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Class A Standouts

Contributor: The Nerd

Like our Class B article, we added a bonus interview for Class A since we’ve never had the chance to sit down with the then-rated Class A #3 runner Sam Kirchner. While we’ve had multiple discussions with Gabe Hinrichs and Daniel Romary – who along with Liem Chot provided best series of State races we’ve seen in years – this was also our first time to interview Elli Dahl and Jaci Sievers. They all have great stories, and we’re excited to see them do their best at the State XC meet.

This Class A article wraps up 20 athlete interviews – including two for the Five Seconds, Two Strangers, One Beautiful Gesture article that has gone viral on a national basis – that we’ve done in the last two weeks. We don’t advise anyone else to do follow our lead. You’ll lose sleep, end your 130-day workout streak and have really tired fingers by the end. However, all 20 athletes are incredible in their own unique way, and they are excellent representatives for the thousands of Nebraska XC distance runners who competed this fall.

If you haven’t seen the other Class interviews – including the first-known interview with Class C two-time defending champion Carson Noecker – go to for those stories.

Finally, Gabe Hinrichs and Daniel Romary were part of my September 2020 article, “Five Fast Boys,” that may also be of interest to you.

Elli Dahl, senior, Fremont

2020 State XC: 11th, 19:18 (also 3rd in 2018 and 1st in 2019)

2021 Track: Class A State, 1st in 1600 (5:00), 1st in 3200 (10:47), 2nd in 4x400 (4:00)

2021 XC PR: 18:22, Augustana Twilight, 9/3

I’ve followed a lot of great Fremont runners over the past five years but Elli is the first one I’ve had the opportunity to interview. The long wait was worth it; she was an absolute joy to interview, and her personality is as energetic as her racing style.

Elli began casually running at around age 5, joining her parents at several fun runs each year. She also began playing soccer at that age and joined a competitive club team when she was 8. Her Gretna Elite team had great success over the years, and she was part of Midwest Premier Academy’s national championship last year. While she hasn’t played as much soccer this year, she credits soccer for her speed in XC and track.

And what speed she has. As a freshman she placed 3rd at State XC in 19:11 behind Kaylie Crews (Papio South/Alabama) and Jenna Muma (Lincoln East/Wichita Sate). As a sophomore, she made a late dash to catch Lincoln East’s Berlyn Schutz at the line, winning the title by 0.4 seconds in 18:35. A stress fracture most likely due to poor running form delayed the start of her junior XC season, but she still managed to place 11th at State with less than 30 days of training.

Her track resume is even more impressive. She finished 3rd in the 1600 (5:06) and 1st in the 3200 (11:13) as a freshman, and then won both events (5:00 and 10:47) as a junior. For good measure, she added a silver medal in the 4x400 last May. The State medals are starting to pile up.

Elli falls on the upper end of mileage for the girls we’ve interviewed this year. She ran 35-40 miles per week in the summer and around 30-35 miles per week during the heart of the XC season. To get into racing shape, she favors 1k repeats – anywhere from five to eight of them at around 3:50 – and a mix of tempo runs with add-on 400s at the end.

Elli is undefeated in five Nebraska races this year, plus a 4th place, 18:22 season-best at the Augustana Twilight. She went stride-for-stride against #2 ranked Jaci Sievers of Elkhorn South in three consecutive races earlier this year, breaking away in each race with less than 200 meters remaining. I was able to watch three of her races this season, and either (a) she makes running hard look effortless or (b) she’s got a lot left in the tank.

After sticking with another leader for her first four races and then sprinting at the end, Elli told me that she planned to experiment with a new race strategy at HAC and Districts. Based on the 50-meter lead she held over Claire White at Districts after just over a mile, it appears that her new strategy was to start the race like a bat out of hell. She ran an 18:32 at HAC (Kearney) and an 18:30 at Districts (Pioneers’ Park) despite both courses being fairly challenging.

