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Class A girls preview

Contributors: Nerd the Third, The Nerd

No disrespect to the boys, but the girls were arguably the most entertaining part of the 2021/2022 Class A distance campaign. During the 2021 XC season, Elli Dahl of Fremont and Jaci Sievers Elkhorn South raced three times prior to State, with Dahl winning all three races by an average of just three seconds. Dahl stepped up her game at State, running 17:58 to break Stella Miner's State meet record of 18:10 from 2020. On the track, four girls ran sub-4:57 1600s this spring - Jaci, Stella (Westside), Elli and Brianna Rinn (LSW) - and a whopping nine girls ran under 5:11 at the State meet.

While Elli (Nebraska) and Brianna (Utah) have graduated, the other eight top-10 finishers are back in 2022. In addition, Stella returns after having to sit out last fall due to the NSAA transfer rules. We'll also see Zarah Blaesi (North Platte), who was high in the pre-State rankings (8th) and in medal contention (7th at 3200 meters) last fall before collapsing 450 meters from the finish line. Here are the top 10 returners:

1) Jaci Sievers (2nd), Elkhorn South, Senior

2) Claire White (3rd), Omaha Westside, Junior

3) Marissa Holm (5th), North Platte, Senior

4) Kennedy Bartee (6th), Lincoln High, Senior

5) Peyton Svehla (7th), Lincoln East, Junior

6) Mia Murray (8th), Lincoln East, Junior

7) Izzy Apel (9th), Lincoln East, Senior

8) Isabelle Hartnett (10th), Millard West, Senior

9) Addison Walker (14th), Gretna, Junior

10) Ella Herzberg (17th), Lincoln East, Sophomore

Unlike the Class A Boys where the individual race is wide open, the girl’s side has a strong favorite: Jaci Sievers. After winning two State titles in May, Sievers set the unofficial state record in the 3200 (10:18.5 conversion) and ran the state's second-fastest 1600 (a converted 4:49.35) at Nike Nationals.

Claire White of Westside starts most races conservatively, but she almost always seems to end near the front of XC and track races. High schoolers aren't renowned for tactical racing, but Claire has been giving master classes in it since her freshman year. She enters this season with a strong training partner in Stella Miner, and they should be a lethal 1-2 punch. Speaking of great duos, Marissa Holm and Zarah Blaesi of North Platte should both be competing for top-10 spots.

Brianna Rinn may have graduated but Lincoln has no shortage of stud returners. Kennedy Bartee had a breakout XC season, ranked 3 weeks out of 9, and then she finished 6th at State one week after finishing 6th in Districts. While she didn't medal at State track, she showed her grit earlier in the season when she raced well about a minute after taking a hard fall at the start of a race. The Lincoln East contingent - pick a name, any name - thrives on consistency and depth, which we'll discuss at length later in this article. Mia Murray was East's most consistent runner in 2021 - she was ranked 3rd the last six weeks of the season - before having a slightly-off day at State. After her two medals at Burke (5:08 1600 plus an 11:27 on a terribly-hot day), we expect Mia to lead the Spartans again this fall.

Isabelle Hartnett (Millard West) has the chance to place in the top 20 for the fourth consecutive year, which would be quite the feat. Isabelle and her twin brother Joey have been consistent varsity contributors the past three years. Addison Walker (Gretna) had a ten second PR at the State XC meet last year - and 30 seconds faster than her season best - but she'll be challenged with the graduation of her top-notch training partner, Isabella Bricker (USD).

We've got on our eye on a few other medal contenders.

  • Berlyn Schutz of Lincoln East is the 11th fastest returner, and she's been a huge contributor the past three years - including finishing 2nd her freshman year and 14th her sophomore year. She set new PRs (2:18, 5:10) in May and has good momentum heading into her final season.

  • Bri Travis of Lincoln North Star had a breakout season last fall (we got to see her first career win at the 2021 Central meet), improving her PR by over a minute and posting times between 20:05 and 20:19 in her last five races. She missed most of the track season due to an early-season injury, but she's healthy and motivated this season.

