Contributors: Nerd Junior and Nerd the Third
1. Gabe Hinrichs, Senior, Elkhorn South
Hinrichs entered the cross country season coming off a historic performance on the track this spring, which saw him become only the fourth Nebraska high schooler to break 9:00 in the 3200 (Colby Wissel, John Nownes, Seth Hirsch). Undefeated in XC over the last two fall seasons except for a second-place finish to Liem Chot at the 2020 State Championships, Hinrichs appears primed to take the Class A gold. The competition for All-Class Gold may be a race against the clock, as Carson Noecker of Class C Hartington-Newcastle will be looking to defend his title. The Class C race will be held a few hours before Class A this year, so Hinrichs will know the time he has to hit before he runs. We've got a longer profile posted on Gabe in our Class A Standout article.
2. Sam Kirchner, Senior, Millard West
Kirchner has been on a tear in the second half of the season, putting up sub-16 times that warrant his position in a historically strong Class A top 3. A lifetime PR of 15:29 at the challenging Rim Rock Farms course at KU topped off a strong midseason showing with his second consecutive sub-16:00 race. Kirchner has shown great consistency at State meets, finishing third at State Cross Country last fall, and 4th and 5th in the 3200 and 1600 at State Track in the spring. See more about Sam in our Class A Standout article.
3. Daniel Romary, Senior, Lincoln Northeast
After running an outstanding 3:53.47 1500 at the USATF Junior Olympic Championships this summer (4:10 1600 equivalent), Romary has gradually shifted gears from mile speed to 5k fitness throughout the course of the fall. Though his times this year aren’t anything out of the ordinary, Romary has proven his ability to contend in any race, especially at the championship level. If anyone were to give Hinrichs a run for his money it would likely be Romary, so look for him to potentially push the pace up front early in the race. Daniel is also featured in our Class A Standout article.
4. Isaac Ochoa, Sophomore, Norfolk
Ochoa is no stranger to big races. Last year, Ochoa shocked the State when he nearly broke 16:00 to place 5th as a freshman. He had a 6th-place finish in his season debut at the highly-competitive Augustana Twilight, but since then he's only lost to Daniel Romary at the HAC in a close finish on the State course. Ochoa will certainly be hunting for a new PR and nothing short of a Top 5 finish.
5. Piercze Marshall, Junior, Millard West
Part of a deep Millard West squad, Marshall broke onto the scene last fall when he grabbed a 15th place medal at State Cross Country. After a strong spring, Marshall has taken a leap this fall with several low- and sub-16:00 efforts on true courses. State will be his first opportunity to prove himself as one of Nebraska’s elite distance runners, so look for Marshall to hang around with the top guys.
6. Evan Caudy, Senior, North Platte
After becoming North Platte’s first state medalist since Wyatt McGuire’s individual gold (2013) in his Sophomore year, Caudy boasts one of the most experienced résumés—he was 5th in 2019 and 4th in 2020. Hinrichs and Kirchner are the only current runners to have ever beaten Caudy at a State Cross Country meet, and after an impressive 15:49 effort to take down Romary at Districts, Caudy looks primed to make another run at the Top 5.
7. Juan Garcia, Senior, Grand Island
Consistency is the name of the game for Garcia. He has run all but one race in the last two seasons under 16:25, so Garcia is nearly a lock for the Top 15 under typical conditions. The real test will be whether Juan can grab his first sub-16 effort of the season to attempt to challenge the front of the pack. As two equally talented runners with little outside competition due to their schools’ distance from Lincoln and Omaha, Garcia and Evan Caudy have had their fair share of duels, and it would be no surprise if the two were neck-and-neck again in Kearney.
8. Carter Waters, Senior, Fremont
With an elite 9:19 3200 under his belt from the 2021 track season, Waters remains a threat to have a breakout race on any day. After steadily dropping his Cross Country times over the last four years, the 2020 13th place finisher will look to lead his team to compete with a historically strong Millard West squad.
9. Braden Taylor, Senior, Fremont
Taylor looks to make a name for himself this fall and become a first-time State medalist after posting some impressive times on the track—1:53.9 in the 800 and 4:19.9 in the 1600 last spring at the State meet. With finishing speed that may even rival that of Hinrichs and Romary, Taylor will likely work with fellow senior Carter Waters throughout the race; the two have finished side-by-side at their last two meets and have been within 15 seconds of each other at every race this season.
10. Seth Fey, Senior, Millard West
Staying under the radar with a PR of 16:38 before this year, Fey made a statement at the beginning of the season by leading an already impressive Millard West team. Winning his first two races in 16:45 and 16:10, he solidified himself as one of the stronger runners in the state. Living up to these performances at the big-time races of Pella and Rim Rock was perhaps more impressive. After having a couple of tough races, Seth Fey looks to help make Millard West one of the best teams we have seen in years.
11. Cole Haith, Senior, Millard West
The definition of reliability, Cole Haith served faithfully as a consistent 5th or 6th runner for the past few seasons at Millard West. This year seemed to be no different before a statement sub-16 effort at Rim Rock. Now, any one of Millard West’s stars could have a breakout race in Kearney, and look out for Haith.
12. Nolan Miller, Senior, Fremont
The number three in an impressive Fremont Senior trio, Miller’s placement amongst the Millard West runners will be important if the team hopes to pull off the upset and take home the team title. Miller ran an excellent race at State in 2020 to take 10th, and he’ll likely need to recapture some of that magic with a new PR to crack the Top 10 again on Friday.
