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State preview

Updated: Oct 21

Contributor: The Nerd


Earlier this week we had a radio interview with Rich Barnett of High Plains Radio in McCook. To prepare for the interview, we inadvertently wrote most of a State preview article, so why not write the rest of it? If you’d rather listen to the radio interview, you can click here, but we’re probably better writers than orators. We’ll start off with our pre-State favorites.


Individuals

Class C boys

Maybe it’s like this year every year, but we believe there are solid favorites in six of the eight races. Of those six, I don’t see any chance of an upset for the Class C boys, where Carson Noecker of Hartington may finish up to two minutes ahead of 2nd place. Still, there should be significant drama in that race. First, Carson is our favorite to win the all-class gold despite running alone, and he’ll take aim at the State meet record of 15:04.9 set by Milllard West’s Seth Hirsch in 2016. Carson already holds the course record after running 14:51 at the UNK meet this year and that was no small feat, given that Nebraska high school boys have been racing the 5,000-meter distance since 1980. Finally, Carson will be looking to be the first Nebraska boy to win four state XC titles.


The other drama in the race will be the fight for top 5 spots. Carter Hohlen of Lincoln Christian has been at #2 all year, but there haven’t been many encounters between the athletes ranked behind him: AJ Raszler (Platteview), Parker Graves (Gothenburg), Lucas Guatier (Aurora) and Dyami Berridge (Winnebago). Berridge is arguably on the biggest hot streak after a slow start to the season, so it will be interesting to see how he races outside of Northeast Nebraska.


Class A girls

While any ranked runner could conceivably win a State title, I think it would be an upset if our favored athletes in the next five classes don’t grab the title.


In Class A, Mia Murray of Lincoln East hasn’t been challenged since early September when Stella Miner edged her by 8 seconds at Millard South. Mia has won five races since then, and the last four have all been under 18 minutes 20 seconds – all at either the Kearney course or Pioneers’ Park, and those are well-measured challenging courses. Stella Miner (Westside) has had an up and down season due to injury, but she’s the only Class A girl to defeat Mia this season. Stella dipped under 19:00 at Districts and appears to be back in form. Speaking of form, it took all of two races for Jaci Sievers (Elkhorn South) to get back into racing shape. After a courageous return to action at the UNK meet in September (we wrote about it in Failing Forward), she ran 18:53 at Districts and seems to be getting better every week. Ordinarily I’d say the 30-40 second between Mia and Jaci is too wide to be bridged this late in the season, but Jaci is capable of anything after posting all-time top 10 marks in the 1600 and 3200 this past spring and summer.


I expect Berlyn Schutz (Lincoln East) and Claire White (Westside) to be near the leaders at 3000 meters, but they both start conservatively and will probably be picking off more aggressive racers in the final kilometer. In terms of wild cards, we’re not quite sure what to expect from super-frosh Mira Urosevich (Westside), Abbi Durow (Millard South), Claire Karjalainen (Kearney) and Alexis Chadek (Papio).


Class B girls

Maddie Seiler of Gering is a two-time defending champ and has won all of her in-state races this season, including two races against 2nd ranked Kassidy Stuckey of York. She was one of the most remarkable stories from last year: she broke her ankle on July 1st while playing basketball, had surgery on July 8th, ran her first mile on September 8th, and won the State title on October 22nd. Given Maddie’s dual emphasis on running and basketball during high school, she may have considerable untapped potential for her college career.


Stuckey was dominant on the track in May, sweeping the 1600 (5:14) and 3200 (11:22) titles, and she only lost two of fourteen 1600/3200 races in the spring. She’s been ranked #2 all season and was only 11 seconds behind Seiler at UNK.


The Norris powerhouse has three girls ranked #3, #4 and #6, and Kendall Zavala seems to be the most likely candidate to take a shot at the title. She ran aggressively last year as a freshman and finished 2nd at State. This season she traded Norris’ top dog spot with #4 Atlee Wallman and #6 Ellie Thomas, so look for the three of them to run in a pack for at least the first 2k.