As a senior, Elli is deep into a college search. She is taking her five official visits at Kansas State, Wichita State, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and Tulsa. She doesn’t have a timeline for making a decision, although one of the schools has put a deadline of 11/1 on its offer. She’s looking for a good fit with the team and coaching staff, as well as a program that provides individualized training rather than a one-program-fits-all approach. She plans to run Nike Regionals and Eastbay Regionals (formerly FootLocker) in November.

Elli’s remaining goals are to win another State championship, improve upon her season-best time of 18:22, and help Fremont win a team championship. It’s her last chance to win a team title after Lincoln East has won the past three years, and it would be doubly special if she could achieve that goal with her sophomore sister Maris. Elli is fully aware that Jeralyn Poe’s State meet record is 18:11, and the Nerd staff thinks the record is in serious jeopardy.

The past few years seem to be the golden age of Nebraska distance running, and the State meet could give us at least six girls under 19:00. In the race for the all-Class gold, Elli’s strongest competition will likely come from Sievers and Arlington’s Keeli Green, who was featured in Tuesday’s Class C article.

Regardless of Friday’s outcome, it’s been a pleasure to watch Elli Dahl excel at distance running. We have a pretty good hunch she’ll continue to do that for years to come.

Jaci Sievers, junior, Elkhorn South

2020 State XC: 7th, 19:06

2021 Track: Class A State, 7th in 800 (2:19), 6th in 1600 (5:13), 6th in 3200 (11:32), 3rd in 4x800 (9:37)

2021 XC PR: 18:42, A District at Pioneers’ Park, 10/14

Here’s a trivia question: Which three Class A distance runners earned four State medals last May? in the 800, 1600, 3200 and 4x400? Hint: Two are from Elkhorn South. The answer: Jaci Sievers (800, 1600, 3200, 4x400), Gabe Hinrichs (800, 1600, 3200, 4x400), and Bri Rinn (8000, 1600, 4x400 and 4x800.) There could be other four-time medalists, but I’m too tired to look...

Four medals? That’s an impressive feat for any athlete, but particularly for one who may be a better triathlete than runner. Until I spoke with Jaci and began researching this article, I had no idea that (a) she was a national-class triathlete or (b) she won four State medals last spring.

Let’s start with the triathlon first. Jaci started competing in triathlons at age eight and currently competes for the Z3 Team out of Des Moines, along with a number of other Metro athletes (including Millard West’s Emily Gilbert, Sam Kirchner and Seth Fey as well as Lilly Brophy from Gretna). She competed in competitions this summer in Florida, Utah, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio, and did well enough that she’s currently 14th in the USA Triathlon junior elite rankings. In late July, she placed 18th at the USAT junior nationals.

Despite her busy triathlon schedule, Jaci averaged 20-25 miles of running each week this summer, training a total of 2-3 hours per day for six days per week when all of the disciplines are counted. During the XC season, she’s averaged about 30 miles per week of running but still swims twice a week at an easy pace to keep some semblance of swimming fitness. Coach Ebers has a number of speed workouts that help her prepare for racing, including 800, 1000 and 1600 repeats. In addition to workouts, she credits training with Ally Schilmoeller during her freshman season, as well as watching Gabe Hinrich’s example, as two reasons why she’s progressed as a runner.

I noted in a Nerdsletter a few weeks ago that #1 Elli Dahl and #2 Jaci have raced three times for a total of 15,000 meters. Elli has won all three races by a total of 11 seconds, or less than 1 second per kilometer. The difference between Elli and Jaci is razor thin. If you’re looking for a spot-on comparison, I have it: Jaci has spent more one-on-one time with Elli in the last eight weeks than I have with my wife. OK, that’s a joke. Kind of. Wait, here's a better example. I've photographed two of Elli's meets and she competed against Jaci at both of them. I don't have any pictures of Elli where Jaci isn't is the picture.

Jaci is only a junior so she hasn’t started her college search. The triathlon was approved as a NCAA sanctioned sport in 2014 – for women only – but at this point Jaci is leaning more towards competing in XC/track in college, although she’s open to exploring the triathlon. The closest colleges offering a triathlon program are probably South Dakota and Black Hills State, but there are also strong programs in Wisconsin, Minnesota and on both coasts.