13. Evan Liewer, Senior, Gretna
After a gradual progression from a 21-minute 5k his Freshman year to a quick 16:10 this season at the Heartland Classic in Iowa, Evan Liewer is positioned to compete for his first-ever State medal between XC and Track. Liewer has done well to lead his team after top runner Colby Erdkamp hit a bump in the road when he suffered an ankle injury mid-season, and Gretna will need him to maintain his momentum if they hope to place in the Top 5 as a team.
14. Luke Johnson, Junior, Elkhorn South
After breaking 17:00 for the first time at the State meet in 2020, Luke Johnson has hovered around the Top 15 rankings throughout much of the 2021 season. As a consistent 16:30 runner with two solid 6th-place finishes at Metros and Districts, Johnson will need to crush his best Kearney times to join Hinrichs as potential medalists for Elkhorn South.
15. Grant Wasserman, Senior, Lincoln North Star
An up-and-down season has seen Wasserman slide down our rankings after starting the year at #7, but it’s clear that he still has the fitness to replicate the 16:04 effort that placed Grant 8th at State last fall. Without 2020 State Champion Liem Chot to lead the way, North Star will need Wasserman to put together a solid performance if they hope to have a chance at cracking the Top 3 in the team race.
16. Joe Volkmer, Senior, Lincoln East
Prep Running Nerd superfan Joe Volkmer looks to bounce back from a tough Districts performance and build off his 2nd-place finish at the LPS Championships. The Joe Volkmer Fan Club may be large, but Joe needs to show that he’s capable of stringing together another sub-16:30 effort if he wants to take advantage of the thousands of rabid fans who will surely will following him around Kearney Country Club.
17. Dalton Heller, Sophomore, Millard South
The lone qualifier from Millard South, Heller broke onto the scene with an out-of-nowhere 25-second PR to win the Millard West Invitational in 16:11. Heller remains a relative unknown; State on Friday will determine whether his victory over several ranked Millard West runners was just a fluke on his home course or if he still has more in the tank. Heller has only run at UNK once, with a 16:53 last fall, but the Sophomore can cement his spot as one of the best underclassmen on Friday.
18. Max Myers, Sophomore, Lincoln Southwest
Another Sophomore that has put together a nice résumé this season, Myers has shown that he’s good for a 16:30 on any given day. After racing at Pioneers Park five times this season, Myers will need to show that his speed on the course translates at UNK—he’ll likely need to run faster than the 16:48 he put up at the HAC Championships if he hopes to contend for a medal.
19. Denny Chapman, Sophomore, Creighton Prep
After placing 27th at State Cross Country his freshman year in 2020, Chapman needs a similar breakout race at UNK this year to lead the way for a Prep team that beat North Star in a tiebreaker at Districts. Prep has had a medalist every year since 2012 except for 2019—when the team didn’t qualify for State—and Denny is likely Father Tillman’s best chance for the next three years.
20. Colby Erdkamp, Senior, Gretna
With arguably the biggest breakout track season of the spring, Erdkamp entered this fall with PRs under 4:20 in the mile and 9:30 in the 3200. His bid for a strong cross country season was going well until an ankle injury slowed him the past few weeks. But if he can get to the starting line healthy on Friday, do not count him out.
21. Jack Witte, Sophomore, Millard West
Jack Witte may be the most important piece to Millard West’s chance at having a historically strong team (they're currently ranked 19th in the nation). With a top 4 that has been ranked near the top of the state for much of the year, MW needs a fifth man to step up to prove that the team is deserving of a national ranking. This squad is reminiscent of Millard West’s 2015 team, when the Hirsch—Klein—Dubas—Quigley tandem combined for only 15 team points. Witte’s 4:26 1600 as a Freshman last spring suggests that he may have the speed to step up.
22. Juan Gonzalez, Freshman, Fremont
The younger brother of talented Fremont-grad Jose Gonzalez, Juan appears to be the clear top Freshman in the state this year. With only one race above 17 minutes in his young career, Gonzalez can prove that he’s the real deal by taking another jump in Kearney on Friday—which is important to Fremont’s chance of keeping the team race with Millard West a close one.
23. David Goldsmith, Senior, Millard North
One of two Millard North runners to qualify on the boys' side, Goldsmith looks to build on a steady progression of the past year. His 2020 cross country season was fairly quiet, posting times around 17:45, but he made a jump during track by placing 13th in the State 800. His hard work has carried him into the rankings, boasting a personal best of 16:33. If Goldsmith continues on his current trajectory, he could be in store for a big PR in his last race in Kearney.
24. Isaac Graff, Junior, Lincoln East
According to our Instagram DM’s, we are “Fr sleeping on Isaac Graff.” Not entirely sure what that means, but we would agree that Graff has earned some recognition in Class A. As Lincoln East’s top finisher last year at state, we know Graff can shine under the spotlight. His 5th place finish at districts has set him up nicely for a big team contribution. Look for Graff and Volkmer to outperform their 4th place team ranking on Friday.
25. Jimmy Nguyen, Junior, Lincoln North Star
A staple of consistency, Nguyen has only run over 17 minutes just once this season (on a notably slow day for the entire field). After breaking 16:40 twice this year, Jimmy hopes to power the Lincoln North Star team to a top 5 finish, and maybe even contend for an individual medal. Recent years have seen the state meet encompass both freezing and scorching temperatures. No matter the conditions, we would count on Nguyen to perform well.
Originally written for and posted at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jack and Henry Slagle.
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, the Articles tab for long-form articles, the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we could find this year, and the Rankings tab for team and individual rankings. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow us on Twitter @PrepRunningNerd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd. Finally, if you thinking runners are the best thing on earth, you'll enjoy our article, "The Runner with the Broken Heart," from 2018. Since we wrote it, Noah Lambrecht has been a guest at the State of the Union address, won a national award for perseverance in sports, and been featured in Runners' World.