Emma Steffensen of Waverly is our wild card in this race. She’s just a freshman but ran exceptionally well at her conference and District meets, so she may have accumulated enough racing experience and confidence to make her mark at State.


Class C girls

Keeli Green of Arlington was a softball player and sprinter who went out for cross country last year as a junior, and she has not lost a cross country race during those two years. Keeli's success this year hasn't been as easy as 2021, but she may have less weight on her shoulders this week after committing to Concordia a few days ago. Lindee Henning of Ogallala has been ranked 2nd for the past two years, has had an even better 2022 than 2021, and is Keeli’s closest competition. I would never rule out Lindee from winning the title, but it would definitely be an upset if Keeli lost for the first time in her career.


There has been a pretty big gap between these two girls and the rest of field, but there's no shortage of talent in Class C. Lilly Kenning of Milford has been ranked third for the last four weeks after finishing 3rd at UNK. She did not finish her District race due to a minor injury, but she's been cleared to run and might actually benefit from a few days off. Talissa Tanquary (Sidney) has been 4th most of the year - finishing fourth at the UNK meet that included most ranked runners in Class C - and she's a good egg in my book after spending 10 hours on a bus to cheer on her junior high teammates at State. #5 Sammie Rodewald (McCook) edged Tanquarry at Districts, while #6 Jessie Hurt (Minden) has been moving up the charts after starting the season unranked. Hailey O'Daniel (Arlo) may be ranked too low based on her 5th place finish at UNK, and she's a big reason why her training partner Keeli Green has been so successful.


Freshman Liston Crotty of Auburn is ranked 7th after winning C-1 and could be one of the surprises of this race. She's been ranked all year and, with four or five wins under her belt, she may have the moxie to sneak into the top five. In addition, #9 Olivia Lawrence and #13 Lydia Stewart of Platteview have each showed signs of brilliance this season, so either could make an impact if they're feeling good.


Class D girls

Jordyn Arens of Crofton is only a junior but looking for her third State title. She’s won her two titles by 43 seconds and 54 seconds, but we think that Hannah Swanson of Nebraska Christian will be closer this year. Based on our records, we don’t believe Jordyn has lost a high school cross country race in Nebraska - ever - and we don’t think she’ll lose on Friday. Hannah will be chased by North Central's Angela Frick (#3) and Ainsworth's Katherine Kerrigan (#4), who won by 34 seconds over Frick at D-4 Districts (but again, Districts don't tell us much).


Freshmen Isabelle Peters (#6) of Tri-County and Dakota Horstman (#7) of Hemingford have been great this year, and they will be two of the four ranked freshmen at State (Frick and Lilly Harris of Homer are the other two). I wouldn't be surprised to see a freshman in the top five, but I have no idea which one it might be.


Class D boys

For Class D boys, Trey Robertson of Wallace has been an absolute stud in his senior year after playing football the first three years. We knew he’d been good because he won the 3200 title on the track in 2021, but we didn’t know he’d be this good. He’s repeatedly won against the second and third ranked boys in Class D – Mason McGreer of Perkins County and Jarrett Miles of North Platte St. Pat’s - but those races have been some of the best this season. Trey's only loss this year came when he moved up to the Class A race at the UNK meet; after an early lead, he finished back in 18th but still recorded a great time.


I’m not counting out McGreer or Miles at State, and we'll finally get to see how #4 Justin Sherman of Cornerstone matches up to the western Nebraska guys. Fifth-ranked Jacob Swanson of Nebraska Christian finished behind McGreer and Miles at UNK, but he's also won four races this year and has been incredibly consistent for a freshman.


I think there's a notable gap after the top five ranking (now the boys will go prove me wrong), so my wild card for this race is Jarrett Miles. He should be over his cold from last week, no one expects him to win the race despite his 1600 State title in May, and he'll probably be the most rested kid in the field. He's playing with house money, and there's nothing more dangerous than a hungry, talented runner.


