the top 10 of Class B athletes returning in 2023/2024.
Nerd the Third: Ellie Thomas takes the win in front of Atlee Wallman and Kassidy Stuckey.
Nerd Senior: It’s hard to not pick a Norris athlete for the win, but I’ll be different than Nerd the Third and call it a toss-up between Kassidy Stuckey, Ella Ford and Emma Steffensen. I expect a lead pack of at least eight girls at the two-mile mark.
Norris returns all six girls from its 2022 team and adds a strong freshman class. There are not many weaknesses on the Norris team. For example, their sixth State finisher in 2022, Tana Petsche, had the 9th fastest 3200 (11:53) in Class B last spring, and she has the 6th-fastest 3200 among girls competing in Class B this fall. The toughest part of coaching this team may be deciding which stud gets the final varsity spot.
Norris is not a lock, however. As noted above, Elkhorn North returns two of the top runners in the State in Jenna Polking and Ella Ford. While Britt Prince won’t be competing this fall so she can focus on rehabbing the injury from the final game of the 2023 State basketball tourney, Elkhorn North returns Kailey O’Brien and Paityn Christoffels (2:30/5:39). Leah Robinson should improve throughout the year be part of the State squad, and it’s likely that the top six will all be running sub-21:00 by October.
Bennington finished 2nd last year but lost top runner Gabriela Calderon, who now competes for UNO, and Samantha Jensen. Alexis Hiatt was the #2 runner last fall and focused again on 400/800 races in the spring; she placed 6th in the 400 and medaled on the 4x400 and 4x800 teams. Returner Alexis O’Connell was a member of the 4x800 team and ran PRs of 2:35 and 5:43 this spring, while returner Morgan Iske ran 5:39. Lillian Dall had a strong fall but appears to have shut down her track season early. Add to those returners the deep freshmen squad I discussed above - and you've got the makings of a serious contender.
Omaha Skutt returns four of their top five finishers, led by medalist Gabi Westfall (junior, PRs of 5:31/11:46). Anna Labenz (senior, 2:30), Annabelle Roubal (senior, 2:33) and Sarah Dickas also return. The most impactful newcomer may be Josie Tobaben, who did not compete on varsity in Fall 2022 due to a late transfer from Elkhorn South. She won her six JV races last fall, most by large margins, with a season-best of 21:25 at Seward. Theresa Berger was Skutt’s top mid-distance runner this spring, running 1:03/2:24. Junior Catherine Youell ran 5:51 and 12:20 in what appears to be her first season of running, so expect her to keep improving during her first XC season. These girls and others will be fighting for the last few varsity spots.
York returns all five finishers from 2022 State, led by Kassidy Stuckey. Among the other returners, Ryleigh Wright (5:48), Emory Conrad (5:59/12:57) and Naomi Renner (6:18/13:16) focused on distance races during the spring. Lainey Portwine ran the 300H (49.71), 4x100 and 4x400 but is playing volleyball this fall.
Omaha Duchesne has 90 of their 340 girls out for XC, and they return all but Eva Wentz from the 2022 State team. Maggie Lickteig leads the mass of humanity while junior Corinne Mansour (5:51/12:40) and senior Anne Hoover (spring soccer) have recorded solid summer mileage. Duchesne has 30 freshmen on the team, with Cece Kramper, Eleanor Richard and a few others expected to make strong bids for a varsity spot. Ellie Shanahan was Duchesne’s final scorer in 2022 and returns after spending the track season focused on 100- and 200-meter races. At State she just missed a spot in the 100 finals and placed SIXTH in the Class B 200, and this fall she looks to improve on the 21:08 she ran at 2022 Districts. That's some kind of versatility. Emma Boggust (2:48/5:59) rounds out the returners.
Among the other 2022 State teams, Blair returns six, Lexington returns all five, South Sioux City and Scottsbluff return four of six, and Seward and Gering return three of six.
Nerd the Third: Norris looks virtually unbeatable this year; I’ll go with Elkhorn North second and Bennington third.
Nerd Senior: I agree with Third that Norris is the heavy favorite, but I think Elkhorn North is a serious threat. I see Skutt, Duchesne and York battling for third, and I’d put Skutt above the others based upon track results. It's too early to know if Bennington will make a run at the podium - we'll be closely tracking their freshmen performances. Keep in mind that each year there’s at least one Class B team that has a bad day – due to nerves, injury, weather, whatever – and there will be no shortage of opportunistic teams if a top squad falters. Compared to Class A boys/girls and Class B boys, the title chase for Class B girls may not be as tight. However, I still think it's going to be fun to watch how the top teams develop during the year.
And keep this in mind – even if the team title isn’t a white knuckler, THE INDIVIDUAL COMPETITION IS GOING TO BE NUTS.
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