Updated: Oct 29
Contributor: The Nerd, Nerd the Third
The season is over. You won.
Sure, the college kids are still competing and maybe you're planning to run NXR or a USATF race, but the season has ended for most Nebraska cross country runners. The eleven-week season was fast but exhausting, and for the moment we're excited to start our off season too. However, we've got this recap to write and thousands of pictures to post, so it's time to get to work.
Let's face it. Cross country is an incredible sport but it certainly hands out its share of disappointment. Distance runners are ambitious goal setters but there are a finite number of state titles, medals and varsity spots to go around. We've posted two articles that may help give you some perspective on your season, your career and what lies ahead.
The Season is Over. You Won. is a story I wrote three years ago, and I wrote it specifically for Nerd the Third. He was a senior that year and had qualified for his fourth State meet. We were hopeful that he would do well but history was not on his side: he had finished well below his expectations in his first three State meets due to end-of-season exhaustion related to growth spurts. I started writing the article a few days before his State meet, expecting the worst, but Henry didn't need the article. As a senior, he was finally on the backside of puberty, and he ran the race of his life. However, we published the article because there were other athletes who did need to hear the message - that cross country success is not measured in medals, varsity spots or PRs.
On a similar note, on Friday I watched some of my favorite athletes struggle during their races, including a number of individuals and teams who were favored to win. As if I were their parent or coach, I carried their disappointment with me most of Saturday. On Saturday night I went to Mass and then to a neighborhood party, and those two events helped me piece together what I wanted those athletes to know. About once a year I write a story that connects with people inside and outside our Nebraska running community, and Drop Your Shield is apparently that article for 2023. The article has had over 20,000 views as of Thursday night, and I recommend it for parents, athletes and anyone else who knows a distance runner.
We'd like to think you follow the Nerd for our witty writing but we shouldn't kid ourselves: you're mostly here for the free photos. We had fourteen Nerds at Kearney in some capacity - photography, interviewing, coaching or one other thing that might interest you - and all of the photos have now been edited. As of Thursday night they were all uploaded at https://www.facebook.com/PrepRunningNerd/photos_albums. Grab a cup of coffee; with about 4000 photos, you may be at the computer for a while.
The Nerdy stuff
We specialize in data - rankings, performance lists, results - and we're including a bit of that here.
While all of the State race results are uploaded to athletic.net, the most comprehensive data is stored in the race-day link that includes one- and two-mile splits. Here are those links:
Last month Coach Sonneson of Platteview compiled a list of four-time medal winners among all classes since 1960, and we've updated that to reflect Friday's results. Our anecdotal view is that it's pretty difficult for boys to medal as freshmen before they hit their growth spurt, while the bigger challenge for girls may be to keep on medaling while they go through the maturation process.
By our count, there have been 34 four-time boys medalists in 60+ years of State cross country, and Isaac Ochoa of Norfolk and Jarrett Miles of North Platte St. Pat's joined that exclusive group on Friday. Eighty-nine girls have accomplished the feat based on the data on the NSAA website that begins with 1980. Six girls joined this prestigious list on Friday: Claire White of Westside, Peyton Svehla of Lincoln East, Kassidy Stuckey of York, Lindee Henning of Ogallala, Talissa Tanquary of Sidney and Katherine Kerrigan of Ainsworth. Here are the lists:
Five years ago I created a list of three- and four-time Class A medalists since 1996 and I've continued to update that list. (While I'd love to have a similar list for Class B through D, I need someone else to do it.) Four boys joined the list on Friday - Denny Chapman of Prep, Max Myers of LSW, Jack Witte of Millard West and Juan Gonzalez of Fremont each earned their third medals - bringing the total to 50 boys. As noted above, Isaac Ochoa joined the list last year with his third medal but entered rarified air on Friday when he earned his fourth medal, becoming just the 7th Class A boys since 1996 to do so. He's the first four-time medalist since Wyatt McGuire of North Platte did it from 2010-2013. Juan Gonzalez has the chance to earn his fourth medal next year.
The girls list is slightly larger at 57 girls; Stella Miner of Westside and Mia Murray of Lincoln East joined the list with three medals, while Claire White and Peyton Svehla became the 18th and 19th four-time Class A winners. Mia also medaled in West Virginia as a freshman. Here are the lists:
In a previous Nerdsletter I raised the idea of allowing for a minimum number of individual qualifiers at each District meet because one or two dominant team significantly reduces the chances of qualifiers from less successful programs. I did a bit more digging to give you details for every District. Here are the non-team qualifying individuals from each District.
If you're at a new school (Westview, Buena Vista, Standing Bear) or a team that's rebuilding, the limited number of at-large qualifiers could be pretty disappointing.
There has to be a number for State qualifiers, and the current numbers are three teams and fifteen individuals from each District. On Friday at State the race fields ranged between 83 athletes for Class B boys and 131 for Class D boys; all of the Class A and B races had between 83 and 100 athletes on the starting line. The State race sizes are relatively modest compared to other high-profile meets; for example, the UNK Class C boys race had 339 finishers.
There has to be a number for state qualifiers, but is there a reason that the field size has to be so restricted? What if the qualifying rule was the top three teams and top fifteen individuals, BUT if the the total number of top-15 individuals from non-qualifying teams was less than ten, we'd keep adding athletes until we got to ten (or five)? What kind of impact would that have on struggling teams attempting to build a program?
Tony Chapman (aka Nerd Convert) of Flatwater Sports has raised an interesting point about the number of schools competing in each class. The NSAA ranks high schools by the number of students, and they then assign schools to Classes based on member-approved cut-offs. However, schools can 'opt-up' one Class, and for 2023 XC this included Pius, Westview and Buena Vista opting up into Class A, while no Class C schools opted up into Class B. The result?
