Contributors: Nerd Junior and Nerd the Third
1. Elli Dahl, Senior, Fremont
After an injury kept Dahl from racing until October last season (where she still managed to finish 11th at State), Elli returned to her dominant form during Track. Dahl flirted with a sub-5:00 1600 and ran a 10:47 in the 3200, which made her the early favorite to recapture the State Cross Country individual gold for the second time in her career (2019). With several efforts around the 18:30 mark, Dahl could become the first girl to break 18 minutes since the State meet was extended from 4k to 5k in 2013. She's definitely has Jeralyn Poe's 18:11 State meet record on her mind. Check out our huge profile of Elli in the Class A standout article.
2. Jaci Sievers, Junior, Elkhorn South
When defending State Champion Stella Miner gave up her Fall 2021 eligibility to transfer schools this year, it appeared that Dahl may be the runaway favorite this fall. However, Jaci Sievers has taken a huge jump following her 7th place finish at State in 2020. Sievers has finished runner-up to Dahl three times this year, losing by only a combined 11 seconds, so we should be in for another exciting race between the two on Friday. Nerd Senior profiled Jaci in the Class A Standouts article that's also included on our blog page.
3. Mia Murray, Sophomore, Lincoln East
A welcome addition to the preseason #1 Lincoln East team, Murray transferred from University High School in West Virginia when her dad took a job at UNL. As a freshman last fall, her team finished second place in the large-school division, so Murray will be looking to win her first team title and lead the way for a strong Spartan squad that has won the last three Class A titles. Mia ran a quick 18:46 season-best to take second (behind Dahl) at the HAC Championships at UNK two weeks ago, so she may have the strength to stick around with the top two.
4. Claire White, Sophomore, Westside
After putting up a 19:01 that earned her fifth in a historically fast 2020 State meet, White has only improved over the last year; her season-best 18:48 at Districts indicates that she’s peaking at just the right time. Claire proved to be a consistent performer during championship season in her freshman year. She took fifth place in both the 1600 and 3200 at State Track, so another Top 5 finish would be no surprise here.
5. Deavion Deleon, Senior, Papio South
After grabbing her first-ever individual medal at State Track in the spring, Deleon has taken possibly the biggest leap of any of the elite girls this year. She finished 36th at State in 2020 with a time of 20:03; this year, she’ll be one of several candidates to break 19 if course conditions hold up. After missing Metros a few weeks ago with a minor illness, Deleon will look to regain the momentum she had after an impressive 18:36 at the Heartland Classic in Iowa.
6. Brianna Rinn, Senior, Lincoln Southwest
The defending State Champion in the 800 and a 4-time State medalist last May, Rinn has the résumé to keep her in the Top 3 conversation when the stakes are raised. Rinn put up a 34 second PR last fall to take second at State, and she appears capable of doing the same thing again this year following a season-best at Districts last week. Rinn also looks to become a four-time State Cross Country medalist; she finished 14th, 12th, and 2nd the last three years, respectively.
7. Isabelle Hartnett, Junior, Millard West
Harnett will be coming into the State meet looking for her first individual medal—she just missed out in the spring after placing 10th and 9th in the 1600 and 3200, though her 4x800 squad did finish 6th. Hartnett showed what she’s capable of with an 18:58 at Rim Rock a month ago, and as the seventh-ranked runner in a Top 7 that has had little movement since the third week of the season, her steady running will be valuable to a Millard West squad looking to make some noise.
8. Zarah Blasei, Senior, North Platte
After just missing out on a medal with a 16th place finish in 2020, Blasei has positioned herself well to place Top 15 on Friday after a strong season. She has competed well all season, finishing in the top 6 in every race thus far. With a 19:17 PR, watch out for a breakout race from Blasei.
9. Izzy Apel, Junior, Lincoln East
Apel enters state this year with tons of experience on the big stage, including a 7th place finish in the State 3200 this spring and a 9th place finish in last year’s meet. Often the leader of a large pack of Lincoln East girls, her success has continued this fall, with a season-best of 19:22. Lincoln East has been ranked #1 every week this year, and Apel will be critical in holding that position.
10. Marissa Holm, Junior, North Platte
After not competing her freshman year, Marissa Holm did not find immediate success in cross country. However, she has stuck to it and had an incredible year. She has snuck under 20 minutes in all races except 1 this year (20:01) and placed in the top 5 every time out. Holm has found success racing stride-for-stride with teammate Blasei, so we’ll see if they maintain that strategy again on Friday.
11. Peyton Svehla, Sophomore, Lincoln East
Another strong runner for Lincoln East, Svehla should peak when it counts this year. Last year as a freshman, she placed an impressive 13th place at State—but perhaps more importantly she improved on her personal best by 29 seconds. Svehla’s times have gradually been lowered throughout the season, and she may be primed to come out with a big PR like she did in 2020.
