Contributor: The Nerd
Each week we attempt to provide you with just a taste of the Nerdy goodness that Nebraska high school cross country offers. If you find better content than what we provide, then.... wait, who are we kidding? No one covers Nebraska distance running like the Nerd mafia.
This week's rankings
We'll be releasing individual rankings based on race results through Saturday, 9/25. In theory, we could rejigger our ratings on Monday night (and Nerd Junior may for Class A) after we have all the results from the UNK meet - which will feature about 75% of ranked runners in Nebraska - but (a) we have never considered Monday results in our Tuesday rankings and (b) Nerd Senior (who does Class B-D) won't be back from Kearney until 9:00 p.m., which is pretty close to his bedtime. We will provide a recap of Kearney as quickly as we can, but you'll have to wait until October 5th for those race results to be fully reflected in the weekly rankings.
As far as team rankings go, I would expect as least a few of the coaches' polls to be released this week once UNK has been completed. We haven't done a good job of compiling those team rankings on our website, but we'll fix that by the end of the week.
Dominance at the top
This season seems to be marked by clear leaders at the top of the charts. Gabe Hinrichs of Elkhorn has won each of his races in under 16:00 and by at least 20 seconds over the nearest rival. Elli Dahl of Fremont has slim wins over Elkhorn South's Jaci Sievers in her two Nebraska-only races, she's broken 19:00 in her three races, and she seems like she's capable of going faster.
Class B #1 Mesuidi Ejerso has not been pushed by Class B peers although he's already faced off against Gabe Hinrichs and Carson Noecker. Class B #1 Samantha Rodewald is undefeated against Class B girls. She should face 13 other ranked Class B girls at UNK so that will be a good test.
Class C #1 Carson Noecker has won all four races by huge margins, and his last three times are 15:37, 15:37 and 15:33. As someone commented on Twitter, it's hard to run that fast, but even harder when you gap the field after 400 meters. UNK is going to be a great matchup for three undefeated Class C girls: #1 Lindee Henning of Ogallala, #2 Lily Kenning of Milford and #3 Keeli Green of Arlington, the first Class C girl to go under 19:00 this year.
Class D #1 Ty Schlueter of Ainsworth is undefeated, and #2 Trevor Kuncl's only loss to a Class D competitor is an early-season 56-secon loss to Schlueter when Kuncl was not running that well. D #1 Jordyn Arens is undefeated against Class D competitors, and her only loss in four races was at the super-competitive Augustana Twilight meet.
Who's the next breakout star?
It's easy to forget after Gabe Hinrich's 2nd place finish at 2020 State XC and his 1:53/4:12/8:59 effort at State T&F, but he used to be a mere mortal. Two years ago he finished 60th in the Class A race at UNK in 18:33, his second race of 2019 that was slower than 18:30. After that season, he told me that he didn't finish a full speed workout until the last two weeks of the season because he was so exhausted. An 11-day rest before Metros helped him drop to 17:27, and then he ran 16:53 at Districts (3rd place) and 16:34 at State (13th). Who among the current struggling sophomores will find their wings in the next month?
I'm more of a walker than a runner these days due to a rather unusual knee injury I suffered in 2020, and I spend most of time on the Field Club Trail in Omaha. I ran into the Omaha North XC team at that trail yesterday and came away with two stories. First, Coach Gudgell told me that he has a basketball player who joined the team in August and has cut nine minutes off his PR in three weeks. Last week that athlete approached Coach and told him that the only reason he came out for XC was to go on the team's XC trip to Worlds of Fun after their meet at Missouri Western. If you'll recall, Omaha North is also the team that now has girls' uniforms with the Omaha skyline (see picture). Coach Gudgell noted that most kids don't come to cross country simply because they think running is fun, so he's trying to introduce carrots (Worlds of Fun and cool uniforms) that might tip the balance in his favor. Cross country is hard work but it's a tough sell, so we applaud Coach Gudgell and all the other XC coaches that are working hard to bring new kids to the sport. If you're a coach and haven't found ways to introduce fun into your program - themed clothes (i.e., tropical shirts) at practice, relay races, kickball games - it's a great way to attract kids who otherwise might stay on the sidelines.
I spent the last seven years on the inside of the Creighton Prep team, and I've been around a lot of Class A teams during that time. Kids from the affluent Class A teams are awash in team t-shirts and sweatshirts, and you could argue that these clothes are great ways to build school pride. However, low-income kids at public schools don't always have access to this type of gear, and I noticed that just one Omaha North athlete out of twenty-five I saw yesterday was running in Omaha North gear. It's too late for this year, but wouldn't it be great if our XC community could raise some funds so that schools like North, Benson, Bryan and Northwest could give their XC runners a team-branded t-shirt and hoodie that was theirs to keep?
