Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Contributor: The Nerd
Our goal was to interview the top two runners in each division… and then Madison Seiler happened. With her Class best time of 18:57 last week at Districts, we had to find out how an athlete can break her ankle on July 1st but get back into form in time for State. The other four athletes are no less impressive, and they are all underclassmen. We expect tight races for both the boys and the girls, and we wouldn’t be surprised to have both races decided in the final 200 meters.
Samantha Rodewald, junior, McCook
2020 State XC: 3rd, 19:19 (also 9th in 2019, 20:20)
2021 Track: Class B State, 15th in 1600 (5:35), 11th in 3200 (12:13), 6th in 4x800 (10:01)
2021 XC PR: 19:04, B-4 District meet in Ogallala, 10/14
If you see Samantha running, there’s a good chance she’ll have a big smile on her face. While she hasn’t seen the research studies, her mom told her that smiling makes running easier, and Samantha thinks it’s true. She’s certainly had a lot of reasons to smile during her first three cross country seasons: in the 29 high school XC races posted on her athletic.net profile, she has medaled in every one of them. Aside from a 15th-place finish at UNK as a freshman, she’s never placed lower than 9th place, and she already has two State medals from finishing in 9th and 3rd as a freshman and sophomore, respectively.
Samantha describes herself as a ‘true distance runner,’ much preferring XC to the shorter races in track. Although she qualified for State in the 4x800, 1600 and 3200, she says anything less than 3200 is just too fast for her.
Consistency certainly seems to be a key for Samantha. Her lengthy race schedules and successful results suggests that she’s rarely injured, and her slowest race in the past two years was 20:40 when she won the 2020 conference title at Gothenburg. She professed to being a bit disappointed with her times this year because she only had twice broken 20:00 when I interviewed her two weeks ago, but she ran a 19:04 at B-4 Districts last week.
Of the 18 athletes I interviewed for these pre-State articles, Samantha was among those with the highest mileage. She lives about three miles outside of McCook on a ‘hobby farm,’ so this summer she would often run to town and back, which helped her average 35-40 miles per week. During the season she’s closer to 20-25 miles per week with two speed/hill sessions per week and a long run of 4-6 miles.
I’ve found that runners often struggle with self-doubt, and particularly female runners. Samantha shared that she went through a bout of doubt starting at the 2021 State track meet, but she finally broke out of it during her win at the UNK meet last month when she changed her mindset “from surviving to winning.” Despite temperatures around 90 degrees, Samantha ran a 20:03 and was able to separate from Kassidy Stuckey after running stride for stride for most of the first 4000 meters.
Samantha is hoping to compete in college, and her intended major of forestry or natural resources will likely steer her toward a few colleges that have programs in that. She’s interested in the University of Wyoming, Black Hills State and Chadron State, but she’s a bit too early in the process to have preferences on a college.
I asked Samantha for her keys to success, and she credited summer running as well as her coach, who keeps reinforcing to her that ‘easy days should be easy.’ Samantha also encourages young runners to not worry about times because running should be joyful.
Samantha and Madison Seiler faced off at the B-4 Districts last week, with Seiler pulling away in the last 200 meters. The week before that race, Samantha told me that she loves racing against Madison because Madison pushes so hard.
Samantha loves running for many reasons, but most particularly because it makes her feel closer to God. In the toughest moments of a race, she repeats Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Madison Seiler, junior, Gering
2020 State XC: 1st, 18:55
2021 Track: Class B State, 7th in 800 (2:22), 6th in 1600 (5:23, PR of 5:19), 2nd in 3200 (11:23, PR of 11:40)
2021 XC PR: 18:57, B-4 District at Ogallala, 10/14
High school cross country is filled with amazing stories, and you can add Madison Seiler to the list. On July 1st she was playing the final game of an informal basketball tournament when she broke her ankle. The break was significant enough that she underwent surgery on July 8th, and she now has a metal plate, four screws and a ‘tight rope’ around her ankle to keep all of her bones and ligaments in place. She was initially told that she would be in a walking boot for 90 days – heartbreaking news for the Class B defending champion – but after 45 days she had healed so well that she was given clearance to begin physical therapy.