So.. if we have favorites in six races, what about the remaining two?


Class B boys

The Class A and B boys titles are up for grabs. In Class B, there are legitimately at least eight boys who could win the title. Mesuidi Ejerso of South Sioux City is the defending champion, and he had not lost to another Class B for two years until Tommy Rice of Omaha Skutt won the River City Conference title two weeks ago. Mesuidi returned the favor last week in a fairly speedy District race, but we've probably done the SSC coach a favor by keeping Mesuidi at #3 in the final rankings.

Tommy is one of at least three Omaha Skutt boys who could win the title, although he stands above them after also winning the huge UNK Invite in September. #6 Jack Wade and #10 Alex Rice also have championship potential, and McCoy Haussler was Skutt's top finisher in 2021. Not to be outdone, Lexington probably has four boys who could also compete for the title – #5 Oscar Aguado-Mendez, #4 Jayden Ureste, #8 Lazaro Adame-Lopez and #11 Miguel Cruz-Mendoza – with Oscar and Jayden trading the top-dog titles all season. Riley Boonstra has been ranked 2nd for most of the last two years, and he’s running well after missing the UNK meet with a minor injury. Finally, Austin Carrera of Hastings has made a huge splash this season and has been ranked as high as 4th, but he was on crutches last week so we’re not sure how healthy he will be for State.


I don't have any wisdom for this race. You can pick a name out of the hat and that would be just as accurate as my guess.


Class A boys

In terms of Class A, there are as many as 10 contenders. Isaac Ochoa of Norfolk has been ranked first all season, although Juan Gonzalez of Fremont beat him at the conference meet two weeks ago. Isaac Graff of Lincoln East has been very consistent this fall, and he has been ranked 2nd or 3rd the entire season. Max Myers of Lincoln Southwest has risen to fourth after strong races the last four weeks, and Zach Schultz is a threat after a strong rebound from a few mid-season setbacks. We like Piercze Marshall and Jack Witte of Millard West; Marshall is looking for his third State medal, which doesn’t happen very often in Class A, while Witte always seems to overperform at State meets. Luke Johnson of Elkhorn South and Dennis Chapman of Creighton Prep also have the potential to pop off. While any of these boys could win, the two co-favorites are probably Ochoa and Gonzalez.


Team title chase

There are several teams where a major catastrophe would have to occur for them not to win a State title. The other six titles are up for grabs, and those six classes should have small margins among the top three finishers.


Class A girls

Lincoln East is a huge favorite to win Class A for the fifth consecutive year. Here’s the scary part; three of the four best runners will return next year, and they’re so deep they could probably qualify a second team for State. I think Fremont, Westside, Millard West and Papio South will fight for second, and it will likely come down to the 4th and 5th runners on each team.


Class B girls

The Norris girls are an equally-solid lock to defend their title. They currently have four girls ranked in the top 15, as well as a 5th girl who was ranked earlier this season. They will likely place three girls in the top 10, which really takes the pressure off their next three runners. Elkhorn North, Bennington and Skutt should be fighting for 2nd. I've seen Elkhorn North race several times, and the late-season improvements by Britt Prince and Jenna Polking - coupled with Ella Ford's season-long consistency - makes them my favorite for a runner-up trophy.


Class A boys

Fremont is a slight favorite over Millard West and Lincoln East. Each team has two legitimate medal contenders and at least one title contender, so the key will be how well the #4 and #5 runners fare. Fremont has won three of the last four years, but Gonzalez is their only runner with State experience. Millard West may have more top-end athletes while Fremont has a smaller gap between 2nd and 5th. Porter Bickley's late-season improvement from a summer injury has been crucial for Millard West's chances. However, Coach McMahon has developed a new batch of youngsters that may already be up to the challenge.


