Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Contributor: The Nerd
I love distance running. Districts and State are two of the best weeks of the year. But man, am I tired. However, fellow running nerds, all of us need to raise our game this week. There's a lot cheering, writing, picture-taking and loving that needs to be done this week while our athletes shift to hyper-rest, so let's finish strong.
The most popular story this week is about a disqualification?
I love to cover fast runners but the best human interest stories are often found farther back in the pack. The last three days would have been a whirlwind anyway, but Brandon Schutt and Blake Cerveny have made my life absolutely crazy. At 2:30 on Friday, I posted a tweet about how Blake collapsed with 75 meters remaining at the A-2 District meet and Brandon stopped to help him finish. Within an hour, Nerd Junior texted that 'Dad was due for a banger tweet.' I'm not hip enough to know what meant, but the tweet quickly went viral as did a longer Facebook post that I wrote when I got home that night. With nearly one million social media engagements since then, it's obviously a story that people want to hear. If you have ten minutes to spare, I have written a 2500-word follow-up article on our website.
No room for fear or doubt
The teenage years can be anxiety-ridden, and I've heard from more than one parent in the last few weeks how their runners are a nervous wreck over Districts and/or State. Thanks to my wife's delayed flight home on Wednesday night, I pounded out an article that addressed this issue. It's been viewed over 3,000 times, becoming our most popular blog post of the season. Heck, Emma Bonsall of Kearney even gave us a shout-out on Instagram about how the article helped her relax during her Districts race (my Nerd heart was so happy). Give it a read and share it with your runners.
Your season is over. You won.
One of our most popular articles over the past two years has been the article, 'Your Season is Over. You Won'. I don't usually post it until after State but, sadly, over 80% of all Nebraska high school had their seasons end last week. If you're running at State, promise me you'll avoid the 'Your Season Is Over' article until at least Friday night.
All great things must come to an end
In addition to being a Nerd, I'm also a dad to two awesome runners. Jack and Henry both competed at the Bradley Pink Classic on Friday in Peoria, and it was probably Jack's last collegiate cross country race. After nearly three years of injuries, Jack made great strides this season and I couldn't be more proud of him. Although he likely has two years left of eligibility due to COVID and medical redshirts, he'll hang up his racing spikes in May and head off to public accounting. Jack was the reason I became the Nerd, but I've never written an article about either him or Henry. I eventually will do something to honor both of them, but right now I don't have the time to be continually wipe tears off my keyboard. Until then... Jack, thank you for giving me so much joy.
Rankings this week
On Tuesday we will be issuing our final rankings of the year. I don't expect big shake-ups. A good number of the best runners have the luxury of training through Districts, so while we'll take into account really fast times, we won't give much weight to slow ones. For example, if we based rankings solely on District times, Millard West's boys would plummet in the rankings. Their top five cruised to a relatively effortless 17:05 finish. Based on the Strava workouts I've seen, they have still not tapered.
I didn't think it was possible, but we have tracked down the complete results for every one of the 19 District meets. They're posted at www.preprunningnerd.com/results. If you want to review a slim-downed version, the NSAA has posted all of the team and individual qualifiers at https://nsaahome.org/cross-country/ under the Districts + section.
You were right, I was wrong... sort of
Thursday was a beautiful day for the single-site Class A District meets at Pioneers' Park in Lincoln. I was fully prepared to post pictures of cars parking on top of each other, but parking was plentiful and the meet was exceptionally well run. For a number of teams the time gaps between their boys and girls races were three hours or more, but it was nice to see all of the competitors at one site. However, the main purpose of the single-site proposal was to ensure that the highest-ranked teams advanced to State - which almost always happened under the old system. For this boys, Millard North was the only top-10 that did not qualify, displaced by North Platte, which had never been ranked this season. On the girls side, all of the top-10 teams qualified plus two of the four previously-ranked teams.
Motivation for Gabe Hinrichs
Carson Noecker of Hartington-Newcastle won C-3 District meet in 14:58, the fastest in-State time since Seth Hirsch's 14:56 in 2016. I'm not going to go out to Pierce and hand-wheel the course, but the Battle Creek coach knows the course well and feels it's a legitimate time. I spoke with Carson two weeks ago and a sub-15:00 race was on his radar, and he's certainly capable of it. Like every race he's run this year, I expect Carson to be alone by the 800 meter mark at State. Carson set the Class C State meet record as a freshman with his 16:03, improved it to 15:22 last year, and seems poised to break the record a third time this year.
On the other hand, we expect Gabe Hinrichs of Elkhorn South to have some company in the Class A race, although he's still the heavy favorite. Gabe is shooting for the Class A and all-class State meet record is 15:04 set by Seth Hirsch in 2016. I've seen quite a few of Gabe's races this year, he makes a 15:30 look like he's jogging, and I think he's got a great shot at breaking 15:00. However, I'm still leaning towards Carson Noecker for the all-class gold. Go ahead, Gabe, prove me wrong.
