Contributor: Nerd the Third
In a tight team race in 2020, McCool Junction scored 41 points to top Ainsworth (42) and Bloomfield-Wausa (47). McCool Junction returns a high stick in Payton Gerken, who finished 12th overall in 2020, but it loses two seniors from the 2020 squad as well as McKenna Yates (24th in 2020) to the volleyball team. Ainsworth loses three seniors but is still led by 2020 3rd place finisher Katherine Kerrigan. At the May junior high State track meet, Ainsworth 8th grader Emma Kennedy ran a 5:38 1600, so she would be a great addition if she runs XC. (Yes, the Nerd even scours 8th grade meet results for insight.)
The periodic NSAA reclassification processes muddies the water a bit since the 2020 3rd place team, Bloomfield-Wausa, returns 4 of their 5 state finishers, including medalist Christina Martinson (9th place). However, they've been moved up to Class C and will be one of nine evenly-matched teams fighting for a podium spot in that Class.
4th place finisher North Central is close behind in terms of the quality of the top three returners. Among other teams, Fullerton, Palmyra, Hastings St. Cecilia's, Wisner-Pilger, Hi-Line and Bayard return at least four of their five 2020 State XC runners.
Crofton finished 10th last year with its top three runners returning, including returning 4-time XC and track champ Jordyn Arens. Crofton should also gain Rylie Arens, who ran a 5:49 at the State junior high track meet in May. (Is it just me or is Arens the most common distance running name in Nebraska?)
Hastings St. Cecilia also has the potential (will they run or play volleyball?) to add a strong freshmen in Izy Kvols (2:33/5:40 at State junior high) and Chole Rossow (2:35 at State JH). HSC is already returning their top four girls, including 2019 champ and 2020 runner-up Alayna Vargas.
One final rising freshman note - Peyton Paxton of Mullen ran well at Junior High State Track and could potentially join senior Callie Coble, who finished 5th at the in 2020. It's just a guess, but Peyton is likely the little sister of Molly Paxton, who as a 10th grader petitioned the Mullen school board in 2018 to start the school's first cross country team. Molly ended up placing 8th and 13th in her two years at State. The Mullen girls have never qualified for State, largely because of low participation numbers (Molly was the sole girl in 2018), so it will be interesting to see if they can find enough girls to vie for a State berth.
With so many runners qualifying for Class D State without their teams, State titles are often won or lost by athletes finishing beyond 30th place. Here's the status for the top five teams in 2020:
McCool Junction (Returns 2 of top 5 state finishers, 1 medalist)
Ainsworth (Returns 2 of top 5 state finishers, 1 medalist)
Bloomfield-Wausa - moves to Class C
T4 - North Central (Returns top 3 state finishers, 0 medalists)
T4 - Ravenna (Returns #3-#5, 0 medalists)