Class A - 33 girls teams, 33 boys teams
Class B - 26 girls teams, 24 boys teams
Class C - 59 girls teams, 60 boys teams
Class D - 126 girls and boys teams
At some point Gretna East, Lincoln Standing Bear and Lincoln Northwest may grow into a Class A student population, but it's questionable whether other schools now in Class A will accept a demotion to Class B even if their numbers allow it. As Stu Pospisil of the Omaha World Herald noted this week, in September the Omaha-centric Metro Athletic Conference amended its constitution to require schools to participate in Class A in all sports except football. That means that Gretna East will be required to opt up in XC (and all other non-football sports) to remain in the Metro, as will Gretna (which isn't expected to be one of the 30 largest schools next year).
Ignoring Gretna for a moment, the four 'smallest' schools assigned to Class A this fall were Columbus, Norfolk, North Platte and Omaha Marian. If they fell below the Class A cut-off in future years, would they choose to opt up?
All of the Class B District races two weeks ago had 40 kids or less in the field; the B-3 boys and B-4 girls had just 31 athletes each. With 18 kids qualifying and another 4 qualifying individually, that meant that 22 of the 31 kids in each of those two races qualified for State. (Yes, I realize this conflicts with my previous section about increasing the number of individual qualifiers.)
If Class A is destined to have at least 33 schools for the foreseeable future, is it time to officially increase the number of Class A, B and C schools?
Oh, I'm sorry. Too soon?
About ten years ago the coaches advocated for a proposal to extend the cross country season from 10 weeks to 11 weeks, and one of their motives was to push back the State meet by a week. The expanded season was approved but... the extra week was added to the start of the season, presumably so that cross country began the same day as football.
The Twitterverse was full of comments regarding the high temps on Friday, that the forecast wasn't a surprise, and that the NSAA should have moved the meet start time much like early-season meets are shifted to mornings on hot days. A Class A coach used the Farmer's Almanac pulled the last 10 years of highs in Kearney on State day and the following Friday after State. His findings:
Average Temp on State day: 69.7
Average Temp one week later: 59.1
Days with highs above 70 on State day: 6 of 10
Days with highs above 70 one week later: 1 of 10
With apparently nothing better to do the Sunday after State, Creighton coach Chris Gannon compiled a list of the dates for all 50 state high school meets in 2023. The biggest take-away: Nebraska has the second earliest State meet in 2023, behind only.... wait for it... Alaska. Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota held their meet one day later than Nebraska while four upper Midwest states (Iowa, North Dakota, Colorado and Wisconsin) hold their meet one week later. Among upper Midwest states, Minnesota and Michigan hold their meets the latest, on November 4.
Keep in mind the the cross country season continues in full gear at a number of levels. D1 schools have their conference meets a week later than State, and D1 regionals are November 10th. The Nike regional meet is Sioux Falls is on November 12th. The Footlocker regional in Wisconsin is even later.
Does running in cooler weather reduce the likelihood of heat-related medical issues? Obviously, which is why coaches are required to take heat-related training. Does it impact performance? Definitely, although it's difficult to compare results from hot days to non-hot days since (a) there have been so few cool State meets in the last 10 years and (b) the talent level results in different race results each year. However, we did perform a quick comparison between the 2023 meet, where temps snuck into the 80's, and the 2020 meet, when the wind chill dropped below freezing. The 2020 meet results list only two athletes from all eight races who did not complete their race (DNF). The 2023 meet results list twelve DNFs. While I know that at least three of the twelve 2023 DNF runners were lucky to even get to State due to an injury, that's a big difference.
A few observers suggested moving the meet to start in the morning, and that would likely require more high school teams to spend the night in Kearney. One observer piped in that some golf courses will delay the start of a meet if there is frost on the ground since they don't want runners and spectators to damage the course. That's is an issue that Kearney Country Club has encountered when collegiate meets have been held there later in the season. Most golf courses appear to follow this frost rule. However, we reached out to the golf pro of a nationally-recognized golf course to see if he thought that frost would be a reason to delay a highly-attended meet, and his answer was "I would not be concerned about course damage from walking on frosted grounds."
Leveraging the e-mail lists that are used for Class A, B and C coaches polls (tracking down 120+ coaches in Class D is apparently too tall a task), Joe Pilakowski of Papio LaVista created an online survey this week to get a better sense of where coaches stand on this issue. Of the 70 coaches who responded, 12 preferred the current date, 50 want to push it a week later and 8 were ambivalent.
The NSAA is open to discussing a change. The 2024 meet date is already locked in and, because of a shift in the NSAA calendar, the meet is already pushed back - to October 25.
Of course, there's about 100 factors to consider - course availability, whether a wintry precipitation mix is better than an 85-degree day, and a host of other questions - many of which could be answered by talking to the Midwest states that have later dates than Nebraska. Thankfully, the people who will drive this decision are coaches, and they have their athletes' best interests in mind.
So... could we figure out how to get a working group of coaches together and decide if a proposal to the NSAA is the next step?