  • Kaitlynn Swartz of Papio South has watched Kaylie Crews (Alabama) and Deavion Deleon (Nebraska) excel the last two years, and it's now her turn to lead the Lady Titans. The junior had PRs of 2:27 and 5:23 this spring, and should be poised to drop well under 20:00 this fall.

We also expect to see great things out of Molly Caruso (Millard North), Maris Dahl (Fremont), Kara Muller (Bellevue West). A good summer of training leads to a new batch of standouts, so we're excited to see which athletes make their mark this fall.

Team race

The top 5 teams at State 2021 were:

1) Lincoln East - 54 points (return all 7)

2) Fremont - 87 points (return 2)

3) Lincoln Southwest - 115 points (return 1)

4) Millard West - 140 (return 5)

5) Omaha Westside - 146 (return 4 plus Stella Miner)

The Class A coaches have already released their pre-season rankings:

1) Lincoln East

2) Millard West

3) Westside

4) Elkhorn south

5) Papio South

6) Fremont

7) Millard North

8) Lincoln Southwest

9) North Platte

10) Gretna

We've learned our lesson about guaranteeing a State championship team in August, but Lincoln East's depth this year is an embarrassment of riches. Every high school athlete has a bad race now and then, but the core of the Lincoln East team - Svehla, Murray, Apel, Herzberg and Schutz - is pretty darn predictable. The Spartans are our strong favorite to win a fifth consecutive title for two primary reasons: (a) their roster of high sticks and (b) the depth and quality of the runners behind them. Junior Jordyn Wissing (2:24/5:36 PRs) is a two-time team champ, while Brooklyn Rasmussen was a member of the title team in 2021. Sophomores Maya Friesen, Kadence Hurley, Karlee Waegli and Sadie Yager are expected to be in the mix for a top-10 spot this year, while freshmen Amelia Schupbach (5:45 1600 PR), Celia Schutz (5th at LPS meet), Chloe Berry and Avery Goulet have promising futures.

Fremont was the runner-up last year, 33 points behind Lincoln East and 28 points ahead of Lincoln Southwest. Beth McMahon takes over Fremont's coaching reins from Jake Smrcina, who has stepped down to spend more time with his young family. Beth was the Fremont girls coach from 2010-2012, and most recently an assistant coach for the uber-successful boys team. Fremont has graduated a trio of highly-decorated girls - Elli Dahl (2x State XC champ), Taylor McCabe (basketball) and Lucy Dillon (swimming) - but they bring back Maris Dahl and Chloe Hemmer, two consistent performers who both had older sisters in the program. Fremont has a strong youth running program, so we expect Fremont to bounce back; they're still a strong bet to qualify for State.

Millard West returns four State runners, led by Isabelle Hartnett. Coach Johnston has built a solid program; while we're not quite sure how he'll build his team, we know he has the depth and tradition to field a competitive squad. The Wildcats have a legitimate shot at a podium finish in Kearney.

Westside graduated Reece Young-Oestmann and Noelle Abels, but they return juniors Claire White and Stella Miner. While Jaci Siever's performances in May and June make us wonder if anyone can catch her, Stella has the talent and determination to give it a go. In addition to Claire and Stella, Westside returns Cece Gerard (20:29 PR) and Elle Taylor (22:04), plus transfer Reece Quinlivan (22:08). The squad also has three or four freshmen who could earn varsity spots. We see Westside in the top 5, but their final place depends on how their 4th and 5th spots shake out.

Elkhorn South (8th in 2021) and Millard North (9th) return all seven girls from the State squads. Sievers will be a low-stick for Elkhorn South, and Emily Tichota ran well (2:37/5:47) during the track season. Most of the other returners appear to be spring soccer players, so it's difficult to gauge their progression since last October. Elkhorn South also picked up a senior transfer, Sara Cordova, whose exploits are summarized below.