A Class A coach I know well - and he knows talent when he sees it - told me that he thinks that the Norris girls could compete for the Class A title the way they're running right now. With three freshmen in their top six, the team doesn't seem to have hit their ceiling yet. However, I'm not ready to concede that they could beat Lincoln East and Fremont.
Boonstra goes boom
Riley Boonstra of Norris finished 35th at State last year but we identified him as one of our top returners in 2021. He dropped out of the rankings after not racing the first three weeks. Riley had ran a 4:43 PR at State T&F but finished the season a bit hobbled due to knee pain. After a summer focused on increasing hip strength (a common issue for distance runners), he starting racing a week ago. He was second at Waverly in his debut, six seconds behind #2 Colin Pinneo of York, and then beat Pinneo by 7 seconds at Crete. Now fully healthy, he's certainly someone to watch the rest of the season.
Elkhorn South's Twitter account
That title is actually a just an idea. Among the top-tier Class A XC and track programs, Elkhorn South stands among the few without an active Twitter account. Of course, I don't think that you need a Twitter account to be a successful program, but at a minimum couldn't an industrious athlete take on the task of curating the account? Please?
The Nerd cometh
Our likely schedule this week: Nerd Senior at UNK on Monday and Millard West on Friday, Nerd Junior at the Lincoln city meet on Friday, and Nerd The Third will play a lot of video games between college classes and practices. Nerd The Third has a rough gig.
We're only taking varsity pictures at meets because it takes so long to edit and publish pictures that are Nerd-worthy. We will be shooting all eight races at Kearney but it will take the better part of the week to get those posted to our Facebook account.
Photo tips for amateurs from an amateur photographer
Speaking of photos, I've had quite a few DMs from parents wondering how to replicate the quality of photos we post on our Facebook account. We're not photography pros by any means - I've seen much better - but Mrs. Nerd has let us invest in two solid Canon cameras and two long Sigma lenses (70-200 and 200-600) that cover up a lot of our weaknesses. However, here are a few tips for parents who don't want to blow $2,000+ on a camera and lens:
Your phone's camera probably won't zoom well enough to take great pictures, although Apple continues to do wonders on its iPhone camera.
Consider buying a Canon or Nikon DSLR camera which usually comes with two lenses, including something around 55-250 mm that is great for XC. Ask the salesman (I recommend Rockbrook in Omaha) or search on Google for a model that has a high frames-per-second feature. That's important for sports photorgraphy; I tried to use a newer Canon model at State T&F that was loaned to me, and it simply didn't have the speed to capture athletes in motion. These recommended cameras are also great for vacation pics, family photos, etc. if you need to justify the expense (usually less than $1,000 for a camera package with two lenses).
I have played around with manual settings but generally just use the sports mode, which is a preset function on most good DSLRs.
Finally, a few important tips unrelated to camera quality:
Walk the course prior to the race and find a spot where the background doesn't include cars or ugly buildings, since those tend to ruin an otherwise cool picture.
Find a place where the sun is behind you and thus illuminating your athlete who is running towards you - or at a minimum, don't have the sun directly behind the athlete. The last 200 meter stretch at State XC is brutal for pictures on a sunny day because the brilliant green grass overwhelms the athlete's image unless you're a pro who knows how to change camera settings to account for that background (I don't even try). Having the sun on the side of the athlete is better than at their backs, although you may end up with a half-illuminated face.
Don't skimp on how many shots you take; with a digital camera, I may take 3-8 pictures of the same runner and then use the one image that looks best. My sons say that I should delete every picture on a runner's downstep - when they're shorter and don't look as athletic. The multiple shots increase your editing time when you're home at your computer, but it helps you avoid closed eyes, flying spit, downsteps, out-of-focus shots and other oddities that ruin what you thought would be a perfect picture.
Zoom in to get a closer shot of your athlete. You're taking the photo because of the kid, not the background, and zooming in will blur the background and make for a cooler picture.
You'll get better with a lot of practice and by following the simple tips above.
Key race results
Every week we ask for our followers' help to identify the races being held during the week, and then we do our best to track down results. At the Results page at www.preprunningnerd.com/results, we've listed results for a record 22 high school meets and 2 collegiate meets. With so many teams running at UNK tomorrow, we're expecting the number of races to drop quite a bit this week. From those 22 races, here are a few that caught our eye:
Rim Rock Classic, 9/25
Millard West, Creighton Prep, Lexington and McCool Junction were the only Nebraska schools that ran at this huge regional meet on a single-purpose XC course outside of Lawrence. This is KU's home field and the site of the Kansas state meet each fall; it's also beautiful and fast, which may be why it attracts some of the fastest teams in the region. The meet offers five races - Gold (fastest teams), Blue (next fastest), Crimson (small schools), JV and C team.