Top finishers at State
Nerd the Third took the time to compile the top 20 finishers by time on Friday. Keep in mind that it was a lot warmer for Class C (the last race) than Class B (the first race), but the comparisons are always interesting:
1. Juan Gonzalez, Fremont, Junior, 15:26
2. Jack Witte, Millard West, Senior, 15:38
3. Dennis Chapman, Creighton Prep, Senior, 15:48
4. Wes Pleskac, Fremont, Senior, 15:58
5. Max Myers, Lincoln Southwest, Senior, 16:00
6. Isaac Ochoa, Norfolk, Senior, 16:07
7. Riley Boonstra, Norris, Senior, 16:10
8. Easton Zastrow, Lincoln North Star, Junior, 16:10
9. Braden Lofquest, Gretna East, Junior, 16:11
10. Tommy Rice, Skutt Catholic, Junior, 16:15
11. Dalton Heller, Millard South, Senior, 16:15
12. David Krier, Lincoln Pius X, Sophomore, 16:18
13. Jayden Wall, Westside, Senior, 16:20
14. Dylan Lender, Millard South, Senior, 16:22
15. Austin Carrera, Hastings, Junior, 16:22
16. Sergio Martinez, Omaha South, Senior, 16:22
17. Joe Dustin, Lincoln Pius X, Senior, 16:23
18. Gavin Luthi, Gretna, Junior, 16:26
19. Ryan Kugler, Westside, Junior, 16:27
20. Caden Miser, Papio South, Senior, 16:31
1. Claire White, Westside, Senior, 18:32
2. Stella Miner, Westside, Senior, 18:40
3. Kaitlyn Swartz, Papio South, Senior, 19:00
4. Kendall Zavala, Norris, Junior, 19:03
5. Kate Ebmeier, Millard West, Junior, 19:06
6. Mia Murray, Lincoln East, Senior, 19:13
7. Ella Ford, Elkhorn North, Junior, 19:18
8. Ellie Thomas, Norris, Senior, 19:20
9. Peyton Svehla, Lincoln East, Senior, 19:21
10. Abbigail Durow, Millard South, Sophomore, 19:31
11. Hope Riedel, Lincoln North Star, Junior, 19:33
12. Lindee Henning, Ogallala, Senior, 19:33
13. Gracie Suppes, Papio, Freshman, 19:36
14. Kassidy Stuckey, York, Senior, 19:38
15. Kara Muller, Bellevue West, Senior, 19:43
16. Charlotte Gregor, Omaha South, Junior, 19:43
17. Alexis Chadek, Papio, Sophomore, 19:43
18. Sadie Yager, Lincoln East, Junior, 19:45
19. Mallory Robbins, Plattsmouth, Freshman, 19:45
20. Litzey Fredette, Millard West, Junior, 19:47
In our pre-State Nerdsletter, we emphasized that, with a few exceptions for huge favorites, the athletes who had the best outcomes on hot days at State tended to be the ones who ran conservatively through at least the first mile. Imagine our surprise when we heard a coach give this final instruction in a pre-race huddle: "Go out fast and don't get boxed in." Of all the things to worry about at Kearney, getting boxed in isn't on our top-100 list. I personally would be more concerned about chafing and blisters.
We know we're not real journalists, but the eight winners were gracious enough to talk to Nerd Convert (Tony Chapman) immediately after their race, and then I spoke with all eight by phone a few days later. It's unclear whether I can leverage any of that information to create insightful race breakdowns, but I'll do my best. We're cover the races in the order they were held.
Class B Girls
We had Kassidy Stuckey of York ranked first after she won the UNK meet in late September, but in reality there wasn't much separation between the top athletes. Kendall Zavala of Norris had bested Stuckey at the Waverly meet, Ella Ford of Elkhorn North had beaten Zavala at Mt. Michael, Leah Robinson of Elkhorn North had edged Ford at Seward, Robinson had been beaten by.... well, you get the idea. On any given day, anyone in the top 10 had the capability to win State.
We haven't seen the top Class B girls employ a sit-and-kick race strategy all year, and by 300 meters (picture above) the top contenders were at the front. At 900 meters it was clear that Stuckey and Zavala would be pushing the pace, while three Norris girls formed a second lead pack followed by most of the other medal contenders an additional 10 meters back. The field was strung out by the one-mile mark. Zavala and Kassidy passed through in 5:54, Ellie Thomas (Norris) in 5:58, Ford (Elkhorn North) in 5:59, freshman Leah Robinson (EN) and Mallory Robbins (Plattsmouth) in 6:01, Tessa Greisen (Seward) in 6:03, and Atlee Wallman (Norris), Maggie Liecktieg (Duchesne) and Emma Steffensen (Waverly) in 6:06.
The second mile includes limited inclines (those are saved for the brutal third mile) but the gaps continued to increase. Stuckey and Zavala were still side-by-side, going through two miles at 12:01, followed by Ford (12:12), Thomas (12:21), Robinson (12:28), Robbins (12:32), Greisen (12:35) and Wallman (12:36). Surprisingly, no one outside the top 15 at the two-mile mark was able to break into the medals in the final 1800 meters.
The course features a steep hill at approximately 3400 meters that seemed to turn the tide of several races. Zavala threw in a series of surges and created a small gap by 3800 meters while Stuckey struggled to recover from the hill, and Stuckey eventually fell at approximately 4000 meters when her legs gave out. With the encouragement of spectators, Stuckey rose and finished fourth - a truly remarkable feat given her condition.
The downside to being the leader is that you rarely know what's going on behind you, and Zavala didn't feel confident of her victory until she rounded the final curve and heard her coach tell her how much of a lead she had. She finished in 19:03. Ella Ford was second in 19:18, followed closely by Ellie Thomas (USD commit) in 19:20, and Stuckey in 19:38. Four of the next five girls were freshmen: Mallory Robbins in 5th in 19:45, Leah Robinson in 6th in 19:50, Sophia Reynolds of Hastings in 8th in 19:52 and Annah Perdue of York 9th in 19:56. Juniors Atlee Wallman and Hailey Finkner of Norris were 7th and 10th, respectively, in 19:50 and 19:59.
Perdue had the best closing performance, improving from 15th to 9th in the final 1800 meters. Cece Kramper finished 15th to become the fifth freshman medalist. Kennedy Powell and Tanna Petsche finished 13th and 14th to put all six Norris girls in the medals, while Elkhorn North had their top five in the top 19 places. York and Duchesne both had two medalists. Stuckey and Thomas were the only two senior medalists.
