Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Contributor: The Nerd
Conference meets, the State Junior High championships, two weeks remaining in the season, and a tease on interviews with seventeen of the fastest runners in the state. This week's newsletter is a doozy. Put in your pocket protectors, fans, because it is time to Nerd out.
Our followers went above and beyond this week. We identified 25 Nebraska high school meets through Facebook and Twitter, and we tracked down results for all of them. In addition, the results page at www.preprunningnerd.com/results includes links to the Omaha Public Schools junior high meet on Wednesday and the State junior high meet on Saturday.
There were so many meets on Thursday that I also posted a blog with a breakdown of a few of them. That post is here and includes a short commentary on the Metro meet that I attended.
I received a few messages yesterday with results links to college races. While I love college racing and I am a biased supporter of my two college kids, I just don't have the bandwidth to post college results. I'm going to take and post pictures at meets where my boys run, but my main focus on our College tab is getting high school runners to consider competing in college.
Our rankings ain't science
I've had a few questions about our individual rankings, which we publish every Tuesday. Just to be clear, we did not get a graduate degree in rankology - we're simply the only people willing to put in the time and chase down meet results from all over Nebraska to make semi-educated guesses. However, here's a summary of our non-scientific approach:
Class A rankings are the easiest. With only 31 teams concentrated in Omaha and Lincoln, they face each other quite a bit during the season. In addition, they run established courses that have a long history of times, so we can judge times against the difficulty of the course.
Class C and D rankings are the hardest. There are certain parts of the state where meet results go to die, although our followers have done a great job of e-mailing us results. It's also hard because (a) some meets are quite small, (b) we're not familiar with the courses and they can be long or short, (c) the meets often include competitors for Class B through D, and (d) the UNK meet is often the only time we see teams from the east and west match up before State.
The farther west you go, the tougher it is to rank teams. North Platte ventures east enough times for us to get a gauge on their athletes, but we really struggle with Sidney, Ainsworth, Gering and a few other prominent schools. We've also noticed that some programs are racing less often - which isn't a bad idea - but that further diminishes the likelihood of match-ups against other top runners.
We place a lot of reliance on head-to-head matchups. Someone commented last week that their runner was ranked lower than others despite having better times than the higher-ranked runners. In some instances we can look at race results and tell that the course is short - for example, the DC West and St. Paul meets - simply by looking at the top 10 finishers for boys and girls and comparing them to their season-best marks. Conversely, on a hot day the McCook home course sounds like the XC version of hell, and on a cool day it sounds like purgatory.
While we put more reliance on late-season results, one head-to-head match up doesn't sway our opinion. Coaches for a lot of the top runners are purposely having their athletes run on tired legs during the first six weeks of the season, which should lead to a strong finish. However, if Athlete A beat Athlete B three times and then Athlete B won last week, we probably have Athlete A ranked higher.
At the end of the day, rankings are just a way to create more interest for this awesome sport. It's the busiest page on our website for a reason. The only rankings that really matter are the State results, and even they aren't that important. Running brings so many more rewards than State medals.
Lexington is killing me
Speaking of rankings, the Lexington boys team is so talented that they refuse to settle on an established order of finishers at each of their meets. That, in turn, makes is nearly impossible to rank them. For example, in Tuesday's rankings we'll be elevating Oscar Aguado to 5th in State. Among his team, however, he's placed 6th, 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd and 2nd in their 7 meets. His teammate Jayden Ureste, who will be ranked 8th on Tuesday, has team finishes of 1st, 3rd, 6th, 1st, 1st, 3rd and 3rd. It would be so much easier if they would just pick their #1 runner and stick with it...
I spoke with a Wayne athlete at Junior High State, and she confirmed the rumors; Class C defending champ Alexus Sindelar of Pierce is competing again. Earlier in the season I was told that she tore her ACL in the spring, but she ran a 21:15 at O'Neill on 9/17 and finished 3rd in 20:44 at the Mid-States Conference meet on 10/7. At that meet, she finished four seconds behind her teammate, 14th-ranked Callie Arnold. Defending champs should always defend their title, so we're happy to see her back to racing.