The dark horse is Lincoln East. They're not flashy but Graff, Davy and Arduser form a solid core, so they just need two of the other four boys to run well. Gretna was a surprising winner over Fremont at Districts, so we'll see if that strength plays out in a larger field. I suspect that none of the top teams did much tapering for Districts, so we haven't seen anyone's best results. There are a number of other solid teams, but I don't think they have enough low sticks to earn a podium spot.


Class B boys

Lexington and Omaha Skutt are in the middle of an epic rivalry. Those two teams are the only teams to place 1st or 2nd in the last five years. Skutt won State titles from 2017 to 2020, while Lexington eeked out a 4-point win in 2021. Both have at least four solid runners, and I’d expect a large pack of Lex and Skutt runners within 20 meters of the lead through at least 3k. Don’t be surprised if at least 7 of the first 10 finishers are from those two schools.


Does any other team have a realistic shot at breaking into the top two? I don't think so, but there's no shame in nabbing third place behind these two historically great teams.


Class C girls

The coaches’ poll says that Lincoln Christian, Auburn, McCook and DC West are the favorites. From what we can tell, Lincoln Christian has not lost to a Class C team this year and they edged Auburn in several small meets. McCook moved from Class B to C this year and has four solid runners who could give them their best finish in years. DC West finished 3rd at UNK behind Lincoln Christian and Auburn, but they’re going to have to run really well to close the points gap.


I'd give the nod to Lincoln Christian based on their body of work this season. However, it's shocking that they're the favorite despite only having ONE ranked runner for two weeks out of the season. Perhaps the guy (um, me) who ranks Class C runners is really stupid, or maybe Lincoln Christian has found success with a tight pack of girls who could finish just out of the medals. All four teams listed above were fairly close at UNK, as was fifth-ranked Wayne, which is coming off a stellar Districts race. I'd given each of those five teams an equal chance at the title, and Fort Calhoun could also be in the mix if their girls run to their potential.


Class C boys

Gothenburg has been the top-ranked team since the first week of the season. They have three guys ranked in the top 20 in State – Parker Graves, Ethan Olsen and Yahriel Gaeta – and Nathan Sager has also ran well this year. However, they’ll have their hands full with defending champ Fort Calhoun. Fort Calhoun didn’t look good in the first half of last season, but their boys were fit and healthy by State. They haven’t had as many injuries this year, their fitness has definitely improved from Week 1, and the Olberding twins should both compete for top-5 finishes. The coaches have Lincoln Christian and Milford ranked 3rd and 4th, but I think either Gothenburg and Fort Calhoun will win the title.


Class D girls

The Crofton girls are the defending champions and returned three of their top 4 from last year. They also added freshman Sophia Wortmann, who was their 2nd runner at Districts where five girls medaled. Hemingford earned a #1 ranking after winning the UNK invite by 30 points, led by freshman and 7th-ranked Dakota Horstman, but they fell to #3 after Districts. Ignore the polls; if Horstman, Carlye Kresl and Aurora Hinsman run as well at State as they did at UNK, Hemingford will win the title. Nebraska Christian is deep and has a low stick in Hannah Swanson, so they should be near the top with Ainsworth, Crofton and Aquinas. Ainsworth had no seniors last year when they finished 3rd behind Crofton and Nebraska Christian. All five of these teams are capable of winning the title.


Class D boys

Finally, the Class D boys title hunt appears to be a three-team race between North Platte St. Pat’s, Nebraska Christian and Cornerstone Christian. St. Pat’s has not lost to a Class D team this year and easily qualified at Districts – they had 5 of the first 10 finishers - despite not racing Jarrett Miles, who sat out with an illness. St. Pat’s edged Nebraska Christian in their only head-to-head matchup at UNK, but neither team has faced Cornerstone Christian (Bellevue), which has been ranked third all season. Cornerstone has 4th-ranked Justin Sherman and 14th-ranked Ben Ehrenberg, and Ashton Hughes is also on our watch list.