As you would expect with six medalists, Norris easily got their three-peat, scoring 21 points to Elkhorn North's 41 points. Elkhorn North lost their third-fastest runner, Jenna Polking, to a foot fracture after the Mt. Michael meet. Even if Jenna had placed in the top ten - which seemed likely based on early-season results - Norris still would have won by 10 points.
Zavala told us that she viewed herself as the underdog given her pre-State #2 ranking, which alleviated some of her pre-race tension, but the team felt quite a bit of pressure to keep the title.
When Kendall crossed the finish line she pointed to the sky in honor of her grandfather Ralph Zavala, who passed away on July 7th. Two years ago when Kendall finished 2nd as a freshman, I met Ralph at the 900-meter mark. He saw an empty seat in my golf cart and asked for a ride, despite having no idea who I was or where I might be going. As we drove away he told me that he was Kendall's grandfather, and I told him that I'd take him to 3000 meters and 4600 meters so he could see her run. He said virtually nothing and yet it was a hilarious ride.
Ralph wasn't in the cart on Friday. He had a far better view of Kendall winning her third medal and her first State title.
Zavala and the rest of the Norris team will head of to Sioux Falls for NXR on November 12. Stuckey has performed well at a post-season meet each of the last three years and hopefully will be at NXR. I'd expect to see a number of other top Class B runners there. Our message to the seniors, including Stuckey, Thomas, Reece Ewoldt, Alli Czapla, Susana Calmo and so many others - keep on running!
I know it's too early to talk about next year but... only 6 of the top 33 finishers were seniors. Next year is going to be a blast.
Class A girls
For the last two years we've been saying that we're in the golden age of Nebraska high school girls distance running, and... WE DON'T WANT IT TO STOP! The Class of 2024 has been exceptional, led by four girls who will probably be running at the high D-1 level next year. Defending champ Mia Murray of Lincoln East came into the meet ranked 1st and was undefeated this season with all of her races under 18:40. Claire White and Stella Miner of Westside have been ranked 2nd and 3rd the last six weeks, and both have sub-5:00 PRs on the track. Kaitlyn Swartz of Papio South has been ranked 4th the entire season, hovering around 19:00 at most races this season while experimenting with different tactics.
Murray came in as a slight favorite given that she had won both meetings against the Westside girls at PRR and Harold Scott, and she had also faced Swartz in four consecutive races. As the second race of the day, it was unclear if the Class A girls were aware of the toll the heat had taken in the Class B girls race. Murray's race strategy all year has been to go out hard and force the field to claw her back, while Westside's approach is usually to start conservatively and then close hard. White told us that after the Harold Scott race it became clear that she and Stella would have to run more aggressively to have a chance at a State title. The pre-race plan for the Westside duo was to make contact with Murray by 3000 meters and then start surging at 4000 meters.
Murray led as expected at the 900-meter mark (pictured above), while White and Miner hit their 1k target of 3:40, 10 seconds faster than their normal benchmark. Murray still led at the one-mile mark at 6:14, White and Miner passed by in 6:16, and a pack of eight girls including Swartz clocked in at 6:17. It was a fairly tight lead pack, with 18 girls between 6:14 and 6:19. At the steep downhill around 2200 meters, White and Miner were a stride back of Murray with Swartz and Grace Suppes (Papio LV) five meters back. At 3200 meters, the three girls were running side by side with Swartz running alone 30 meters back, followed by a group of four.
After the big uphill near 3400 meters, White and Miner had a half-step lead over Murray. They began to surge at 4000 meters, building a 75-meter lead by 4600 meters (picture above). White began to kick shortly after this point in an attempt to run the kick out of Miner (2:10 800 PR). She succeeded, finishing in 18:32, eight seconds ahead of Stella. Swartz closed hard to finish 3rd in 19:00, pulling along Kate Ebmeier of Millard West in the process, and Ebmeier completed a break-out season to finish 4th in 19:06. Murray finished 5th in 19:13.
The Class of 2023 has been something special. Miner won the State title as a freshman in 2020 while competing for Marian. Murray won the title in 2022 and White won in 2023. Fremont legend Elli Dahl was the only athlete to blemish the senior's class' State title run.
White was in tears after the race. When I spoke to her a few days later, she attributed the emotion to finally working through a mental obstacle that was telling her that she was always supposed to be behind someone. During her first three years of high school, she earned a whopping 13 State medals but never a gold medal - she placed 7th (once), 6th (twice), 5th (3x), 4th (2x), 3rd (3x) and 2nd (2x). She has never been ranked first in XC but she did celebrate her #2 ranking this fall - she told me at a meet, "I was tired of being third!"
In contrast to other top runners, White has already started her rest period. She plans to resume training in November as she builds up for a big indoor season, and she hopes to qualify for the New Balance National indoor meet held in March. Her goal is to under 4:50 and 10:40 in the spring.
While five of the top six girls - plus Kara Muller of Bellevue West in 10th - were seniors, plenty of talent is returning next fall. Seventeen of the top twenty-four finishers will return next year, and that includes six freshmen. As for the seniors, White is headed to Iowa State, Miner has committed to Kansas State, Swartz (above) has narrowed down her list to a few schools, and Murray will have no shortage of offers. Muller has committed to College of St. Mary and we're hoping that four-time XC medalist Peyton Svehla (Lincoln East), who had a career-best 6th place this year, will also compete collegiately.
In the team race, the Lincoln East girls won their sixth consecutive title with 55 points. Their 7th title may be a bit tougher since they will only return three girls from the 2023 team: Sadie Yager, Kadence Hurley and Ella Herzberg. Millard West finished a close 2nd with 67 points, and they only lose Brianna Hernandez (5th finisher at State) to graduation. Omaha Westside finished third with 119 points.