Class B defending champion Madison Seiler of Gering did not race this week but is on track to compete at Districts. She ran a solo 21:06 in a JV race three weeks ago and 19:47 two weeks ago on a Scottsbluff course that may have been a bit short. Madison broke her foot on July 1st during a basketball game, and I don't believe she started to run again until at least late August.
Colby Erdkamp of Gretna missed the UNK Invite with a sprained ankle. He was not fully recovered for the Metro meet on Thursday, where he finished 33rd in 17:47. The UNL commit is looking to get back into racing form by State, and we expect Gretna to qualify for State even if Colby doesn't race to his expectations at Districts.
Deavion Deleon of Papio South did not race at Metros due to an illness but was just fine yesterday when she served as a Nerd intern at the State junior high meet. She's ranked 5th in Class A and has excellent handwriting. She's also very polite. Deavion and Michael Stamps were a big help yesterday, and I got them out of having to pick up junior high kids who were throwing up in the finish chute.
Lindee Henning of Ogallala is ranked 2nd in Class C but has not competed the last two weeks as she works through an ankle injury. Her coach is being cautious on her return but we expect to see her at Districts. I had a chance to interview her last week, and she's got some serious spunk.
The people you see
During my walk with the basset hounds this morning, I ran into the mother of a Duchesne athlete. An hour later I was at the grocery store and ran into a boy wearing a USATF T-shirt, a nerdy and sweet piece of apparel that you can't sneak by the Nerd. I found out that Matt Mueller competes for the Wings of Omaha and placed 3rd at USATF Nationals in the 800 in the 9-10 age group. I hope to see Matt at high school meets in... what... four years?
Single-site Districts for Class A
The Class A District assignments were announced early last week for the meet to be held this Thursday at Pioneer Park in Lincoln. Sixteen months I wrote a long article on this topic and how 75% of Class A coaches were opposed to the idea, but it moved through the legislative process due to Class B, C and D support even though the proposal didn't impact those classes. The NSAA is trying to make the best of a bad deal. Thursday's schedule will feature District A-1 and A-2 races at 12:00, 12:30, 1:00 and 1:30, a gap from 2:00 to 3:00 which is presumably to clear out parking (but probably won't), and then A-3 and A-4 at 3:00, 3:30, 4:00 and 4:30. At least six schools have 3.5 to 4.5 hour gaps between their boys' and girls' races. Lincoln Northeast, Omaha Central and Westside have the worst schedule, with girls racing at 12:00 and boys at 4:30.
Parking is tight when Pioneer Park hosts a two-District meet. I can't imagine how bad it will be for four Districts, but I hope to be there. If you have a food truck, you'll make a killing there -- if you can find a parking spot.
On the bright side, a proposal to revert to two District sites is winding its way through the NSAA decision making process, and it passed the first test with flying colors. The Nerd was even referenced in the proposal; I shed a few tears when I heard that.
Really, I'm not this social outside of running
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Carson Noecker, and in the last seven days I've interviewed 15 other athletes. After I interview Jordyn Arens tomorrow afternoon, I'll have accomplished the ultimate Sweet 16: phone interviews with the top two ranked boys and girls in each Class, plus 3rd-ranked Sam Kirchner. I'll be posting articles on those interviews during State week. With 17 interviews to write, however, next week's Nerdsletter may be a bit slim. Here are a few teasers, some of which I've tweeted throughout the past week:
Of the 17, Samantha Rodewald of McCook may have run the most miles this summer.
Ty Schlueter ran at 6:45 a.m. this summer so he'd have time to work 8-10 hours on his family ranch the rest of the day. Now that State is closer, he has a few chores he'll avoid for a while - and they're not something that you or I would probably do at any point in our lives.