Two weeks ago, Jaci listed a number of goals she wanted to achieve by the end of the season: (a) improve her kick, (b) improve her then-PR of 18:47, and (c) compete well at State. She lowered her PR to 18:42 at Districts, and the current forecast for Kearney (71 degrees, slight wind) seems conducive for another PR. Jaci loves to race Elli, and their races this year have allowed Jaci to take an advanced lessons on race strategy, pacing and form.

Like many of the athletes we interviewed over the past two weeks, Jaci places great emphasis on the mental side of running. While her recent performances have raised the expectations that others have for Jaci, she doesn’t feel the added pressure. Her faith is extremely important to her, and she’s not running for herself, her parents or another person; she’s running to reveal God’s glory.

Gabe Hinrichs, senior, Elkhorn South

2020 State XC: 2nd, 15:43 (also 13th in 2019)

2021 Track: Class A State, 2nd in 800 (1:53.1, PR of 1:52.6), 1st in 1600 (4:12), 1st in 3200 (8:59) 6th in 4x400 (3:26)

2021 XC PR: 15:26, Fremont Invite, 9/9

Gabe Hinrichs is far from a secret to the Nebraska running community, but that doesn’t make his accomplishments any less impressive. Just over two years ago he was like most high school runners, struggling to find his way. In September 2019, he finished 60th at the UNK Class A meet, running a 18:33 three weeks after a 18:46 season debut. Gabe later said that during the 2019 season, he had such tired legs that he didn’t finish a complete workout until Districts week. The 2019 District race is where Gabe Hinrichs became a new man.

Gabe had some success as a freshman, placing 10th at Districts in 16:47 and then 62nd at State in 17:58. He played baseball the following spring. The lack of spring track results, along with the slow start to his sophomore year, meant that no one expected much of him at Districts or State. Surprisingly, he ran 16:53 at Districts to finish 3rd, and then dropped his PR to 16:34 to finish 13th at State.

Gabe reports that this year has gone just about as expected. He’s undefeated in six races with an average winning margin of 33 seconds. Nerd Junior and I have seen all of his races this year, and he gives the impression that he’s not running hard – while clipping off a 5k at a five-minute pace. Two weeks ago, Gabe confirmed that he hadn’t run all-out this season.

As the clear #1 runner in the State, this season the field has been keying off him in hopes of being dragged along to a fast time, but the Districts race last week may be the only time this year where he’s pushed the pace from the start of a race. At the Fremont meet where he ran his season-best 15:26, he ran a pedestrian pace with a pack of six until 2500 meters, at which point he unleashed a surge that no one could match.

Gabe’s mileage is probably the highest of anyone we’ve interviewed this year, but it’s modest relative to his accomplishments. He averaged about 50 miles per week this year (he’s a great Strava follow) and then 40 miles/week in-season. Coach Ebers varies his workouts, but they include sessions like (a) 1000- 2x800- 400, (b) 3x1600-800, and (c) 6x1k at 2:56 pace. I noted that teammates Luke Johnson and Grant Dixon have made huge improvements over the last year, and Gabe replied, “They have bought into the system, are doing the work and are now seeing the results.”

Gabe is already deep into his college search. He’ll use his five official visits for Iowa State, Tulsa, Notre Dame, Colorado and North Carolina. He also will take a few unofficial visits, and he visited UNL two weeks ago. His last campus visit will be on November 7, and he’d like to commit by the end of the year.

I asked senior Gabe what advice he’d give to sophomore Gabe, who was pretty sure “running is not my thing” after that UNK race two years ago. His response: “I definitely wasn’t the most talent runner when I started. Keep putting in the effort, listen to your coach, be consistent, commit to working hard in the off-season, and make yourself uncomfortable in workouts. You never know when you will have a breakthrough.”