12. Kennedy Bartee, Junior, Lincoln High
Another runner that has made the leap this season, Kennedy Bartee showed her talent in the spring when she ran in 3 events at State Track. Running 19:44, 19:41, and 19:43 in the past three XC meets, Bartee aims to keep the good times rolling. She trailed only the Lincoln East trio and North Platte duo at districts, showing she can compete with the best competition. As the only Lincoln High athlete running this Friday, Bartee will be competing at State Cross Country for the first time in her career.
13. Lucy Dillon, Senior, Fremont
Primarily a middle-distance runner, Lucy Dillon excelled on the track this spring, posting times of 57.63 (400m) and 2:17.59 (800m), which earned her a silver medal at State. Her talent has carried over to the cross country course as she follows behind Elli Dahl to help the #2 Fremont squad. Having Dahl as a training partner has no doubt pushed her, and she has run a season-best of 19:28. Dillon’s finishing speed may come into play if Fremont is in position to take down Lincoln East.
14. Molly Caruso, Sophomore, Millard North
In her first two years of Cross Country, Caruso has built up a résumé that showcases her consistency; she has run 20:07, 20:06, 20:07, and 19:57 in her last four races. Molly will certainly be in contention for a medal with a time around the 20-minute mark, but she will likely need to run another season-best like she did at UNK four weeks ago.
15. Reese Young-Oestmann, Senior, Westside
After finishing 11th (1600m) and 12th (3200m) at state track, Young-Oestmann is in a good position to claim her first State Cross Country medal. Paralleling the Dahl-Dillon pair, Westside’s Claire White/Reese Young-Oestmann/Noelle Abels combo proved to be lethal this season. After an impressive showing at Districts to place her back in the Top 15, Reese appears to be peaking just in time to post a similar effort to her race at State last year (19:40).
16. Isabella Bricker, Senior, Gretna
A fearless racer who perhaps ran the fastest opening 200 meters of a 1600 in State history last May, Bricker may adopt a more conservative strategy in Kearney on Friday. Gretna’s duo of Walker and Bricker had a strong start to the season, and Bricker looks to show that she still has more left in the tank in her first-ever Cross Country season as a Senior.
17. Mia Wagner, Senior, Fremont
Fremont’s reliable 3rd runner, Mia Wagner will run in the state meet for the fourth year in a row. The past 3 years have seen some of her best races occur at the state meet, which is something she hopes to repeat. Fremont’s experience is one advantage they have over a somewhat young Lincoln East team, and Wagner is a safe bet to run a smart race and put her team in a position to compete.
18. Ella Herzberg, Freshman, Lincoln East
Herzberg’s ranking at 19 should show just how deep this Lincoln East team is. A freshman, Herzberg has shaved time off the entire season (20:56 —> 19:53). As the highest-ranked 9th grader, she may have a figurative target on her back, but be sure to watch her progression even beyond State.
19. Abigail Burger, Freshman, Kearney
Beginning the season with a scorching hot start, Abigail Burger went 1st-2nd-1st in her first three high school meets with a personal best of 19:24. She has cooled off a little, but with some tapering in her training this week, she could really do some damage. She will fight it out with Herzberg for the top freshman on Kearney's home course.
20. Noelle Abels, Senior, Westside
Posting consistent times this year has earned Abels her 3rd State Cross Country berth. The third Westside runner in our Top 25 rankings, she has helped boost the team to a 7th place ranking in the final coaches' poll. Another runner with great experience on the biggest stage, it would be no surprise if Noelle Abels has a great day.
21. Brianne Travis, Junior, Lincoln North Star
With arguably the best Strava content of any girl in our rankings, Travis has taken a huge leap from her sophomore to junior year, shaving nearly a minute off her PR. Friday will be her first race at a State meet in her career, so she may be a candidate to have a huge race in her first time competing on the big stage.
22. Sydney Beaudin, Senior, Millard West
Yet another 3-time state qualifier, Sydney Beaudin will be crucial in helping Millard West. She has had a strong fall with a season-best of 19:37 at a difficult Rim Rock course. If she can make the gap between Hartnett (#7) and herself a little bit smaller, Millard West could sneak onto the podium.
23. Olivia Rosenthal, Senior, Papillion South
Rosenthal’s 400 and 800 times boast great foot speed, and when combined with her previous history, she is a darkhorse to medal. Rosenthal placed 6th at the State meet two years ago when she was a Sophomore but did not run a race last fall. With much more experience than any of the other runners near her in the rankings, Olivia may be primed for a breakout race.
24. Berlyn Schutz, Junior, Lincoln East
The Nerd was on site at the junior high state meet a few years ago when Berlyn displayed her toughness. Her success has continued, placing 14th and 2nd at previous State meets. She also placed 12th at STate in both the 800m and 1600m in the spring, showing an impressive race is not out of the question for her.
25. Addy Walker, Sophomore, Gretna
A strong two-runner for #6 ranked Gretna, Walker could make waves at state with a good race. She placed 28th at state last year and posted a season-best of 20:13 this fall. Gretna will be in the hunt for a Top 5 finish as a team, and their chances rely heavily on Walker and Bricker’s ability to lead the way.
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.