Hannan Swanson was super nervous last year as a freshman when she ran the UNK course - primarily because she had been to numerous State meets in prior years with her family - because running nerds go to State meets even when relatives aren't running.
Many of the Class B, C and D runners play for their basketball team in the winter - even though Hannah Swanson admits she's not very good at it.
Carson Noecker, easily the most dominant Class C boys runner in years, gives God more credit than mileage for his success. When you hear about his mileage, you will probably agree. Riley Boonstra's mileage may be even lower than Carson's.
Mesuidi Ejerso didn't speak English four years when he arrived at the Washington DC airport. He had to use hand gestures to explain to a fellow traveler that he wanted to use that person's phone to call Ethiopia to let his father know that they had arrived safely in the US.
Jaci Sievers is ranked 14th in the USA Triathlon junior elite rankings while club teammate Sam Kirchner is ranked 52nd.
At least two runners are aiming to break the State meet record for their respective Classes.
I tweeted out a query mid-week asking for athletes or parents to rat out on coaches who were absolute studs in high school and/or college. I had too many responses to post all of them, but a few highlights:
Theresa Stelling Gosnell, a Westside coach, ran at Auburn High School and UNL. Her high school bests were 5:00.06 in the 1600 and 10:44 in the 3200 and she won the 1989 Class B State XC title. At UNL, she was a four-time NCAA All-American, placing as high as 5th in the NCAA championships in the 5000. She's a member of the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame.
John Gathje, the Mount Michael coach, was a standout at St. John's (MN), running a 5000 PR of 14:20 on the track. He is rumored to still be running 1:20 half marathons.
Bekka Morgan (Rebecca Simko), a coach at Lincoln Christian, competed at Arkansas and Penn State. She competed in the 800 at the 2012 Olympic Trials and had a PR of 2:03.
Shawn Wheelock of Doane is still the 1500 record holder at Doane with his 3:49 in 1987, and that converts to a 4:07 mile. Tommy Feichtinger, an assistant coach at Mount Michael, ran a 4:08 mile at St. John's (MN).
Ramsey Kavan Fitzsimmons, who coaches with her husband Sean at South Sioux City, is the person who provoked my tweet. While working on Mesuidi Ejerso's interview, I learned (not from her) that she competed at Yankton (SD) High School, and finished 6th and 3rd, respectively, in the 2003 and 2004 Foot Locker Nationals XC meet. She also won the girls title at the first-ever Nike Cross Nationals in 2004. She set South Dakota state records in the 1600 (4:43.5) and was a member of the 4x800 record-setting team (9:01.19). She qualified for NCAA nationals in the 1600 as a freshman at Notre Dame before transferring to South Dakota where she continued to see great success.
Thank you for your grace
We inevitably will make errors, especially when we try to tweet names like Karjalainen or Wasilewski, which were the first two finishers of the first race at the State junior high meet (two names that almost broke the Papio South kids I recruited to help me). Coaches and parents are probably a bit surprised to get a DM from me asking rather directly why their athlete didn't race this week, or how rehab is going. Bad result links, typos, ranking a kid in the wrong class - we've done all of that this year. Aside from a troll who wanted to get into an argument about why the UNK meet (which featured 75% of all ranked runners) wasn't a great meet, you all have been awesome about supporting the Nerd staff and thanking us for the spotlight we're giving to runners. As always, if you see us at a meet, come say 'hi'. We're hoping to have new jackets for the State meet that will make it a bit clearer who we are.
On a similar note, this was written on one of my interview sheets, but I have no idea where I got it: "Accept that everyone is imperfect, and understand that expecting perfection is a recipe for disappointment." Perhaps I was thinking about how many errors I was going to make on this Nerdsletter.
State track meet format
I had hoped to publish an article about the NSAA's announcement regarding the four-day State track meet in May 2022. While I've gotten a lot of feedback from coaches, I want to spend some time talking with the NSAA before I publish anything. They're entering championship season and I've got 17 interviews to publish, so I'm going to postpone the article until I can speak intelligently on the topic.