Starting physical therapy didn’t mean that she could start running. She had her first run of the season on September 8th, just a mile run, and she has built up from there. The after effects of the injury initially created a different running style that led to knee pain, so she had to take ten-day break from running to address that issue. Consequently, she’ll race at state with less than 45 days of running since July 1st. Her peak mileage this season was 25 miles in a week, and her best workouts are tempo runs and 6x800 workouts. While her teammates were tapering last week, she was still working hard in order to build up her base fitness.
While competing this year has been a positive news, Madison has had to readjust her goals. After last season’s State title, she hoped to run in the low 18’s at this year’s Nike Regionals and then try to break 18:00 next year. That’s not realistic now, so she’s hoping for continued improvement in the weeks after State in an attempt to run 18:30 at this year’s NXR. I interviewed her two days after she ran 18:57 at Districts. Her only goal that day was to place as high as she could to help her team qualify for State (they won Districts). She ran with Samantha Rodewald for almost the entire race, with each unsuccessfully attempting to surge several times before Madison discovered an unexpected kick in the last 200 meters to win by 7 seconds.
The hardware in Madison’s ankle will remain as long as it doesn’t bother her. Her biggest challenge the past four months hasn’t been the hardware; it’s been having the patience to let her body heal. She believes she’s a more patient person after these struggles, and she quoted Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’
Madison believes everything happens for a reason. She doesn’t know how her story will end at State, but she’s simply grateful for the opportunity to race. She’s grateful for her future, whatever it may hold..
Kassidy Stuckey, sophomore, York
2020 State XC: 4th, 19:27
2021 Track: Class B State, 5th in 1600 (5:18), 5th in 3200 (11:45, PR of 11:40), 3rd in 4x800 (9:43)
2021 XC PR: 19:17, B-3 District at Seward, 10/14
In what is becoming a theme this year for the best runners in Class B, Kassidy Stuckey had a late start to her cross country season. Although she ran well at the State track meet and medaled in three events, she was hurt for much of the season. She was diagnosed with a stress reaction in her lower leg just after the State meet, which led to eight weeks away from running. She started running again in late July, but almost immediately dislocated her shoulder playing basketball.
Kassidy ran under 20:00 for all nine meets her freshman year, but she had some catching up to do this year after her lack of summer running. Despite the lack of base mileage, all eight of her races this year have been 20:08 or faster, and she ran a season-best 19:17 at Districts, finishing second behind freshman phenom Kendall Zavala of Norris. Kassidy’s only losses in Nebraska this year have been to Class B #1 Samantha Rodewald, #4 Zavala and #6 Ellie Thomas (also from Norris), and she topped both Zavala and Thomas at the UNK meet.
Due to her late start, Kassidy built her mileage up through Districts, ending at a high of 30-35 miles per week before she started to taper. Her best race-prep workout is a 3200/1600/1600 workout, and she feels like she hasn’t run her hardest yet this season. She supplemented her early-season running with aqua jogging and biking, but she has stopped that cross-training as her mileage has increased.
Kassidy lists last year’s State XC meet as the most difficult race of her brief career. She doesn’t like running in the cold – the 2020 State meet had wind chills near freezing – and she didn’t know most of the girls at the front of race. With another year of experience, she has a better grasp of racing strategy, and this year she’s raced against all of the top runners except Madison Seiler.
Two weeks ago Kassidy told me that she could run under 19:30 this year, and she accomplished that goal at Districts. Her second goal was to improve upon the 19:27 she ran at State. With such a great field this year – Rodewald, Seiler, Zavala, Thomas, Calderon (Bennington), among the many contenders – we’re projecting the winner to be below 19:15 and possibly below 19:00. While Mazie Larsen’s Class B State meet record of 18:32 may stand, the high number of girls capable of sub-19:00 could result in a fantastic final 400 meters. We can’t wait.