Massacre at the Mount
Cross country dominance goes through cycles, but the best Class B girls teams this year seem to be congregated on the east side of the State. At the Massacre at the Mount (Michael), Class B #2, #3, #4 and #5 girls teams faced off for just three spots. Despite 3 medalists, Duchesne was 4th with 45 points. Elkhorn North won with 26, Blair 2nd with 32, and Bennington 3rd with 37.
I know the Omaha Duchesne team pretty well, and it's heartbreaking to see them not qualify for State. However, given the wide geographic area of Class B - with strong representation in western Nebraska - a shift to the Class A seeding model could result in sending some of the 25 or 26 Class A teams on four- to six-hour bus rides for District meets. I don't have a solution for that, so I'm just going to feel sad for Duchesne.
A final note - even with just three girls competing at State, I am almost certain that the Duchesne fans will scream louder than anyone else on the State course. I'll bring my ear plugs.
Get out the brooms
District assignments can be Massacres at the Mount or they can be clean sweeps. The Omaha Skutt boys swept the top six spots at B-1 Districts with a miniscule time spread of 21 seconds separating their six runners. North Platte St. Pat's also swept the D-5 District with the top five finishers, but with a larger time gap of 1:15 between their 1st and 3rd runners.
The best team battle at State?
Speaking of Skutt, we expect a huge showdown at State between the Skutt and Lexington boys. While Lexington didn't have a sweep at their B-4 District meet, they placed their six boys in the top 9 and had a spread of 30 seconds between the six boys. In their one meeting this year, Lexington beat Skutt 27 to 74 at the UNK meet, but Skutt's roster was limited by injuries and heat-related issues. They're fully healthy again and it should be heck of a title match.
Return from the dead
I'll post my interview with Madison Seiler of Gering later this week, but this seems to be the season of miraculous resurrections. The Class B defending champ broke her ankle playing basketball on July 1st, had major surgery on July 8th, and didn't run her first mile until September 8 (six weeks ago). She ran her first race 10 days later in 21:06, ran 19:47 two weeks later, and just popped off a 18:57 at the B-4 District meet while outsprinting Class B #1 Samantha Rodewald. We're going to keep Samantha at #1 for the pre-State rankings due to her season-long body of work, but Madison is the first Class B girl to go under 19:00 this season.
We're looking forward to an absolute slugfest at State between Rodewald, Seiler, Kendall Zavala (Norris) and Kassidy Stuckey (York). I would also not be surprised to also see Gabriela Calderon (Bennington), Britt Prince (Elkhorn North) and Ellie Thomas (Norris) in the lead pack.
Class C defending champion Alexus Sindelar had major knee surgery this spring and was expected to miss the entire XC season. However, she returned to racing on September 17 and qualified 4th at C-3 Districts with a season-best 20:23. We don't think she'll be in the title mix with Keeli Green, Lindee Henning and Lily Kenning, but it's incredibly impressive to see her running so well.
Speaking of Lindee Henning, the Ogallala sophomore bounced back from a three-week layoff (ankle injury) to win the C-5 Districts in 18:54, a 34-second PR. She now joins Keeli Green in the Class C sub-19:00 club. The girls have only been running 5000 meters since 2013, but Keeli and Lindee both appear ready to break Alexus Sindelar's State meet record of 19:18 from last year.
Records are made to be broken
With all respect to previous studs, is 2021 one of the best XC seasons in Nebraska high school history? Four years ago we were wondering if at least four boys could dip under 16:00 minutes. Weather permitting, I think we could see at least eight. On top of that, I think all of the girls' State meet records are in jeopardy.
Here are the State meet records by Class:
A: Jeralyn Poe, Lincoln North Star, 18:14 (2013) and Seth Hirsch, Millard West, 15:04 (2016)
B: Mazie Larsen, Gretna, 18:32 (2016) and Greg Kahnk, Elkhorn, 15:25 (1987)
C: Alexus Sindelar, Pierce, 19:18 (2020) and Carson Noecker, Hartington-Newcastle, 15:22 (2020)
D: Rylee Rice, Ainsworth, 18:34 (2016) and Ben Arens, Ainsworth, 16:02 (2018)
How many will be broken?
In Class A, Elli Dahl, Jaci Sievers, Gabe Hinrichs, Sam Kirchner and Daniel Romary could have a chance.
In Class B, I don't think the boys' mark is in jeopardy, and I learned today that it''s a not-very-secret-secret that the 1987 course was probably short due to a change in the course to avoid construction work. For the girls, I do think Rodewald, Stuckey, Zavala and Seiler could threaten 18:34.
In Class C, barring bad weather, I'm almost certain Keeli Green and/or Lindee Henning will break Sindelar's mark, and I expect Noecker to run below the 15:22 standard.
