Contributor: Nerd the Third and Nerd Senior
4. Aquinas Catholic
5. Palmyra (Class C in 2023)
1. Jordyn Arens, Crofton (1st)
2. Katherine Kerrigan, Ainsworth (2nd)
3. Anna Fitzgerald, Doniphan-Trumbull (4th)
4. Madison Davis, West Holt (5th)
5. Angela Frick, North Central (6th)
6. Isabelle Peters, Tri County (7th)
7. Miriam Frasher, Aquinas Catholic (8th)
8. Dakota Horstman, Hemingford (9th)
9. Braelyn Gifford, NP St. Pat’s (10th)
10. Gianna Frasher, Aquinas Catholic (11th)
11. Lilly Harris, Homer (12th)
12. Peyton Paxton, Mullen (13th)
13. Cecilia Barron, Morrill (14th)
14. Grace Schernikau, Centennial (16th)
15. Hannah Swanson, Nebraska Christian (17th)
This list may not be complete, but I have found the following changes that impact Class C:
· Palmyra was in Class D in 2022 but has moved up to Class C for XC in 2023.
· Gibbon, Lincoln Lutheran and Valentine have moved from Class C to Class D.
· Sandy Creek has deconsolidated (is that even a word?) from Lawrence-Nelson, so there is no longer a South Central team. Notably, this means that returning medalist Rowan Jarosik will now compete for Sandy Creek in Class D.
· Omaha Roncalli and Brownell Talbot have deconsolidated, so Roncalli is in Class C and Brownell Talbot is in Class D.
The returning girls in Class D have absolute star power, and 20 of the top 24 return. We lost just three girls to graduation – Brekyn Kok (Cornerstone, 3rd), Chaney Nelson (Oakland-Craig, 15th) and Alexis Hill (Bridgeport, 18th), and we also lost Braelyn Gifford, whose family has moved to Iowa.
Jordyn Arens of Crofton headlines the returners. She has won three State XC Class D titles, and in Class C she has won three 1600 titles, three 3200 titles and one 800 title. In fact, her only individual loss at the State level was when she ran 2:20 to finish 10th in the 800 in May – and yet she bounced back for the 1600 title a few hours later. She’s won her three State XC titles by margins of 45, 54 and 43 seconds and her athletic.net profile reflects that her only XC losses have been at the Augustana Twilight meet (a huge Class A-D meet) and Nike Regionals. So yeah, she’s kind of good.
Hannah Swanson of Nebraska Christian has been a fixture in our weekly rankings the past two years. In 2022 she won every XC race leading up to the State meet, including the very competitive UNK meet that Crofton doesn’t attend. After finishing 4th and 2nd, respectively, at State during her first two years of high school, Hannah was ranked 2nd in all nine of our 2022 rankings. Consistent with her talent, at State she went through the first mile in 4th place, through two miles in 2nd place, but then things went downhill. As we’ve noted in other previews, the athletes most likely to crash and burn at State are the medal contenders who push past the warning signals, and there’s no shame in Hannah’s 17th place finish. As we expected, she bounced back during track season, running PRs of 5:31 and 12:00, and she captured the Class D 3200 title at Burke.
Peyton Paxton of Mullen finished 13th at 2022 State as a sophomore after being ranked the entire season. Peyton finished 3rd as a freshman and has seen considerably success on the track, collecting PRs of 5:29 and 12:02 while earning three silver medals and a bronze in the 1600 and 3200. She has been so close to a State title on the track, several times leading with 400 meters remaining, and I think she’ll get a track title before she graduates. Look for her to be in the mix for a top-5 finish this fall.
Katherine Kerrigan of Ainsworth has also been a frequent flyer in our rankings, staying there every week of the last two years. She’s finished 3rd, 6th and 2nd in her three State XC meets, and she has PRs of 5:28 and 11:52 in track.
Anna Fitzgerald, a junior at Doniphan-Trumbull, entered the rankings in Week 2 of last year and stayed between 5th and 9th. She was 8th in the final rankings and we were a bit surprised with her 4th place finish. She continued her torrid pace on the track, running 11:44 and improving more than two minutes from her best time as a freshman.
Madison Davis of West Holt has improved consistently during her first three years, placing 21st, 10th and 5th at the State meet. She ran PRs of 5:38 and 12:15 during the track season. Maddie was ranked 11th in the preseason and then was #15 on three different weeks, so she knows how to peak at the right time.
It’s fairly common to see a freshman girl excel in cross country, and Angela Frick of North Central had an exceptional year in 2022. She was ranked 3rd the final seven weeks of 2022 and finished 6th. She had a solid track season, setting PRs of 2:31 and 5:43. Likewise, fellow freshman Isabelle Peters of Tri County joined the rankings in Week 3 and quickly settled in the #6 spot, so her 7th-place finish was what we expected. Her best track performance was a 2:28 800. Another freshman, Lilly Harris of Homer, finished 12th at State and ran 5:54/12:55 during the spring. Like a number of Class D athletes, Lilly played basketball through late February and didn’t begin running until March; she’ll have a better mileage base for XC season.
The Frasher sisters from David City Aquinas have been solidly in the medal mix the last two years. Miriam is a junior and has placed 9th and 8th at State XC her first two years, and she medaled in Class C in both hurdles events in May. Gianna is a senior who sticks with distance events in the spring; her PRs are 5:21 and 11:44, and she has placed 8th and 11th the past two years at State XC.
