Updated: Aug 21
Contributor: Nerd the Third, Nerd Senior
We continue our series of season previews with a look at Class B. Here are the returning medalists from the 2021 State meet:
1) Madison Seiler (1st), Gering, Senior
2) Kendall Zavala (2nd), Norris, Sophomore
3) Gabriela Calderon (3rd), Bennington, Senior
4) Anika Richards (4th), Skutt, Senior
5) Ellie Thomas (5th), Norris, Junior
6) Olivia Lawrence (6th), Platteview, Junior (moves to Class C)
7) Kassidy Stuckey (7th), York, Junior
8) Samantha Rodewald (8th), McCook, Senior (moves to Class C)
9) Mary Kate Kramper (9th), Duchesne, Senior
10) Atlee Wallman (11th), Norris, Sophomore
11) Eva Wentz (12th), Duchesne, Senior
12) Ella Ford (14th), Elkhorn North, Sophomore
The Class B Girls is another field of young talent, with only one graduating senior (Laci Havlat of Norris) in the top 10 last fall plus two girls who run for schools that are moving to Class C this year (see below). Madison Seiler of Gering comes in as the favorite and, according to athletic.net, she has only lost 2 cross country races in the past 2 years. She's also healthy, which is quite a change from last year. In 2021, she broke her ankle on July 1st while playing basketball. She had surgery on July 8th, ran her first mile of the season on September 8th, and somehow managed to win her second Class B title on October 22nd. She also finished 4th as a freshman. While Madison didn't see quite as much success in track (2:23, 5:19, 11:34) this past spring, our experience has been that varsity basketball players like Madison often suffer from lack of base mileage over the winter. That hasn't been the case this summer.
Just as Seiler has dominated on the XC course, Kassidy Stuckey of York stole the show at the State track meet. Stuckey swept the 1600 (5:14) and 3200 (11:22), and she won 12 of the 14 1600/3200 races she entered in the spring. She seems poised to improve upon her 7th place finish in Kearney last fall.
After finishing 2nd at Junior High State XC as an 8th grader, Kendall Zavala of Norris shared top billing with teammate Elli Thomas for much of the XC season before finishing 2nd in Kearney. Zavala had PRs of 2:25 and 5:28 this past spring, qualified for State in both events but just missed medaling in what had to be a a pretty intimidating setting for a freshman. Thomas had PRs of 2:22 and 5:40 in the spring, and she grabbed an 8th place medal in the 800. Both girls have the chops to finish in the top five. (Kendall also has a very nice grandfather; he bummed a ride from me at the State meet, although he seemed skeptical whether I knew where I was going.)
Gabriela Calderon from Bennington has not placed lower than 5th in any cross country or track races in the past year, and she also raced multiple times in the open indoor season. We had her ranked as high as 2nd in the middle in the 2021 season and 5th heading into State XC, so her 3rd-place finish was not a shock. However, she came into the 2021 season unranked, so she'll have to adjust to being a target this season. If Bennington sticks with their schedule from last year, Calderon will have stiff competition at almost every meet.
Anika Richards of Omaha Skutt had season bests of 5:46 and 12:13 during the track season, just off her sophomore PRs of 5:36 and 12:03, while battling significant injuries. After an extra long layoff at the start of the summer, Anika is already rounding back into form. Look for her to compete for a top-5 finish again this year.
One outstanding athlete who won't be competing for a Class B title is Samantha Rodewald. Samantha was one of our co-favorites going into 2021 State XC but didn't have her best day, finishing 8th. Shortly after we initially published this article, we discovered that we overlooked McCook's reclassification to Class C for this year. While Samantha would probably prefer to go after her fourth State XC medal in Class B, she'll have to chase it down in Class C instead.
The Nerd team is a big fan of Mary Kate Kramper and Eva Wentz from Omaha Duchesne. Unfortunately, Mary Kate isn't expected to compete this season due a lingering injury. Eva will look to repeat her medal performance, and she'll need to be a high stick for Duchesne to do well.
The top 5 teams at 2021 State were:
1) Norris - 24 points (4 return)
2) Bennington - 45 points (5 return)
3) Omaha Skutt - 91 points (4 of top 5 return)
4) Elkhorn North - 92 points (all 6 return)
5) Gering - 92 points (5 return)
One of the worst things about last year's District assignments - among all Classes - was the Massacre at the Mount. Highly-ranked Elkhorn North, Blair, Bennington and Duchesne had to fight for three State spots at the Mount Michael meet. The points ended up being 26, 32, 37 and 45, with Duchesne left on the outside despite qualifying three girls for State. We had hoped to see the NSAA fix those assignments for this year and it has. The NSAA is moving to a serpentine seeing system that will likely divide these four teams into two different districts.