This was Millard West's second consecutive regional meet. After capturing the 42-team Heartland Classic in Pella on 9/18, they fell five points short of knocking off Colorado powerhouse Valor Christian at Rim Rock. Millard West had 4 of 20 medalists: Class A #3 Sam Kirchner ripped off an 11-second PR for 15:29 (3rd), unranked Cole Haith dropped 29 seconds on his PR for 15:53 (12th), #7 Seth Fey ran 16:03 (18th) and #4 Piercze Marshall finished in 16:04 (20th). Sophomore Porter Bickley rounded out the scoring with a 16:27 (32nd), while Joey Hartnett ran 16:39. Cade Neubauer led Prep to a 7th-place finish in 16:36, followed by John Burns (16:39), Denny Chapman (16:39), Ethan Weber (17:03), Sam Malick (17:13), Robert Nizzi (17:14) and Colton Schmaderer (17:17).
The Millard West girls finished 3rd (Valor Christian won by 105 points). Class A #7 Isabelle Hartnett ran a 13-second PR and went sub-19:00 in 18:58 for 8th place. Sydney Beaudin was 24th in 19:37, followed by a close group of ladies: Sammy Ullman (20:16), Brianna Hernandez (20:26), Sammi Vojslavek (20:27), Kate Ebmeier (20:42) and Thea Kutasch (20:42).
The Class B #2 Lexington boys won the 30-team Crimson race by 46 points. Lexington has at least five boys who could finish in any order on their team, and Saturday's results reflected that. Unranked Jayden Ureste finished 11th in 16:51 (22-second PR), #5th-ranked Ian Salazar was 16th in 16:58, unranked Oscar Aguado was 20th (16:59), followed by 14th-ranked Garrett Converse (26th, 17:12), Miguel Cruz (31st, 17:23) and Lazaro Adame (33rd (17:28). Lexington was 9th on the girls side, with Kennadi Ureste medaling in 19th place with a 20:41 and Kayla Barrios in 41st in 21:23.
McCool Junction finished 8th in the small-school Blue race, led by Trent Neville (29th, 18:00) Jake Brugger (18:41) and Luke Brugger (18:42). McJ didn't have a team score in the girls race, but Class D #10 Payton Gerken finished 11th in 20:46 and Sara Weisheit was 78th in 23:23.
Crete, Tuesday, 9/21
The most competitive in-state meet of the week may have been at Crete, where Class B powers Norris, York, Bennington, Northwest, Mt. Michael and Seward faced off. Riley Boonstra, who jumped from unranked to 4th last week after his season debut time of 17:11 at Waverly, captured his first title of the year with a 16:48 at Crete. Second-ranked Colin Pinneo was 2nd in 16:55, followed by Seward's #13 Nate Nottingham (17:03), Northwest's #3 Caden Keller (17:07), Mt. Michael's #15 Jude Storch (17:15), Bennington's #10 Kai Olbrich (17:15). Norris had strong performances from Zach Pittman (7th, 17:16), Tanner Cooper (9th, 17:30), Noah Pomajzl (14th, 18:06) and Eli Van Brocklin (15th, 18:08) to win the team title by 19 points over Mt. Michael.
Norris won the girls' race in convincing fashion, 15 points to Bennington's 27. Class B #4 Freshman Kendall Zavala won in 19:33, just edging York's #3 Kassidy Stuckey (19:34). Norris' 5th-ranked Elli Thomas was 3rd in 19:44 followed by Bennington's #2 Gabriela Calderon in 19:46. Laci Havlat (20:06) and freshman Atlee Wallman (20:28) of Norris were 5th and 6th, and freshman Hailley Finkner (20:57) and senior Sophie Talero (21:04) were 10th and 11th. Freshman girls tend to get better throughout the year as they gain more racing experience, so Norris seems awfully dangerous with three freshmen in their top six.
Ft. Calhoun, Thursday, 9/23
While a small meet, Ft. Calhoun featured some good Class C matchups. Class C #3 Keeli Green of Arlington won her 4th race in 4 career starts in 18:47 on a course that the Ft. Calhoun coach wheel-measured three times. That time puts her a fraction off the 3rd fastest time in Nebraska this year behind Class A's Elli Dahl, Deavion Deleon and Jaci Sievers. 5th-ranked Olivia Malousek of DC West was 3rd in 20:44 and Class B watch-list Olivia Lawrence of Platteview was 4th in 20:49. Papio South's JV team also was there, and Bethany Schumacher was 2nd in 20:40, a time that may give her a chance at the Titan's varsity team. DC West edged Arlington for the team title, 31 to 32.