Class B boys
We expected the Class B title to be a battle between #1 Riley Boonstra of Norris and #2 Braden Lofquest of Gretna East, and we figured a few other boys would take a shot at the title. That's exactly what we got.
Boonstra mastered the sit-and-kick strategy at State T&F last May, winning the 1600 and 3200 with sub-60 second final laps. He's used that approach with great success this season, with his only defeat at the Platte River Rumble when he was a fraction of a second behind Millard West's Jack Witte (Class A #2). However, Riley planned to be more aggressive at State until he felt the heat and saw the results of the first two races. He and his coach adjusted their strategy just before the gun, with a goal of making a significant move at 3000-3500 meters.
Boonstra, Lofquest and Ethan Walters (Elkhorn) led the pack at the one-mile mark in 5:20. Eighteen boys hit the mile split between 5:20 and 5:25. A group of ten boys, led by Lofquest, passed the two-mile mark in 10:45-10:47, and it included most of the ranked boys - Tommy Rice and Jack Wade of Skutt, Austin Carrera of Hastings, Miguel Cruz of Lexington, Ryan Burton and Calin O'Grady of Bennington, and Axton Stone of Gering. The hill at 3400 meters shed a few of the boys, but Boonstra didn't make his move as planned. With his legs feeling heavy, he didn't surge until after 4000 meters, allowing Lofquest to continue to push the pace.
By 4600 meters (above), Boonstra was fully into his final sprint. I heard an observer ask, "do you think he started too early?", and for a moment that seemed to be a possibility. While he had a 20-meter lead with 400 to go, Lofquest made a late push, finishing just 1.3 seconds behind Boonstra's time of 16:10. Rice also closed well to finish 3rd in 16:15 while Carerra was 4th in 16:22. Lofquest, Rice and Carerra are all juniors.
The team competition offered more intrigue than the individual race. Lexington had won the last two titles, and Skutt had won the four titles before that. No other other high school had broken into the top two spots in the last six years, and it wasn't going to happen in 2023. Skutt placed boys in 3rd, 6th (Wade), 16th (McCoy Haussler) and 19th (Lincoln Wolfe), while Lexington boys placed 7th (Cruz), 9th (freshman Isaac Portillo), 15th (Lazaro Adame) and 18th (Herson Rodiguez). After throwing out individual qualifiers, Skutt won the title 37 points to Lexington's 42. Skutt, Lexington and third-place Norris all lose three seniors from their State teams, while 4th-place Hastings returns all but their third finisher.
Class A boys
The top boys in Class A has been running at elite levels this season. Top-ranked Juan Gonzalez won the Augustana, Pella and UNK titles, and his only 'loss' this season was an easy race in which he ran alongside teammate Wes Pleskac. Denny Chapman of Prep performed well at Augustana and Rim Rock, and he traded wins this season with 1600/3200 State champ Jack Witte of Millard West. Pleskac, 2022 runner-up Max Myers (LSW), Isaac Ochoa (Norfolk) and Dalton Heller (Millard South) have also been putting up spectacular times.
A sit-and-kick strategy doesn't mesh well with Gonzalez's strengths, but he tempered his early-race pace after seeing how it had impacted the Class A girls' race. He sat just off the lead at 900 meters (above) and moved into the lead position with Witte, Chapman and Myers by the one-mile mark, clocking a 5:09 split. The conservative pace was evident, with 24 boys spaced between 5:09 and 5:15.
A lead pack of ten boys at 2600 meters was trimmed to five over the next 400 meters, with a secondary pack forming behind Gonzalez, Witte, Chapman, Myers and Ochoa. The five hit the two-mile split at 10:18/10:19, with Pleskac two seconds behind. By 3600 meters, Ochoa had fallen back to Pleskac, and soon thereafter Gonzalez began a series of surges. He told us later than he was nervous about Witte's kick (1:53 800) so he wanted to tire Witte out before the final 400.
The strategy worked. By 4600 meters (above) Gonzalez had a 20-meter lead on Witte, and he finished in 15:26. Witte took 2nd in 15:38, Chapman 3rd in 15:48, Pleskac 4th in 15:58 and Myers 5th in 16:00. Witte, Chapman and Myers finish their high school careers as 3-time XC medalists. Ochoa finished 6th for his fourth medal, and in 2024 Gonzalez will look to add to his two gold medals and the 11th place medal he earned as a freshman.
Gonzalez will now set his sites on qualifying for nationals at the NXR and Footlocker regional meets, which would match what Gabe Hinrichs of Elkhorn South (now Notre Dame) accomplished two years ago. Danny Abdalla is the only other Fremont runner to qualify for nationals, and Juan has a good shot in both races. Since he's a junior, Juan has just begun talking with colleges, and he will be a hot commodity.
We viewed Creighton Prep and Fremont as co-favorites for the team title. While Prep had beaten Fremont by 99 points at Augustana in their only 2023 match up, Fremont has a history of peaking at State. Both Gonzalez and Pleskac were expected to place well, so the challenge for Prep was to have its third through fifth runners do significantly better than Fremont's. After throwing out individual qualifiers, Prep's points were 3, 13, 20, 21 and 25, while Fremont's were 1, 4, 22, 24 and 31. I'll save you the math problem - they both total 82. The title would be decided by the tiebreaker - the first for Class A boys since 1986 - and the tiebreaker goes to the team with the higher-placing 6th runner. Prep took the title with Andrew Sauer's 39th place finish.
We've known Andrew and his twin Michael (Prep's 7th runner at State) since they were fifth graders running with Nerd the Third's junior high team. On a Prep team that typically has 130 boys, they were solidly outside the top 30 runners as freshmen, in part because they were both 4'11" and 83 pounds. They moved up to the 15th-20th position at sophomores and juniors, but the outlook for a varsity spot didn't look good for their senior year. Prep had a deep squad for the Class of 2024 and the twins' results last spring didn't suggest that either would have a hand in a State title.