Norris still looks like the team to beat in 2022. They return three medalists - Kendall Zavala (2nd), Elli Thomas (5th) and Atlee Wallman (11th), as well as Hailley Finkner (39th). They have at least one freshman in the mix for a varsity spot (see below) and enough depth to fill the 5th and 6th spots. Barring injury, Norris will be tough to beat with three high sticks.
The competition doesn't get any easier beyond Norris. Three of the next four teams from 2021 return at least four of their six State runners, and all four teams returns a medalist. Bennington seems to stand above the rest of the teams based on its 2021 performance, with three top-23 girls (Calderon, Alexis Hiatt and Lillian Dall) returning.
Skutt returns Richards and Gabi Westfall, who set her PR in her high school debut at Seward but then cooled off. Westfall had PRs of 2:36, 5:34 and 12:04 during the spring, and we expect her to make a big jump from her 26th place XC finish in 2021. Skutt's third finisher at State, Sophia Higgason, is focusing on club soccer this fall, but Josie Pogge and Anna Labenz have state experience and should perform well. Sarah Dickas and a handful of other girls will also be fighting for varsity spots.
Elkhorn North is swimming in talent, but it's not just limited to running. Medalist Ella Ford headlines the five returners, and all-world basketball player Britt Prince was North's third highest placer in 2021. However, the official collegiate recruiting (hunting) season has started for Class of 2024 athletes, so Prince's schedule is about to get busier (as of 7/17, she had 29 D1 basketball offers). Kailey O'Brien also returns from the State team. The Elkhorn North squad will not include Sydney Stodden (1st in the 400 and 3rd in the 800 at State) and Collette Sneau (1:06/2:38).
Gering looks tough with all but Shailee Patton returning from the 2021 5th place team. Lexington and York return four from the 2021 State teams, while Seward and Plattsmouth return five. Northwest looked to be in solid shape after only graduating their #6 runner, but two strong freshmen chose not to return for their sophomore seasons. Three-time qualifier Lexie Lilienthal will likely have a slow start to the season as she rehabs from a springtime injury; Neelie Dorsey (2x qualifier) and Olivia Chapman return for the team that finished 8th in 2021.
Finally, we get back to Duchesne. Fashion Nerd is a Duchesne alum, so while she didn't run there we still cheer for the team's success. They've experienced a summer no team would ever want to have. On the morning of June 19, rising junior Ali Tupper and her younger brother were killed when their car was hit by a drunk driver. Ali ran varsity her first two years and was expected to be a key contributor along with Mary Kate Kramper (9th at State but not expected to compete this fall), Eva Wentz (12th), Annie Hoover (41st), Maggie Lickteig and Corinne Mansuour (5:39/12:18). Ali's death has been a blow to the entire Duchesne community, but even more so to the tight-knit XC team. If you happen to see Duchesne competing at a meet, their girls could definitely use a few more cheers.
Freshmen who could make an impact
We've scoured the results from the junior high State XC and T&F meets to see if any new studs are joining high school teams. A few caught our eye:
Miriam Deanda - Schuyler - We're going to guess that Miriam is the little sister of Marisol Deanda, who placed 24th at State XC last fall. Marisol has graduated. Miriam finished 16th at Junior High State XC before running 2:37/5:46 during the track season.
Kennedy Powell - Norris - Norris won the JH XC team title in 2021, and Kennedy was the 2nd Norris finisher in 29th place in 12:28. She ran a 5:55 1600 in May, but she'll have to work hard to break into Norris' varsity six.
Emma Steffensen - Waverly - Emma was undefeated in the four XC races posted in her 8th grade athletic.net profile. On the track, she ran 2:19 and 5:35 during the school season, and then 1:00 and 2:22 during the USATF season. Rumor has it that she'll be a medal contender at most meets this year.
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Originally written for and posted at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay Slagle. Did you love reading about Nebraska high school running? Visit www.preprunningnerd.com for rankings, results, photos, long-form articles, frequent updates on our blog page, Nerd gear, and a bunch of other cool stuff that only running nerds would think to do. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow @PrepRunningNerd on Twitter and Instagram, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd.