Updated: Aug 16, 2022
Contributors: Nerd the Third, Nerd Senior
We're not sure why we undertake these rabbit-hole projects, but we decided to provide an in-depth preview of each Class in Nebraska cross country. This is the first of eight preseason articles. The state is too big to fully grasp the greatness of the athletes in each Class, but we're doing our part to share the awesomeness of high school cross country.
Our first article focuses on the Class D girls. Here are the returning medalists:
1) Jordyn Arens (1st), Crofton, Junior
2) Hannah Swanson (2nd), Nebraska Christian, Junior
3) Peyton Paxton (3rd), Mullen, Sophomore
4) Payton Gerken (4th), McCool Junction, Senior
5) Emily Frey (5th), Palmyra, Junior
6) Katherine Kerrigan (6th), Ainsworth, Junior
7) Gianna Frasher (8th), Aquinas Catholic, Junior
8) Miriam Frasher (9th), Aquinas Catholic, Sophomore
9) Madison Davis (10th), West Holt, Junior
10) Kairece Morris (11th), Pender, Sophomore
11) Emma Kennedy (12th), Ainsworth, Sophomore
12) Brekyn Kok (13th), Cornerstone Christian, Senior
13) Braelyn Gifford (14th), North Platte St. Patrick's, Sophomore
While 9 of the 15 2021 Class D boys medalists have graduated, only 2 (Daisy Frick of Ainsworth and Callie Coble of Mullen) of the 15 girls medalists have graduated. Here's the even frightening part for girls hoping to medal the first time: only 2 of the 13 returning medalists are seniors this year. There's a crazy amount of talent in Class D, and they're not going away any time soon.
Jordyn Arens of Crofton is the odd-on favorite after winning XC titles her first two years by 43 seconds and 54 seconds, respectively. She's also been a beast on the track, winning two 3200 titles, two 1600 titles and the 800 title while competing in Class C the past two springs. The only distance title she's left on the table is the 800 this past May; due to high temps at Districts, she scratched the 800 after running the 4x800 and 3200 in fairly short order. Jordyn ran 5:17 and 11:28 at 2022 State, winning by 14 and 34 seconds. If Jordyn were to win her third title this fall, she would join 14 other Nebraska girls who have done so; she would also put herself in position for 2023, when she could become the fourth girl in history to win four Nebraska State XC titles.
It's anyone's guess who to pick second in your XC fantasy league:
Peyton Paxton of Mullen has an impressive State track meet, finishing 2nd in both the Class D 1600 (5:39) and 3200 (12:02) after leading both races. She lost to just four girls during 2021 XC races: Jordyn Arens, Hannah Swanson, Lindee Henning (Class C Ogallala) and Callie Coble.
Payton Gerken of McCool Junction finished 4th in both State distance events, running 5:39 and 12:23.
After winning all of her 2021 XC meets until State, Hannah Swanson of Nebraska Christian competed in Class C for track and ran 5:36 and 12:06. We highlighted Hannah and Jordyn in last year's State preview.
Alayna Vargas of Hastings St. Cecilia, the 2019 champ and 2020 runner-up, went for broke at 2021 State and tried to keep pace with Arens. As a result of a knee injury that plagued Alayna after the UNK meet, she couldn't hold her 2nd-place position at one mile and ended up dropping out before 2 miles. Despite the lingering injury, Alayna bounced back for the State T&F meet, running 2:26 (11th), 5:40 (11th) and 12:02 (2nd) in Class C. Her 1600 PR is 5:21. After a rough year, here's some good news: Alayna had a successful ortho procedure this summer and is now back in a groove.
Emily Frey of Palmyra was ranked in the top 10 for the first half of the 2021 XC season before fading to 15th the final three weeks, so her 5th place finish was outstanding. Emily does not run track so we don't have any recent results. She's been shockingly consistent over the last two years according to athletic.net, never running a race slower than 22 minutes. She was also 7th in 2020.
The Frasher sisters from David City Aquinas were perhaps the biggest surprise at State with their 8th and 9th place finishes; they made our rankings watch list for the final two weeks of the season and then just executed solid races that were only slightly better than their PRs. Gianna ran 2:28/5:44 during track, while Miriam focused primarily on sprints and hurdles.
Based on our records, Katherine Kerrigan and Emma Kennedy of Ainsworth split the six XC races they ran before Districts, but Kerrigan was 30 seconds faster at State. One of the main reasons we differentiate between Class A, B, C and D in distance running is because larger schools have more depth (and thus more competitive training partners), but Katherine and Emma (and the Frasher twins) seem to have figured out how to have their own training advantage in Class D.
No competitor may know Kerrigan and Kennedy better than Maddie Davis of West Holt; Maddie raced them five times last fall. Maddie had a solid spring with PRs of 2:33, 5:50 and 12:39.
Kairece Morris of Pender broke into our rankings at #15 in the final week before State, and then topped that with an 11th place finish. She did not compete in track during her freshman campaign.
Brekyn Kok of Cornerstone Christian is one of two seniors among the returning medalists. She had a solid T&F season competing in Class C, running 2:35, 5:35 (8th at State) and 12:13 (6th at State).
Braelyn Gifford of NP St. Pat's had an excellent State track meet. Competing in Class D, she finished 9th in the 1600 in 5:42 and 3rd in the 3200 in 12:20. Just a sophomore, her XC times last fall show a nice progression leading up to State. We expect she'll be even better this fall.
One wildcard - although not a returning medalist - is Story Rasby of Sutherland. Story had a great start to the 2021 XC before getting injured, and then returned late in the season to finish 27th at State. Prior to the 2022 State track meet, she had the top Class C times in the 200 (25.18), 400 (57.36) and 800 (2:18), and she also threw down a 5:40 during her one 1600 race. She finished 2nd or 3rd in the three shorter events at State, and we can't wait to see what a healthy Rasby can do in the 5k.
Top teams in 2021:
1) Crofton - 46 points (3 return)
2) Nebraska Christian - 48 points (all 5 return)
3) Ainsworth - 52 points (top 3 return)
4) NP St. Pats - 53 points (3 return)
5) Palmyra - 63 points (4 return)
6) Aquinas - 67 points (all 3 return)
We saw an exceptionally tight team race in 2021, and we expect much of the same with so many top athletes returning in 2022. Based on the results from last year, we think a team will need two high sticks (top 20) and another runner in the top 50 to be in the hunt for the podium.
Crofton returns Jordyn (19:11) and Rylie (21:23, 17th place) Arens, as well as Elizabeth Wortmann (59th). We only have limited track data for Rylie, but she appeared to focus on the 400 and 800. Elizabeth ran the 800 and 1600, and the three returners were on Crofton's 5th-place 4x800 team at State.
Nebraska Christian is the only team among the top 15 in 2021 who returns their entire five-member squad. Hannah Swanson is expected to be a high stick, and the other four girls all competed during the track season. Marlie Mundt finished 25th at 2021 State, and Nebraska Christian likely needs their second runner to stick with Rylie Arens to have a chance at the title.
Ainsworth returns their 1-2 punch in Katherine Kerrigan and Emma Kennedy as well as their third finisher Preselyn Goochey. During the track season, Preselyn competed in the 100, 200, 400, 800, 4x400, 4x800, LJ and TJ. That doesn't tell us much about her distance training, but it does tell us that she's a heck of an athlete. Ainsworth's team at 2021 JH State XC was mostly composed of 7th graders, but we highlight one of the new freshmen below.
David City Aquinas is also a top pick for us on the strength of their two high sticks, the Frasher sisters. They only started three runners at last year's State meet, and senior Jocelyn Stara also returns. Jocelyn primarily ran the 400 and all three three relays during track season, but seems like an athlete who can move up the results board this season.
There are a number of other teams with solid first runners and potential second high sticks in the waiting. For example, Jadon Hess of McCool Junction ran 2:31 this spring after finishing 57th at State XC, so she and Payton Gerken could get McJ near the top. Depth is always the key to State success regardless of class, and we're certain that we'll see a few teams surprise us. Fullerton has Julianna Maxfield, who was ranked for much of 2021 before finishing 23rd, as well as Ava Palm, who finished 16th at the 2020 meet. Doniphan-Trumbull finished 8th last year and returns four, including three freshmen, while 9th place Morrill also returns three freshman.
Potential freshman impact
We've scoured the JH State XC and T&F results looking for freshmen girls who might make an impact (think Peyton Paxton or Miriam Frasher in 2021), but we can't predict who may choose to play volleyball or take off the fall seasons. However, here are a few names that stuck out:
Emery Vargas - Hastings St. Cecilia - Ran 12:23 in a 3000-meter XC meet, and had PRs of 2:30 and 5:32 (3rd at JH State) in the spring. She's Alayna's little sister but, alas, she's playing softball this fall. Look out for her during the track season.
Payton Moody - Ainsworth - Placed 65th (13:13) at the JH State meet last fall before running 2:54/6:14 in the spring.
Lilly Harris - Homer - Placed 33rd at the JH State meet in 12:34 and ran 2:37 and 5:42 this spring.
Dakota Horstman - Hemingford - Placed 21st at the JH State meet in 12:21 and ran 2:44/5:49 in the spring.
Madison Van Laningham - Johnson County Central - Placed 74th at the JH State meet in 13:18 and ran 2:46/6:05 this spring.
Do you see any errors, typos or key omissions? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll do our best to correct the article.
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.