But here are two general rules about cross country: (a) injuries happen and (b) hard work often yields improved results. Two of Prep's expected contributors, Paul Youell and Charlie Nebel, were sidelined by injuries this fall. As luck would have it, Andrew and Michael made a serious commitment to summer training this year, running more miles and more consistently than they ever have. The result was clear to see - Andrew won the first three varsity medals of his career, and both boys now have a State championship medal.
And not to end on a Sauer note - but the twins' mother is Megann Walker Sauer, who finished 7th at Class B State in 1991 when Lincoln Pius won both the boys and girls titles. The boys' score that day? Pius and Ogallala tied with 82 points, the same as Prep and Fremont. We don't know what place Mike Horak finished to be Pius' tiebreaker, but wouldn't it be awesome if he finished 39th just like Andrew?
Class D girls
In our Class D preview, we called out a number of favorites: three-time winner Jorydn Arens of Crofton, Hannah Swanson of Nebraska Christian, Delani Runnels of Niobrara-Verdigre and Anna Fitzgerald of Doniphan-Trumbull. One athlete that we didn't highlight was 5th-ranked Katherine Kerrigan of Ainsworth. In retrospect, that was pretty dumb given that she had finished 3rd, 6th and 2nd in her first three State meets.
Once the race started, Arens assumed her typical role as the front runner, and she was flying. Her one-mile split was 5:58. (For comparison with the leaders of the previous races, Kendall Zavala and Kassidy Stuckey split 5:54 in Class B while Mia Murray split 6:14.) The next four girls at the one-mile mark were Runnels (6:06), Kerrigan (6:08), Angela Frick of North Central (6:18) and Fitzgerald (6:19)
At 2500 meters (above), Arens was firmly in control and, from our perspective, she looked great. Kerrigan was 30 meters back, a few strides ahead of Runnels.
The course has a quick out and back loop between 2500 and 3200 meters, and we were surprised to see Katherine Kerrigan be the first to return from that loop. She later told us that she saw Arens fall around 2800 meters and that Jordyn immediately grab her knee. (Arens remembers the fall but has no idea why it happened.) As Katherine passed Jordyn, she yelled at her to get up and start running again - and Jordyn eventually did so, but she lost 15 spots in just 200 meters.
Kerrigan passed the two-mile split in 12:43 with a large lead over the field. Runnels, a freshman whom we believe was undefeated until State, split 13:05, followed by Swanson and Fitzgerald in 13:08. Kerrigan had raced both Arens and Runnel during the season so her pre-race plan was to stick with Runnels. Even though Kerrigan had always hoped to win a State title, she hadn't planned to have a lead of over 20 seconds with just over a mile remaining. She finished well in 20:00, holding off a hard-charging Gianna Frasher of David City Aquinas who came from 30 seconds behind at 3200 meters to finish in 20:09. Anna Fitzgerald finished 3rd in 20:20, Hannah Swanson was 4th in 20:38, and Peyton Paxton of Mullen edged Runnels for 5th in 20:47.
Arens' quest for a fourth State title was unsuccessful, but she remains one of the best that Nebraska has seen. Friday was the first time that she's lost a State race longer than 1600 meters, and her 10 State XC and T&F titles are a testament to her consistency. A few days after the race, her mom replied to one of our posts that Jordyn had gotten up after her fall due in part to the encouragement of Corbett Lanum of Brownell Talbot - whom she had never met - and Jordyn eventually finished 16th despite falling one more time. After she finished, Jordyn was surrounded by fellow runners telling her how much they admired her, and Kerrigan spent half of her post-race interview with Tony Chapman talking about how great Jordyn's career has been.
Heading into State we felt like Pender was the team to beat. The Pender girls did not run poorly - their top three finished 17th, 19th and 25th. The team title was simply decided by a few teams that ran exceptionally well. Hemingford was able to defend their title with great performances by Dakota Horstman (7th), Aurora Hinman (12th) and Carlye Kresl (23rd). Hemingford's 33 points just edged Ainsworth, who finished with 36. In addition to Kerrigan, Ainsworth's scorers were Emma Kennedy (10th despite being unranked the entire season) and Tessa Barthel (37th). Crofton finished in 3rd with 39 points while Pender was 4th with 46 points. As for next year, Hemingford returns their two medalists while Pender and Mullen (5th place) return their entire squads.
Class C girls
We waited all year to see the match up between Lindee Henning of Ogallala and Lilly Kenning of Milford. Henning was ranked 1st for the entire season, in part because of her three consecutive runner-up finishes. Henning tore up the track last spring and has finished 9th and 3rd at State XC in her first two seasons.
Despite Class C being the last and arguably hottest girls' race of the day, the Xennings went out hard. At 900 meters (above), they had already separated from most of the field except third-ranked Talissa Tanquary of Sidney. Running side by side, the two girls posted the fastest one-mile split of the day at 5:48. Tanquary passed by in 6:00, Lydia Stewart of Platteview clocked a 6:15, and Liston Crotty of Auburn was 5th in 6:17.
The view at the front hadn't changed much by 3200 meters - unless you're reference the huge 'NERD' on Lindee's right thigh that had mostly disappeared by then. The two girls split the two-mile mark at 12:00, just ahead of the 12:01 registered by Zavala and Stuckey in Class B. Tanquary hit 3200 in the third at 12:51 followed by Stewart in 13:03 and Crotty in 13:06. The placement for the third through fifth spots at the one-mile split did not change the remainder of the race.
Despite the speedy splits, Lindee's pre-race plan had been to sit on the pace until 3000 meters. With the 'sit' part of 'sit-and-kick' out the window, she kept a steady pace and used the hellacious hill at 3400 meters as a way to separate from Lilly. She had a 100-meter gap by 4000 meters and cruised home in 19:33. Kenning was 2nd in 20:01, Tanquary 3rd in 20:25, Stewart 4th in 20:32 and Crotty 5th in 20:41.
Henning admitted a few days after the race that she felt the pressure of being the top-ranked athlete, and she was determined to shed her runner-up status. In addition to training harder this summer - averaging about 30 miles a week - she has also focused on having a more positive mindset. She plans to compete at NXR and hopes to run the open indoor season this winter so she's prepared for track season. She's looking for a place to run in college.
Columbus Scotus came into the meet as the title favorite, but it was clear by this final girls' race that being the favorite didn't matter much. Hannah Heinrich was one of three ranked Scotus girls prior to State, and according to the official timer she was in 8th place at one mile and 10th place at two miles. Our series of photos had her in 8th place with 400 meters to go (above), which appears to be about the time her body gave out. As I noted in the Drop Your Shield article, Hannah somehow managed to stay upright as she walked the final stretch of the course before finishing in 79th place. She was fine within an hour of the finish and, by the end of the night, the Scotus girls had vowed to come back next year better than ever. If she needed a reminder (she didn't) of how important cross country is in the grand scheme of things, that reminder arrived quickly. On Wednesday Hannah and her family departed for a mission trip in Mexico.
Class D boys
Mason McGreer of Perkins County was a strong favorite after an undefeated season and a season-long #1 ranking. Behind him, the #2-#4 rankings changed frequently amongst his freshman teammate Elijah Goodell, NP St. Pat's Jarrett Miles and Nebraska Christian's Jacob Swanson.
On Friday Tice Yost of Doniphan Trumbull charged out to an early lead, hitting the one-mile split in 5:15 followed by Dawson Meyer of Oakland Craig in 5:20. Jacob Swanson was also an early leader at 300 and 900 meters before going through the first split in 4th in 5:25. McGreer and Miles were decidedly more chill, moving up after 1000 meters to cross the mile split in 5:28. (McGreer told us after the race that he typically runs the first mile in 5:10 but he adjusted his pre-race goal to 5:20 due to the heat.) We spied Goodell in the last 20% of the field at 300 meters, and he was no better than 40th place at 1000 meters before crossing the one-mile marker in 14th place at 5:29.
Goodell moved up from 6th to 4th between 2600 and 3000 meters, and the top four boys were in place by the two-mile mark. McGreer and Swanson crossed in 10:54, Miles was next in 10:55 and Goodell followed in 10:57. A second quartet formed behind them consisting of Jobjosiah Muthiani (Freeman), Kaser Johnson (Doniphan Trumbull), Dawson Meyer (Oakland Craig) and Brody Taylor (Ponca). They passed through two miles at 11:00-11:08.
While runners are not great at telling you what is happening behind them, Mason felt that the lead pack began to fell apart after the large hill at 3400 meters. Our videos reflect that at 4200 meters McGreer had a one-step lead on Goodell with Swanson 20 meters back and Miles an additional 50 meters behind.
With 400 meters remaining (above), Goodell was a half-stride behind McGreer. McGreer extended his lead through the finish, winning his first State title in 16:46. Goodell followed in 16:54, and Miles rallied over the final 800 meters to finish 3rd in 17:07. Swanson - just a sophomore - placed fourth in 17:09, while Jobjosiah Muthiani was 5th in 17:14.
When we spoke with Mason a few days after the meet, he credited his success this season to a bit more summer mileage (~260 miles) and having a formal summer training program that included the purpose of each run. He also attributed his success to training with Elijah Goodell and having competitors like Trey Robertson and Jarrett Miles who pushed him to become better.
North Platte St. Pat's was the pre-race favorite and they delivered. While Miles finishing 3rd was about what we expected, we did not foresee St. Pats placing three more boys in the top 11. Porter Connick, Colton Ham and Dimitri Pettit finished 9th through 11th. Miles will graduate but the other three remain. They finished with 18 points. Freeman took 2nd with 36 points. In addition to Muthiani's 5th-place finish, Brady Troxel and Wes Havelka finished 19th and 20th.
Class C boys
I'll be honest. It's past midnight and I have a 7-hour road trip tomorrow after which I'll stay in a dive motel, so the Class C boys may not get my best work. But here it goes...
The Class C boys race was arguably the most wide open race of the day. While Gus Lampe of Roncalli had claimed the #1 ranking after his UNK win, there were simply too many other studs in this race to be confident about who might win.
This was the last of eight races of the day, starting at 4:00 p.m., and Gus Lampe noted in his post-race interview with Tony that he'd been in the heat at the course since noon. The race started relatively conservatively, with Jaxon Kilmurry's (Battle Creek) 5:22 one-mile split the slowest lead time of the four boys' races. He was followed by a pack of at least 20 boys who hit marks of 5:24-5:28.
Kilmurry extended his lead through about 2500 meters before the pack pulled him back in. By the two-mile mark, there was a lead pack of eight boys splitting 10:56-10:57: Kilmurry, Lampe, freshman Tyler Hetz (Gothenburg), Carter Hohlen (Lincoln Christian), Avery Carter (Milford), Michael Rodgers (Mount Michael), AJ Raszler (Platteview) and Luke Woockman (Bloomfield).
Once again, the hill at 3400 meters and a subsequent hill around 4000 meters helped break up the field. With 800 meters to go, Tyler Hetz had a one-step lead over Lampe and a two-step lead over Hohlen. They were followed by Rodgers, Carter and Raszler.