Christmas is coming
The Nerd staff has a lot of big ideas but sometime we're a bit late in executing. Last Sunday we opened a link for 48 hours - limiting the window so they would hopefully arrive before State - to allow people to order version #2 of our Nerd t-shirt. We sold 80 at cost so we'll likely do one more run of t-shirts before Christmas. Version #3 is already in the works - in my head.
Are mustaches legal in high school races?
As I was shooting pictures at the Metro meet, it occurred to me that high school runners shouldn't be allowed to wear mustaches. There are decades of research that shows that mustaches are the equivalent of performance enhancing drugs, and you need look no further than the historic Olympic success of marathoner Frank Shorter and swimmer Mark Spitz. Pro runner Craig Engels was a nobody until he grew a mustache and mullet at Ole Miss, and Alex Trebek nearly ruined his Jeopardy career when he shaved his mustache.
I was going to stay quiet about this very important issue until after the season was over, but I ran into Papio South's Connor Hadaway (pictured here) at the State junior high meet. Seriously, is it fair to the other runners that we let athletes like Connor cheat the system?
The godfather of the Nerd
I may have done this before, but I want to give a huge shoutout to Dustin Lewellyn, who decided six years ago that Nebraska distance running needed more attention. He started the Nebraska Elite TC website and went nuts on Twitter, doing video interviews and sending out race results. I liked what he was doing and volunteered to start writing articles for him. The NETC website and Twitter account were shut down this summer and Dustin handed the Nerd keys over to me. After five years, we still haven't reached the number of followers that Dustin had on Twitter, but we're doing our best to honor his vision.
One happy ending to the OPS decision
In looking at college results earlier this season, I stumbled on Nick Abdalla's results for UNK. You may recall that Nick medaled as a sophomore at State XC in 2018. He then transferred from Bryan to Omaha South and missed the XC season in 2019, but he was expected to be a top-5 contender in 2020. The OPS fall sports cancellation dashed that dream, and we feared it crushed his dream to compete in college. We're thrilled that he found a home at UNK.
Junior High State Championships, 10/9
The Junior High State Championships (JHSC) began in 2012 and, except for a 2020 visit to Gering, have been hosted by the Papillion South High School XC staff on their Walnut Creek course. It's easily the largest JH meet in Nebraska, featuring restricted-entry boys and girls championship races as well boys and girls open races. Coach Haselhorst and Coach Stenger run it well; the first of four races was at 1:00 and the awards ceremony wrapped up shortly after 3:00.
If you're afraid of crowds, this meet is not your scene. The boys Championship race had 305 boys, and the smallest race was the girls Open with just 164 girls. I had the chance to sit at the starter's feet for the start of a few of the races, and I commented that the environment was electric (see my Twitter posts for videos of runners coming straight at me - and one almost taking me out). I go to a lot of nearby XC races, and I'd say the JHSC only trails the State High School and Augustana Twilight meets in terms of excitement and atmosphere.
This meet is a great chance to see future stars. I'm probably missing a few names here, but in looking at the top 3 finishers in the Championship races from 2012-2019, I see the following athletes who went on to State high school XC titles: Jordyn Arens of Crofton, Madison Seiler of Gering, Rylee Rice of Ainsworth, Eli Frasher of David City Aquinas, Aidan Wheelock of Minden, Jake Ralston of Papio South, Ryan Zavadil of Omaha Skutt, and Carson Noecker of Hartington.
I had a few coaches reach out to me afterwards to suggest that perhaps the meet has gotten so big that it might be time to break it down into four classes like the State high school meet. I'd argue against that for the following reasons:
Yes, with a big field, a slow start can doom a talented runner to a poor finish. However, that's championship racing. In a 3000-meter race, there are significant advantages to going out fast. Better to learn that lesson in junior high.