In Class D, Jordyn Arens has a legitimate shot at breaking Rylee Rice's record, and the top Class D boys are so well-matched that they could push each other to a sub-16:00 finish.
How difficult is it to qualify for State?
I noted in a previous article that about 18% of Nebraska XC athletes qualified for State in 2020. Coach Sasges from Homer provided some interesting comparisons:
Class D has 109 8-man football teams; 64 (58%) will make it to the State playoffs.
Class D has 110 schools competing in cross country; only 18 (16%) will make it to State.
I never had the slightest interest in playing football, so these statistics would not have deterred me from running cross country. Running is supposed to be challenging, and this is just one more reason why.
A Nerdy observation all the way from North Platte
I love that we have high school coaches following us, and Coach Hasenauer from North Platte threw a Nerdy zinger to us via a Twitter DM:
"Here's a fun running nerd stat I saw when I was looking at results tonight from last year as we head into state. The 12 Class A boys teams competing at State this year are the exact same 12 as last year. In addition, Lincoln North Star was one point away at districts from having the same four district team champions as well. Fremont, Millard West and Papillion La Vista South won Districts in both years, but 2020 District champ North Star finished second in 2021 on a tiebreaker (sixth-man placement)."
The OPS decision continues to haunt us
My kids went to Catholic high schools but I've got a soft spot for public high schools in the metro areas. I hated the OPS' decision to cancel Fall 2020 sports. I wrote about it a year ago and I updated the story after the State track meet.
Two interesting stats tell you how badly this decision has damaged the distance running programs within OPS. At the 2021 T&F District meets, the seven OPS schools could have entered a total of 42 boys and girls in each event. In the 3200, there were just four OPS boys and no OPS girls.
This past Thursday, just two OPS athletes qualified for State XC: Tommy Vasquez of Burke and Sergio Martinez-Cruz of Omaha South. The obstacles for a team qualifier will be even higher next year when two new OPS high schools open, further diluting the talent. Do you want a tough job? Go be an OPS cross country coach.
Your XC coach is underpaid
This may hold true for all high school coaches, but I have a ton of respect for cross country coaches. My Nerd work the past five years has allowed me to get to know quite a few Class A coaches, and this year I've been able to connect with coaches from all of the other classes. They are coaches, social workers, mental health counselors and motivational speakers. They are awesome.
Do you love all of this coverage? Thank my wife.
My two sons have been a huge help in expanding our coverage this season. Henry has a tougher class schedule than Jack, so he's been mostly in charge of our Instagram account, the t-shirt project and giving input on Class A rankings. Jack publishes the rankings each week, cleans up all of my website errors, and will be publishing a Class A preview and some cool ranking features this week. We're not sure if we'll have Nerd the Third at State on Friday, but Jack will definitely be there.
However, the biggest credit may go to my wife. She has let me work on Nerd stuff every weeknight and almost the entire weekend for the past six weeks. I promised her that she'd get her husband back on Saturday, but there's a problem; we'll have about 20,000 photos to edit.
Photos will eventually be posted
We were at the Class A Districts on Thursday, the Bradley Pink Classic on Friday and I devoted most of Saturday to the Blake Cerveny story. With 18 interviews to write and publish by Thursday, we don't expect to post any more photos until after State. As I often say, be patient: we take cool pictures. And they're free.
Errors? DM or e-mail me
With State on Friday, we're pushing out a ton of content in a very short amount of time. If you see errors, please DM me on social media or send an e-mail to email@example.com. We'll do our best to update the website as quickly as possible. Thanks again for all of your gentle corrections; social media can be cruel but you have all been great.
Let's amp up the signage
I saw a few signs at the Class A Districts, but I know you all can do better for State. Bring the signs to the starting line and we'll do our best to find you.
Come say 'hi'
The Nerd team received some new swag (above) this week, so we should stand out at the State meet. If you see us, don't hesitate to say 'hi' or 'I love you, Nerd.' Maybe I'll respond back, "No, I love you Nerd." The world can never have enough running nerds.
Coming up this week
As if we haven't posted enough content in the two days, here's what we hope to publish in the next five days:
State previews by class, and possibly Nerd predictions.
Interviews with 18 athletes ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the Nerd rankings. I've already finished my article on Ty Schlueter, Trevor Kuncl, Jordyn Arens and Hannah Swanson, and we'll post that on Monday.
Some other random thing that I'll write about even though I should go to bed.
The best way to know when we publish something to new is to follow PrepRunningNerd on Twitter or Facebook. We'll post links to articles when they are published.
On the fence about attending State?
You're nuts. Take a vacation day. Skip school. Tell your husband you have a sick relative. The State is the Nebraska distance running equivalent of Woodstock. You don't need to know one runner to appreciate the spectacle.
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.