Mesuidi Ejerso, junior, South Sioux City
2020 State XC: 7th, 16:50
2021 Track: Class B State results: 2nd in 1600 (4:31), 1st in 3200 (9:46).
2021 XC PR: 16:02, Fremont Invite, 9/16
Mesuidi Ejerso (pronounced “muh-soody ee-jere-so”) is relatively new to running – and to the US. He emigrated from Ethiopia in the summer of 2018. When he and his mom arrived at the airport, he spoke so little English that he had to use hand gestures to ask fellow passengers if he could use a phone to call his dad who was already in the US. His family eventually settled in Sioux City, and that’s when he was introduced to running.
Mesuidi had never run back in Ethiopia, but a friend (Dhugomsa Mohammed) convinced him to join Sioux City’s 8th grade cross country team. He had never heard of cross country but wanted to make more friends. At his first practice, he was exhausted running one mile, and he was so sore the next two days that he could hardly walk. He parents couldn’t understand what he had done to hurt himself so badly, and Mesuidi had to promise that he would never do it again. Fortunately, Mesuidi went back to practice.
The next spring, the 8th grade track coach told him he had to go out for the track team. By then Mesuidi had shed some baby fat and was able to have some success, helping his team set the 4x400 school record. However, he didn’t know that he had the potential to be a good runner, so he didn’t try that hard and often lagged behind the best runners in practice.
Dhugomsa Mohammed, who was two years older than Mesuidi, made sure that Mesuidi joined the high school cross country team. He immediately established himself as South Sioux City’s high stick, finishing no worse than 6th at his first six meets against mostly Class B competition. However, SSC was slotted for Class A his freshman year, so the competition got much tougher at Districts and State. He finished 7th at Districts and 43rd at State.
Like everyone else, Mesuidi didn’t compete in track in spring 2020 due to COVID, but he trained over the summer leading into his sophomore year. While he doesn’t keep a log, it sounds like he ran about 20-30 miles per week in the summer of 2020, with a long run of up to eight miles. The summer work paid off; he won 5 meets and was top 3 three in the other two meets, losing only to Carson Noecker, Isaac Ochoa and Tristen Kittleson prior to the 2020 State meet.
The 2020 meet was a bit overwhelming to Mesuidi. He had never been in such a large lead pack, so he didn’t know how or when to make a move. In addition, he had injured his back leading up to State, and the combination of his inexperience, back pain and freezing temperatures (which he hates) limited him to a 7th-place finish. Immediately after the race, he told he told his coaches Ramsey and Sean Fitzsimmons he would never run again. Thankfully, he changed his mind within a week.
He trained through the winter and had a successful track season. He ran brilliantly at State, sitting in 4th early in the 3200 behind Isaac Richards, Jaydon Welsh and Jacob Rupp. He made a strong move with 400 meters to go, winning by 5 seconds over Welsh. Welsh returned the favor the next day by winning the 1600, but it was still the most successful week of Mesuidi’s short running career.
While it’s been challenging for Mesuidi to learn the ins and outs of running, his biggest hurdle the past three years has been learning English. While he was taught to read and write English in his Ethiopian schools, he and fellow students were not taught how to speak it.
I spoke with Sean Fitzsimmons to get a better perspective on Mesuidi’s potential. Sean feels Mesuidi’s best performances are still ahead of him because he’s still running relatively low mileage and has a tremendous work ethic – a far cry from his 8th grade days. Mesuidi’s training program peaked at 45 miles per week this fall, and Ramsey and Sean have purposely been having Mesuidi run on tired legs at the meet until the last few weeks.