Gabe’s has quite a few goals and races left this season. He’d like to win State and take a shot at both Seth Hirsch’s unofficial Nebraska soil record of 14:56 and State course record of 15:04. He’ll be running the Nike and Footlocker regional races, as well as the Runners Space national invitational in Huntsville, Alabama. While Nike is not hosting a national meet, he’d like to qualify for Footlocker Nationals and hopefully earn All-American status (top 20) at Footlocker and/or Huntsville.

The last Nebraska boys to qualify for a national meet were Seth Hirsch and Milo Greder in 2016. At the time, many of us felt that it could be decades before we ever saw two great athletes in the same season. While Gabe has some work to be done on the national stage to have a resume comparable to Hirsch’s, his range from 800 to 5000 arguably puts him in the ‘best-ever’ argument for Nebraska distance running.

Gabe has one additional goal for this season: to win the all-class gold at the State meet. His biggest challenge likely comes from Carson Noecker, whom we profiled in the Class C Standout article. Carson runs his race two hours before Gabe, so Gabe will know what time he needs to target. While we are disappointed we didn’t get to see these two amazing athletes race head-to-head, we’ll happily settle for a race against the clock.

Sam Kirchner, senior, Millard West

2020 State XC: 3rd, 15:51

2021 Track: Class A State, 5th in 1600 (4:20), 4th in 3200 (9:24)

2021 XC PR: 15:29, Rim Rock Classic, 9/25

Sam started the season as the #3 ranked Class A runner, dipped briefly to 10th in Week 3, and has risen to #2 in the final pre-State rankings. Despite limited tapering during the season, he’s had some solid performances, running 15:40 at the Heartland Classic (Pella) and 15:29 at the Rim Rock Classic (Lawrence). He finished 3rd in both races among outstanding regional competition.

It’s been a bit difficult to rank the Millard West boys this season because there are so many strong runners on the team. Depending on their training cycle, the order of finish for the top four – and at times the top 7 – could be any combination of Sam, Piercze Marshall, Seth Fey and Cole Haith. With Joey Hartnett, Porter Bickley and Jack Witte adding a ridiculous amount of depth, the team grabbed the #1 spot in the coaches’ poll in early September. They’ve backed up their ranking with an undefeated season within Nebraska and strong showings outside of the state. They captured the 42-team Heartland Classic title and finished 2nd to Valor Christian, a Colorado powerhouse ranked 8th in the nation, at the seeded 26-team Rim Rock meet.

The team is so strong that they’ve also joined the DyeStat national rankings. They were ranked 17th in the DyeStat 9/30/21 poll and now sit at #19.

But back to Sam. Sam may be the poster child for incremental improvement and the importance of cross training. It’s difficult to make Millard West’s varsity team as a freshman, but he was solidly in the 8 or 9 spot and ran a season-best 17:04 at Walnut Grove at his home meet. Despite the successful XC season, he had an uneventful freshman track season (PRs of 4:53 & 10:26). However, he made great progress during his sophomore XC season, running a PR of 16:42 at State to finish 18th. He was the second Millard West finisher for a team that placed second behind Lincoln Southwest.

After losing his sophomore track season to COVID, he made his biggest gains as a junior. He broke 16:00 at a late-season race at Walnut Grove, and then ran 15:51 at State to finish 3rd behind Liem Chot and Gabe Hinrichs. His track season was equally impressive, establishing a 5-second PR in the 1600 and a 13-second PR in the 3200 to earn his first two State medals at Burke.

Surprisingly, Sam runs more miles in-season (40) than he does during the summer (20-30) because he’s also a triathlete. He’s a teammate of Jaci Sievers on a Des Moines USAT club team, and he’s currently 52nd nationally in the USA Triathlon Junior Elite rankings. During the summer, he spends more time biking and swimming than he does running, and he believes that leaves him with fresher legs at the end of the season. He also swims for Millard West during the winter. The cross training and lower mileage seem to keep him healthy, a fair trade-off for having a slow start to each running season.

Sam would like to compete in college but he’s a bit behind in his search due to the NCAA Division 1 COVID recruiting restrictions that were in place until this summer. He visited UNL a few weeks ago but hasn’t determined where else he may visit. He’d like to major in either engineering or business, and his preference would be to stay in the Midwest.