With 400 meters to go, Hetz had a 10-15 meter lead on Lampe, who in turn led Hohlen by 20-25 meters. Lampe saved his best effort for the last 200 meters, slowly making up ground on Hetz. He passed Tyler with approximately 30 meters remaining; that was the first time he had led. Gus won in 16:33, followed by Hetz (16:35), Hohlen (16:43), Carter (16:53) and Rodgers (16:54). Lampe's pre-race strategy, in part because of the heat, was simply to sit in the lead pack and then kick sometime after 4000 meters. He timed it perfectly.
Lampe is a senior but has seemingly just scratched the surface on his potential. He played basketball last year and didn't run over the winter; in fact, he's never run over the winter. Despite his limited training period, he had PRs of 4:31 and 9:49 last spring, and his 9:53 at State was good for 4th in Class B. His cousin, a former junior high coach, developed a summer training plan where Gus ran approximately 30 miles per week, with one peak week of 38 miles. Now that he's firmly focused on running, he has left basketball behind and will start his cousin's winter training plan in a few weeks. He hopes to run a few open indoor meets, and his goal is to run below 4:20 and 9:30 by State. He'd love to run in college, and particularly at the college he's loved since he was in elementary school.
Although Lincoln Christian had been a close second to Gothenburg at the UNK meet, the Swedes entered State as the heavy favorite. Both teams performed well, and Gothenburg won with 38 points to Lincoln Christian's 45. The Swedes' scorers were Hetz (2nd), Parker Graves (8th), Ethan Olsen (15th) and Yahriel Gaeta (25th). Lincoln Christian countered with Hohlen (3rd), Trevin Opp (12th), Nolan Engel (20th) and Jackson Feauto (26th). Mount Michael was close behind with 57 points. Gothenburg and Lincoln Christian each lose two of their scorers while Mount Michael will return their entire squad in 2024. Gothenburg potentially brings in a strong freshman class next fall, and we learned this fall that freshmen (Tyler Hetz, Elijah Goodell, Isac Portillo) can make a huge impact in high school.
Odds and ends
A few random thoughts as we wrap up the high school season:
* One parent reached out to see if we had any advice for her daughter who has not run well in hot conditions. We're not doctors... except for Dr. Nerd. However, I'm curious if the 'cooling vests' that were prominently used for the Athens Olympic marathon have caught on at the collegiate or high school level. Cooling vests are readily available on the Internet but I've never heard reviews from anyone other than Deena Kastor. Do they work?
* Let's give a big shout out to the UNK hosts and the NSAA for putting on another great State meet. The event runs like clockwork, the volunteers know what they're doing, and the medical personnel were doing a great job. For the money - a whopping $5 - we get to see the best athletes in the state over 4.5 hours, the drama, the heartbreak, the elation. No other NSAA athletic event allows you to see every State qualifier compete and see every title earned AT ONE LOCATION in such an abbreviated time period. It's almost like it's a made-for-TV kind of event.
* While I have your attention, you should know that Nebraska has a thriving open indoor track season. Concordia usually kicks it off with a December meet, and then Concordia, College of St. Mary, NWMSU, Mount Marty and other colleges host meets in January and February. If you were so inclined, you could probably find a high school meet to run for six or seven consecutive Sunday. Race fees are generally low (it's a recruiting tool) and it's a great opportunity to compete against kids from other classes and areas. You won't violate basketball or wrestling eligibility by competing in these meets, and you're be good with the NSAA as long as you don't compete in a meet once the official track season starts. We'll post a meet schedule in November.
* In a few weeks we'll begin compiling a list of Class of 2024 track commitments. You can DM us or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your commitment news. If you need help navigating the selection process, we recommend you read our article here.
Don't sit on your butt for four months
We talk to a lot of kids at State XC and State Track, and it's pretty common to hear kids say something like, "I wanted to do better but I just didn't get a lot done during the off-season." I listened to a podcast this week that featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he said one of the reasons he's been a successful actor, businessman and politician is because every morning he makes a decision to "get out of bed and kick ass." If you're a distance runner, a sprinter or a field athlete, the winter is not the time to hibernate. Your best competitors may take a few weeks off. However, by December they're getting out of bed and kicking ass. You might consider doing the same.
Wow. Just wow.
The Nerd team keeps growing and this fall we had twenty Nerds - all volunteers - plus a few guest Nerds. We thought we were killing it eighteen months ago when there were just three Nerds, but the impact of the expansion is beyond anything we imagined. When we talked to coaches over the summer, they suggested we add a video component to our coverage. The video work by Christian Naujokaitis, Rick Campos and Jaden Gebeke over the season was truly incredible. If you haven't seen their race videos, go to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSmuQk8jKSXT_FVJcBP4hJg/.
With this recap published and 100% of our photos on our FB page, my high school season is mostly wrapped up. In a few days I'll update the photos and results page on our website to reflect what we've added in the last ten days. However, our team's work isn't done. We're attending the Big East XC meet this weekend, there's a potential that Nerd Dawg may take a few pictures at NXR, and there's one final surprise that we'll announce in a week or two.
Running is in our family's blood but I can't even begin to explain the dedication of our other volunteers. For example, I finally met Bloomin' Nerd at the State meet. We spent an hour together and I asked her why she volunteered - was she a distance runner, did she have runners in the family, did she used to coach XC? The answers - no, no and no. However, she was a professional photographer years ago, her uncle coached T&F at Bloomfield, and she had an idea that being a Nerd might be fun. We're thrilled she joined us.
Every Nerd has an origin story. At the end of the day, the reason we keep coming back is because we believe that cross country and T&F are worth celebrating. These sports build character, confidence and resilience. They create life-long coping skills. They make kids healthier. Most importantly, these sports build a supportive community of athletes, parents and coaches that we truly love.
So why do we do this? Because of all of you.
Like this coverage of Nebraska high school distance running? There's more of this at www.preprunningnerd.com. Check out the Blog tab for our frequent stories and and the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we can find. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow us on Twitter and Instagram @PrepRunningNerd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd.
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.