The team title by Hemingford squad was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2022 in Class D. Dakota Horstman led the team as a freshman, and she was ranked the last 6 weeks before finishing 9th. She had solid PRs of 5:36 and 12:37 during the track season. Her teammate Carlye Kresl was ranked a few times during the season before finishing 26th at State; Carlye had PRs of 6:07/13:11 in the spring. Aurora Hinman finished 21st despite being a sprinter during track season.
Cecilia Barron of Morrill ran well during 2022 and finished 14th at State XC after finishing 24th during her freshman year. She has PRs of 5:56/12:44. Grace Schernikau of Centennial finished 16th as a sophomore, just 0.4 seconds from a medal, after not competing in XC as a freshman. She had solid times of 5:53/12:43 during the spring. Carolyn Magnuson of Oakland-Craig finished 63rd in 2022 but qualified for State track in Class C in both the 1600 and 3200; her PRs of 2:24/5:40 make her a medal threat this fall.
Tyrah American Horse of Gordon-Rushville was on our watch list several times last fall before finishing 31st; she ran 5:35/12:41 on the track. Tyrah has an interesting back story. Her great uncle Joe American Horse ran for Gordon High School in the 1950's, winning the all-class gold in the mile his junior and senior years and recording a PR of 4:28.1 - decades before synthetic tracks and super shoes. Tyrah started off this season in good form, finishing 4th at the Panhandle Classic ahead of a few State XC medal favorites. (Superfan Amy Schmidt shared an article in the Sheridan County Journal Star about Joe.)
The most impactful newcomers of this season may be the top four girls at Pender. Jala Krusemark (14th in 2022) and Kyla Krusemark (21st) have transferred from Wayne to Pender. The Krusemarks led Wayne to a Class C title in 2022. Jala ran PRs of 5:52/12:56 this spring while Kyla ran 1:01/2:27. They’re joined by sophomore Hadley Walsh, who played volleyball last fall but ran 2:30/5:29 during the spring, and freshman Megan Breitbarth, who ran 2:40/5:55 as an 8th grader.
Another athlete new to Class D is Sawyer Benne of Lincoln Lutheran. Lincoln Lutheran moved from Class C to Class D this fall, and Sawyer’s time of 21:21 at 2022 State (23rd place) puts her in the mix for a medal this year. She ran 2:31/5:37 this spring. Finally, one result of the Roncalli-Brownell Talbot decoupling is that sophomore Corbett Lanum of BT could be in the medal hunt in Class D. She had a strong track season with PRs of 5:48/12:25. We couldn’t identify any incoming freshman with blazing times as an 8th grader, in part because many Class D schools don’t upload results to Athletic.net. We’re pretty sure we’ll see at least two freshmen in the rankings this year, but at this point we have no idea who they are. Our predictions: Nerd the Third: Jordyn Arens does not lose a race over 800 meters. She’s a lock. Behind her, it’s a toss-up between Hannah Swanson, Peyton Paxton, Katherine Kerrigan, Anna Fitzgerald and at least one of the Frasher sisters and one girl from Pender. Anyone who has run sub-12:00 or sub-5:30 has a legitimate chance to be in the top five. Nerd Senior: More than any other Class, I think Class D distance runners are more likely to be three-sport athletes who don’t have the base mileage to put up crazy times during track season. For that reason, track PRs are an incomplete picture of the athlete who has been training all summer. I expect Arens to earn her 4th gold, and I’m a huge fan of about twenty other girls in Class D. The sentimental side of me is rooting for Hannah Swanson and Peyton Paxton to have strong seasons, but I can’t ignore all of the other great talent in the field. Therefore, here’s my wish: that these girls all end their season in good health AND they’re still runners 20 years from now.
Team race When 20 of the 24 top finishers return, that gives you an idea that the top teams return most of their athletes. The top three teams in 2022 – Hemingford, Ainsworth and Crofton – have lost no one to graduation. Aquinas finished 4th and lost its #3 runner, who was just a few spots ahead of its #4 runner. Nebraska Christian finished 8th and returns its top four, and #11 West Holt and #12 Wallace return their entire squad. Hemingford returns medalist Dakota Horstman, Aurora Hinman, Carlye Kresl, Madisen Meek and Serenity Dillard. All were active during track season and should be strong this fall. Ainsworth returns runner-up Katherine Kerrigan, Emma Kennedy (12th place in 2021, 2:42/5:53 this spring), Payton Moody and Preselyn Goochey. Crofton returns Jordyn Arens (superhuman), Sophia Wortmann (22nd in 2022, 2:51/5:59), Rylie Arens (37th, 1:05/2:30), Elizabeth Wortmann (44th, 1:01) and Emily Guenther (1:11). David City Aquinas returns two medalists in the Frasher sisters, Lydia Meysenburg (6:23/13:42) and Alex Matulka. And, of course, there is Pender. In Pender’s first meet at Hartington this week, the Pender girls swept the top four spots. With four quality runners, the team even has a margin of error if one of their girls doesn’t have the best day. Given the quality of this field, I think you’ll need two medalists plus a third runner in the top 25 to earn the win. Pender, Aquinas, Ainsworth, Hemingford and Crofton are all capable of hitting those marks.
Nerd the Third: I think Crofton has a chip on its shoulder after winning in 2021 and finishing 3rd last year. I’ll go with Pender, David City Aquinas, Hemingford, Ainsworth and Nebraska Christian to round out the top six.
Nerd Senior: Barring injury, Pender is the team to beat. I’ll go with Aquinas in second followed by Hemingford, Ainsworth, Crofton and Nebraska Christian.
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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.