Once high school starts, we rarely see a state-wide field of the best kids regardless of class. While this year's champ Eli Murillo will likely face Connor Boyle in Class A in future years, they probably won't race against 3rd place Isa Portillo-Munoz (Lexington) or 5th-place Jonathan Rico (Nebraska City) in high school. We all wish we could see Carson Noecker face off against Gabe Hinrichs this year, but that isn't going to happen.
While the top finishers in this year's Championship races skewed towards future Class A competitors, that's not always the case. On the boy's side, there has been at least one non-Class A in the top three of the Championship race in each race since 2012, and two of three in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Smaller fields mean smaller crowds unless you run 8 races at the same course, and then you're diluting the talent in each race.
I'm not an expert on how junior highs feed into high schools, but I would imagine that some junior high schools don't fit nicely into the Class A, B, C or D category. In addition, a State meet by Class could conceivably rule out the kids who attend junior highs that don't have XC teams and are forced to join USATF club teams.
Speaking of Eli Murillo... wow. The 8th grader from Marrs Magnet broke Isaac Ochoa's course record by five seconds, running the 3000-meter course in 10:02. For those who don't follow Class A high school running, Isaac Ochoa runs for Norfolk, is ranked 4th as a sophomore, and last fall finished 5th at the State high school meet AS A FRESHMAN. Freshman boys rarely medal in Class A, so that gives you a reference point for how impressive Eli's run was yesterday.
My path crossed with Eli last fall when I sponsored a XC race for the kids who had their season cancelled due to OPS' ill-fated decision. On a very hot day, Eli knocked out a 18:49 5k at Walnut Creek as a tiny 7th grader. He's grown a lot since then, and he looks like a high school kid already. He also won the OPS City meet on Wednesday by over 90 seconds. Word has it that Eli is headed to Omaha South next fall, and I'm sure Coach Tripp will be thrilled to have him.
This is also a great meet to see younger siblings of current and former high school runners. If I'm not mistaken, that would include Connor Boyle (2nd in Champ race, Tyler Boyle - LSW), Elijah Bickley (33rd, Porter Bickley - Millard West), George Hurt (5th in Open, Jessie Hurt - Minden), Noah Wooten (8th in Open, Kaleb Wooten - Plattsmouth/Bellevue U), and Miriam Deanda (16th in Champ, Marisol Deanda - Schuyler). I'm guessing there's at least 100 more siblings like these.
I took about 3500 photos at the meet that will get edited down to less than 2000. Be patient and keep checking www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd for those pictures.
Bugs are popular these days?
Taia Green finished 3rd in the girls Open race, and her mom Jody retweeted my tweet. With 2400 followers and high-volume tweeting, that's not unusual. However, her quote tweet started out, "Not bug-related, but my girl...", which seemed like an odd way to start a tweet. So I looked at her profile at @jodyBugsMeUNL. Jody is an entomologist, has almost 3000 Twitter followers, and she tweets almost exclusively about bugs. Suddenly, my total of 2400 followers doesn't seem very impressive.
Well, that was my Sunday...
My wife is on a 10-day trip so my only obligations today were to make sure the two basset hounds didn't eat a shoe. At just under 4,000 words, this is probably the last long Nerdsletter you're going to get. Work permitting, I'll be attending the Class A super-Districts on Thursday, the collegiate Peoria Pink Classic on Friday, and then tweeting a lot of links to the Districts on the NSAA website.
May your inner nerd shine brightly.
Originally written for and posted at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay Slagle.
Like this coverage of Nebraska high school distance running? There's more of this at www.preprunningnerd.com. Check out the Blog tab for our frequent stories, the Articles tab for long-form articles, the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we could find this year, and the Rankings tab for team and individual rankings. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow us on Twitter @PrepRunningNerd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd. Finally, if you thinking runners are the best thing on earth, you'll enjoy our article, "The Runner with the Broken Heart," from 2018. Since we wrote it, Noah Lambrecht has been a guest at the State of the Union address, won a national award for perseverance in sports, and been featured in Runners' World.