I like St. Pat’s for the title assuming that Jarrett Miles is fully healthy. Cornerstone is the wild card because the team wasn't at UNK. They handily won over #4 McCool Junction and #6 Tri-County at Districts, and they haven't had a well-matched Class D competitor all year.


The basics

There were four Districts in Class A and B, five Districts in Class C and six Districts in Class D, and each District advanced three team qualifiers and a total of 15 individual qualifiers per District. Consequently, at the State meet the Class A and B races have 12 teams each, Class C has 15 teams and Class D has 18 teams. The max number of competitors per team also varies by Class; Class A runs 7 and scores the top 5, Class B & C run 6 and score 4, and Class D runs 5 and scores 3. If a team qualifier doesn't finish the minimum number of scorers, they won't have a team score in the final standings.


The race schedule is as follows:

12:00 D boys - Four-man race for the title plus tight team races.

12:30 C boys - Will Carson Noecker make history?

1:00 D girls - Jordyn Arens shoot for title #3 while the team title is wide open.

1:30 C girls - Keeli Green and Lindee Henning should give us a show

2:00 Break for D/C awards

2:30 B boys - The big boys of XC - Lex and Skutt - face off

3:00 A boys - Tightly contested individual and team races

3:30 B girls - Can anyone break the dominance of Seiler and Norris?

4:00 A girls - Murray, Sievers, Miner... need I say more?

4:30 B/A awards


Here's the course map.


Advance e-tickets are required (sort of). Buy them here.


Sentimental favorites

I don’t actually cheer for anyone because it’s hard to keep the camera steady when I do. However, there are a few kids I’d like to see do well.


First, we have twelve volunteer Nerds who have been taking pictures the entire season, and three of the volunteer Nerds are parents who will have runners in the Class D races. These Nerd athletes are Axi Benish from Leyton, Jarrett Miles from St. Pat’s and Preston Kuskie from Wood River.


We’re also rooting for the Omaha Duchesne girls. They drew a tough District assignment last year at Mount Michael that featured four of the top six teams, and they did not qualify. Their prospects looked great for this year, but their top returner (Mary Kramper) missed this season due to a medical issue. Even worse, Ali Tupper was killed in June in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. The Duchesne team has received tremendous support from their competitors this year, and the team qualified with a 3rd place finish in the B-1 District.


Finally, we’re rooting for Cole Barnett from Southwest Public. He’s a senior and qualified for State for the first time this year, and his dad is the biggest running nerd on radio. We're not entirely sure why he keeps inviting me back for interviews, but it's been fun to do.


Somehow this year means more

I had the privilege to have at least one son competing at State for seven consecutive years from 2014-2020 and yet somehow I feel more emotionally invested in this year's meet. There just seems to be a higher level of excellence across all classes, a stronger camaraderie and friendship between competitors, and a general recognition by teenagers - yes, those selfish teenagers - that this season has been less about running and more about letting God reveal His plans for us. I think this is particularly true for the Class B girls, who have bonded in person and on Instagram. I've never seen a pre-race huddle of the entire race field, but if it were to happen, this seems like the year.


Here is to great races, to the loved ones we've lost, to the friends we've made, to Ali's memory, for the grace of God.


Celebrate the journey

We've had a lot of important messages to share in the last month including 'Fail Forward,' 'Celebrate the Journey,' and 'Leave No Room for Fear of Doubt.' Competing at State is something that few of us ever accomplish, and please take the time to enjoy it. One race does not define, either for good or bad. Clear your mind, count your blessings and give your best effort. We'll be cheering for you the entire way.


On an unrelated note, I'm celebrating this journey because this article represents my final XC deadline of the season. State meet photos will be posted in due time and I'll probably write a season-ending Nerdsletter when I get around to it. Good luck and may God bless you all.


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Originally published at www.preprunningnerd.com on October 20, 2022.


Do you see any errors, typos or key omissions? It's even more likely this week since we're still typing at midnight. Send an e-mail to jayslagle@hotmail.com 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.

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