At times I will reach out to coaches to have them review a draft article, and Ramsey Fitzsimmons (who won Nike Nationals in 2004) replied with the following message:
I wanted to tell you that of all of the athletes I've coached, many of them have been multilingual. Mesuidi himself is now fluent in several languages, but any runner would tell you that running is also a language in and of itself, and it's a universal language that most of us in the running world understand without anything needing to be said out loud. Every time I watch Mesuidi run, the message he writes with his running is one of the clearest I've ever received from any of my athletes. The message is, "I want to win. I will do everything possible to do it." He is by far one of the most competitive athletes I've coached, possibly even as competitive as myself. He has come up against many different adversities from all aspects of life and he meets them all with the same message time and time again. That's not to say he always gets what he wants. When I was coaching him last spring during Ramadan, he was literally racing on a completely empty stomach and without a drop of water in his system since daybreak, but his message was clear: "I want to win.” He didn't always succeed but he has always wanted it. He won the State 3200 but we see his message clear as day during every single run, race, and workout.
Mesuidi has just started his college search but he would definitely like to compete in college to see how much better he can get at the next level. He’s had some preliminary talks with Mount Marty and would be the first in his family to graduate from college. While Mesuidi may have the talent to compete at a higher-division school, both Mesuidi and his coach want to make sure that a college isn’t too big for Mesuidi to get lost in the shuffle.
First, however, it’s Mesuidi’s goal to place 1st this Friday. He’s had more than his share of obstacles – a new country, the English language, a painful introduction to the sport, disappointing results – but he hopes to see clear trails ahead.
Riley Boonstra, sophomore, Norris
2020 State XC: 35th, 17:45
2021 Track: Class B State, 15th in 1600 (4:43), 4th in 4x800 (8:18)
2021 XC PR: 16:23, B-3 District meet at Seward, 10/14
The season was three weeks old before Riley Boonstra’s name flashed on our computer screens, but he’s made quite an impression since then. After an uneventful freshman track season, Riley ran his first XC race this fall at Wavery and finished six seconds behind then-#2 Colin Pinneo of York. The following week, he beat his freshman time at Crete by 1:27 and won by seven seconds over Pinneo. Since then, he’s won three more races that featured ranked opponents such as Pinneo, Nathan Nottingham of Seward and Dawson Fricke of Blair. His 12-second victory at the UNK meet was impressive against a field that included most of Class B’s ranked teams including Lexington and Skutt.
Riley’s success this year and his #2 ranking is surprising even to his coach, Justin McGill, perhaps because Justin knows where Riley started. Riley competed at State T&F in May, finishing 15th in the 1600 (a PR of 4:43) and 4th in the 4x800 with the Mullet Boys. However, he had been bothered by knee pain most of the spring, and his PT eventually determined that the pain was related to weak hip muscles – a common problem for high school runners.
Riley was shut down after State and given strict orders to do no more or less than what his PT told him to do. He was in the weight room nearly every day this summer, and on July 1st he was allowed to walk one minute and run one minute for a whopping five minutes. Riley estimates that he jogged a total of five miles the entire summer, and he didn’t run a continuous mile until the official start of the season. He progressed from there but couldn’t sprint as recently as one week before the Waverly meet on September 17th. Because of his late start, Riley’s peak weekly mileage of 35 miles was just a few weeks ago, and he’s probably averaged 25-30 miles since September 1. He did supplement his mileage this summer by biking, and he has continued to lift weights and perform hip exercises throughout the season.
Riley’s path to fast times doesn’t seem to be common recipe for success: run so-so as a freshman, have an injury that interrupts your training for the entire summer, and then run every race at least 60 seconds faster than the previous year. Coach McGill can’t put his finger on why Riley has improved so much, but he suspects it’s a combination of natural ability, mental toughness, a big growth spurt after 8th grade, and a tremendous drive to succeed.
I interviewed Riley before his conference meet, so his goals at that time were to win the EMC meet, win Districts and finish in the top 3 at State. He’s accomplished the first two goals since we talked. Finishing in the top 3 at State is a recent goal; prior to the Waverly meet, his goal was simply to medal at State. He will likely forego Nike Regionals to avoid pushing his body too hard, focusing instead on a few weeks of rest before starting his winter training. He would like to break 4:30 and 10:00 next spring,
While Riley doesn’t have the base mileage that his competitors have, he does have superb talent, fresh legs and a tremendous drive to win. That combination usually pays dividends in cross country.
Originally written for and posted at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay 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.