Contributor: Nerd the Third
Seward looks to be in the best position of the teams that finished in the top three last year if they bring back all of their returning runners. They edged Elkhorn 55 to 57 and return their 1st, 2nd and 4th finishers this year. However, we're told that rising junior Tandee Masco, who finished 7th at the 2020 XC meet and ran 5:48/12:40 in an abbreviated spring season, is moving out of state this fall. That's a big loss, but Seward still has a high stick in senior Keegan Beisel, who finished 9th in 2020 and ran 2:33/5:41/12:14 this spring despite an injury-plagued campaign. In addition, Karnie Gottschalk was 32nd at 2020 XC and ran solid times of 2:33/5:51 this spring.
Elkhorn returns its 3rd, 4th and 6th runners, so it may struggle to compete with more experienced teams. Sofia Hartman, their 6th runner in 2020, is the only returner with spring results, but is was an excellent 2:27.
Skutt (84 points) only returns its 2nd and 5th finishers, but the program is always deep in talent. Anika Richards was 20th in 2020 and ran 2:35/5:26/12:03 in the spring. Rising sophomore Anna Labenz was 47th last year and improved to 2:32/5:54 in the spring.
Blair (86) returns Hailey Amandus (13th in 2020) and all but their 2nd finisher. Amandus finished sixth at State in the 800 (2:20), Chloe Schrick ran 5:43/11:57 and Caylie Penner, their #5 runner in 2020, ran a 2:39/5:56.
Duchesne (87) returns its 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th athletes, although two of the four don't have spring track results. Duchesne ran incredibly well all fall in 2020, winning every meet including wins over the top four teams at State at the UNK Invite. However, it didn't have the State meet it expected, falling to 5th. That may serve as strong motivation this year.
McCook (87) returns its top 5, including 2020 3rd-place finisher Samantha Rodewald. Rodewald ran 5:26/11:58 in track season, 14th-place Sienna Dutton focused mostly on jumps and sprints in the spring, and 22nd-place Grace Cappel ran PRs 2:40/5:48. We expect them to improve on their 6th place finish, and they had a legitimate shot at one of the top two spots.
Gering (113) also returns its top 5, including 2020 State champ Madison Seiler. Unfortunately, Madison will have a late start to the 2021 season after sustaining a basketball injury in early July. On the bright side, Gering's 2nd-fastest returner Shalee Patton is healthy and expected to see strong gains this year.
Elkhorn North (104) returns all six runners, and might be the favorite if 3200-winner Julia Karmazin wasn't so good at golf too. Basketball phenom Britt Prince led the team in 2020 with a 5th-place medal, and her 2nd place finish at State track (2:18) bodes well for the team. Even better, rising sophomore Sidney Stodden has improved dramatically since last fall (70th place, Elkhorn North's 5th finisher); she ran a 58-second 400 and 2:19 800 at State for 2nd and 3rd place, respectively. In addition, incoming freshman Ella Ford ran PRs of 2:30 and 5:35 in 8th grade, and she placed in the top 7 in both events at the junior high State track meet.
Norris finished 9th last fall and returns all but its 2nd fastest runner. Laci Havlat ran 2:34/5:42/12:11 in the spring and Ellie Thomas ran 2:23/5:33, qualifying for State in both events. Norris will add Kendall Zavala (cousin of GI Independent sportswriter and track nerd Mark Zavala) , who was second at the junior high State XC meet last fall. Kendall also ran a 5:33 at the junior high State track meet in May. In addition, rising freshman Atlee Wallman placed 7th at the junior high State XC meet, and Norris won that meet with the 2nd, 7th and 16th place finishers.
Norris will have a new student this fall who has some serious running chops, but she likely won't be on the XC team. The Muma family, previously of Lincoln East, moved to the Hickman this month. Rising junior Kylie Muma, who finished 4th and 12th at Class A State her first two years, is now enrolled at Norris. However, she's battling a difficult injury, so the best case scenario would be a return for track season. We're huge fans of the Muma sisters (Madi @ Doane, Jenna @ Wichita State) so we'd love to see Kylie get her health back.
York finished 12th in 2020 and returns Kassidy Stuckey, who finished 4th as a freshman. They could add Lainey Portwine, who ran a 5:33 1600 at Junior High State, although big sister Maddie (joining the UNL cross country team this fall) played volleyball during her high school years. Other top returners are Kiersten Portwine (1:08/2:50 in an abbreviated track season), Emily Conrad (2:41/6:05) and Zoe Kreifels (2:54/6:13).
Platteview moves up from Class C with two girls whose times would have placed in the Class B top 15 in 2020, but they have some work to do to bolster the position of the r 3rd and 4th runners. On the plus side, none of the six finishers from 2020 have graduated. In addition, rising freshman Lydia Stewart placed 8th at the 2020 junior high State XC meet.
The biggest unknown in team and individual standings may be the factor that freshmen play this year. While freshman boys tend to struggle to medal at State, the girls do not. In 2020, Class A had two freshmen in the top five, Class B three medalists, Class C six medalists, and Class D had four in the top seven.
We originally picked Seward as the favorite based on the expectation that their top runners were returning. Without Tandee Masco, Seward falls into a group of at least six other teams - Blair, Elkhorn North, McCook, Gering, Norris and Platteview - that all have a fighting chance to win State. The top teams from last year:
Seward (return 4 of 6 state finishers, 2 medalists)
Elkhorn (return 3 of 6 state finishers, 0 medalists)
Skutt (return 2 of 6 state finishers, 0 medalists)
Blair (return 5 of 6 state finishers, 1 medalist)