Sam has quite a few goals left this season. He’d like to place high at State and break the 15:00 barrier at Kearney or one of the regional races. The team wants to win the State title and perform well at a few regional and national meets. They plan to run Nike Regionals on November 14 and the Running Lane Cross Country Championships on December 4th in Huntsville, Alabama. They are still considering whether to run the at the Eastbay (formerly Footlocker) regionals in Kenosha, Wisconsin on November 27.

Sam hasn’t had a race this year where he ran on fresh legs and gave a complete effort. He expects to do both at State. Throw in the strength of his team, and that may be a lethal combination for his competitors.

Daniel Romary, senior, Lincoln Northeast

2020 State XC: 6th, 16:00

2021 Track: Class A State, 1st in 800 (1:52.15), 3rd in 1600 (4:14), 3rd in 3200 (9:04)

2021 USATF nationals: 2nd in 800 (1:52.48), 1st in 1500 (3:53.47, converts to 4:10.68 1600)

2021 XC PR: 15:52, Kearney HS Meadowlark Invite, 9/10

I first saw Daniel Romary run his freshman year at December indoor meet at Concordia. Over a two-hour period, he ran the 400, 800 and 1600. Perhaps it was just the tight curves, but Daniel seemed to run with a reckless abandon that contrasted with the styles of most high school runners.

I didn’t know who Daniel was, but he’s made an impression on me since then. Unlike most of the 18 athletes I interviewed over the last two weeks, Daniel considers himself to be a track athlete who also happens to cross country. He’s not a slacker in either sport but his natural speed definitely plays a bigger role on the track.

Daniel lost most of his freshman track season to injury and his sophomore season to COVID. He made up for it last May, joining with Gabe Hinrichs and Liem Chot to put on a two-day distance running battle royale. Daniel walked away with PRs in every event (times are listed above), as well has his first State gold medal in the 800. He topped that achievement at the USATF Nationals this summer, winning the 1500 and placing 2nd in the 800.

In terms of cross country, Daniel is a four-time State individual qualifier. In his first three years, he’s placed 29th, 62nd and 6th, and last year he was just 10 seconds out of third place. Daniel’s USATF track season lasted until August 1st this year, so he admits he had a hard time transitioning to the 5k distance once XC season began. After two rough races, he’s gotten into his groove and has only lost to Gabe Hinrichs (Harold Scott) and Class A #6 Evan Caudy (Districts). Two weeks ago, he won the HAC title over Class A #4 Isaac Ochoa, #7 Juan Garcia and #8 Carter Waters. While all results are impressive, he slipped one spot to #3 in the final pre-State rankings behind Sam Kirchner. (Nerd Junior can be ruthless in his rankings.)

Like a lot of the top racers, Daniel has been employing a ‘sit and kick’ strategy over the last month while he continues to train hard. His best workouts include 5x1k at race pace, 4x1200 with 3-minute active recovery, and hill work. His Strava account reflects of a peak of 50 miles per week in September, but far less than that during most of his extended track season between March and July. He started tapering three weeks before State, so we’re guessing he’s going to have a lot of life in his legs.

As he looks at colleges, Daniel has already made an official visit (and received an offer) at Iowa State but hasn’t determined where his other four visits will be. Because he’s being primarily recruited for track, he may wait until April to commit so he can post at least a few more 800 and 1600 results. He plans to run at Nike and Footlocker regionals after State, and he may look at a few other high-level races.

In terms of advice for younger runners, Daniel preaches consistency and running almost every day unless you’re injured. Once he takes two or more days off, his motivation crashes.

Daniel is hoping for at least a sub-15:30 on the difficult State course, and then a sub-15:10 at Nike or Footlocker. He didn’t provide a goal of where he’d like to finish at State. He can only control his own performance, not anyone else’s, and there a realistic chance that we could see as many as eight Class A runners go under 16:00 on Friday. If he doesn’t place as high as he wants… well, he’ll catch up with you later on the track.


Originally written for and posted at by Jay Slagle.

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