Millard North's top six finishers last October were all sophomores. Molly Caruso was ranked the last four weeks of the season before finishing 22nd at State. All seven girls competed in track, led by Caruso (2:32/5:43/12:16), Emma Rhode (2:29/5:42), Emma Palmesano (2:36) and Rachael Chambers (1:02/2:32). Millard North has done a nice job of building its depth the last few years, so now they just need a few girls in the top 20 to get into the top 5 teams.

In terms of solid programs that will likely make a mark this year, don't forget North Platte, Papio South and Lincoln Southwest. North Platte returns two runners ranked during 2021 - Marissa Holm and Zarah Blaesi - as well as Jada Hothan, Haylie Hoatson and Nelia Rivas.

Kaitlyn Swartz will be the leader of the South team, but returners Marissa Garcia and Aleah Stenger both had solid track seasons. Isabel Clarke returns to Papio South after running for Platteview last year, and she should be the Lady Titan's #2 runner this year. I have a lot of respect for Coach Haselhorst's approach to developing his runners from both a physical and mental aspect, so they may be a surprise this year.

LSW's only State returner is Lily Schwartz, who ran 2:22 and 5:20 this spring and should be in medal contention in October. Sophomore Mya Kafka had a strong track season, splitting the 800 in as low as 2:22, and at least one observer expects her to be in the top 15 among LPS girls. LSW traditionally fields a large team, so we suspect that Coach Salem has a number of girls (including a few freshman listed below) ready to fill the spots of last year's senior class.

My boys ran at Creighton Prep but I have a soft spot for the OPS teams. Omaha Central, Omaha Burke and Omaha South may have the strongest XC teams in OPS, but they face quite a challenge in qualifying for State. OPS added two more high schools this fall - Westview and Buena Vista, who will both be in Class A - and I've been told that the new schools have had an immediate impact on squad size at Burke and South, which both lost part of their drawing areas to the two new schools. In addition, OPS cancelled the Fall 2020 sports seasons after every Nebraska school lost the Spring 2020 season to COVID, and that year off has been devastating for OPS distance programs.

There are a few glimmers of hope this year. Charlotte Gregor of Omaha South may have the best chance to be the first OPS female athlete to qualify for State since 2019. Nayera Abdessalam qualified for State as a freshman in 2019 and returns to the sport this year after a two-year hiatus; her first love has been soccer but she's got the running pedigree to get back to State. Burke returns two seniors, Clara Gliske and Jillian Fierro, who also show strong potential. Finally, we saw the Omaha Central team on Field Club Trail on Monday mornings this summer; Lucy Leighter, Alsafa Alkhalil and Almarwa Alkhalil should be Central's top runners this fall.

Freshmen and transfer impact runners

We've identified four freshman girls and two senior transfers who could have an immediate impact on their teams:

  • Claire Karjalainen of Kearney won the JH State XC meet 3000-meter race in 11:11 last fall, and she followed that up with 2:28/5:35 marks in track.

  • Alexis Chadek ran 12:09 in the JH State XC race. She will run for Papio LaVista this fall.

  • Abbi Durow finished 5th at JH State XC in 11:42. We see track PRs of 2:27 and 5:33 in her limited profile. She's joining the Millard South squad.

  • Silvy Munn (5:47 in May and 2nd in October at LPS meets) and Mackenzie Bach (11th at LPS XC) appear to be headed to LSW. Sutton Antholz and Bridgford Addison were 7th and 8th, respectively, at the 2021 LPS XC meet, but we haven't confirmed where they're running. Abby Kruse was 9th at the LPS XC race and is headed to Lincoln High.

  • Karen Kiratu joins the Lincoln East team after moving from Huntsville, TX. Karen had one sub-20:00 race and two sub-19:00 races in 2021, plus a 5:33 PR from Spring 2021.

  • Sara Cordova joins Elkhorn South after competing for Seton Catholic in Vancouver (WA) her first three years. She ran three sub-20:00 races in 2021 and has PRs of 2:33 and 5:27 from Spring 2021.


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