On the boys' side, unranked Nolan May completed the Arlington sweep with a 17:01, followed by Class B #12 AJ Raszler (17:03) of Platteview, Class C #8 Parker Gaston (17:14) of DC West, and C #13 Ely Olberding of Ft. Calhoun in 17:27. Jacob Rupp, a 2020 State medalist, seems to be rounding back into form with his 17:37. Ft. Calhoun won the boys title 26-34 over Arlington.
Malcolm, Tuesday, 9/21
The Malcolm meet was a mix of 17 schools from all classes. Class C #5 Carter Hohlen of Lincoln Christian won the boys' race in 17:15, follwed by C #12 Logan Lebo (17:23) of Lincoln Lincoln Lutheran and C #15 Elliott Reitz (17:35) of Milford. On the girls' side, Class C #2 Lily Henning of Milford won in 20:07, followed by Kennedy Bartee (20:19) of Class A Lincoln High, C #4 Sadye Daniell (20:30) of Lincoln Christian, C #11 Danie Parriott (20:52) of Conestoga and C #13 Elena Kuehner (21:07) of Aurora. Milford won the boys' title while Lincoln Christian won the girls' title.
Ogallala, Thursday, 9/23
The Ogallala meet featured a large number of ranked runners from Class B through D. With 350 meters to go, C #6 Daine Wardyn of Broken Bow and C #9 Daniel Bashtovoi of Sidney were three seconds behind D #3 Jarret Miles of NP St. Pat's and C #3 Cameron Brauer of Sidney. All four boys finished within three seconds: Wardyn in 16:54 for his first career win, Bashtovoi (16:55), Miles (16:56) and Brauer (16:57), who suffered his first loss of the season after four wins.
On the girls side, Ogallala's Lindee Henning remained undefeated this year, winning in 19:14, and setting up a titan's clash at UNK: she'll face off against fellow undefeated Class C girls Lily Kenning of Milford and Keeli Green of Arlington. Class B #1 Samantha Rodewald of McCook was 2nd in 19:58, followed by Class C #6 Talissa Tanquary (19:59) of Sidney, B #10 Sienna Dutton (20:31) of McCook, C #7 Makinley Fuller (20:35) of Chadron, C watch-list Mallory Applegate (20:26) of Cozad and Class D #15 Kate Stienike (20:56) of NP St. Pat's.
Other Class A races
Class A #11 Juan Garcia of Grand Island won the GI Invite in 16:00 followed by #9 Evan Caudy of North Platte in 16:06. Class A #9 Zarah Blaesi of North Platte won the girls' race in 19:17 followed by teammates Marissa Holm (19:34) and Evelyn Blaesi (20:28).
At the North Star Invite (pictures at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd) Class A #2 Daniel Romary of LNE sat behind leader and #13 Max Myers of LSW until the final 400 meters before kicking to a 16:31 win; Myers was 2nd in 16:37 and LSE's Carson Lauterbach was 3rd in 16:45 (4-second PR). Class A #6 Bri Rinn of LSW won the girls' title in 19:38, followed by # 13 Maris Dahl of Fremont in 20:24 and Abby Coen of LSW in 20:28. The majority of the Fremont varsity girls did not compete.
Other Class B races
Top-ranked Skutt competed at the mostly Class A Creighton Prep meet on Tuesday. Following a season-long trend, it's tough to nail down the order of Skutt's top runners. Class B #6 Jack Wade was 5th in 16:50, #9 McCoy Haussler was 6th in 16:51, watch-list Tommy Ricewas 8th in 16:56, and #7 Alex Rice was 11th in 17:07. Here's the frightening thing about Skutt: their top four runners are underclassmen. On the girls' side, #15 Mary Kate Kramper of Duchesne was 2nd overall in 20:23, #12 Anika Richards of Skutt was 4th in 20:37, #11 Eva Wentz of Duchesne 5th in 20:55, and #8 Gabi Westfall of Skutt was 8th in 21:06.
Class C competitors
Class C #1 Jordyn Arens won the Crofton Invite in 20:23 followed by C #8 Darla Nelson of Bloomfield in 21:24, C #14 Jessica Opfer of Hartington Newcastle in 21:47 and C #15 Kyla Krusemark of Wayne in 22:01. For the boys, C #1 Carson Noecker ran his third consecutive sub-16:00 to win in 15:33. Class B #1 Mesuidi Ejerso of South Sioux City was 2nd in 17:05 followed by D #6 Grant Lander (17:31) of Homer, unranked Jesus Zavala (18:00) of Wayne, D #4 Ben Hammond (18:05) of Norfolk Catholic, C #14 Addison Smith (18:06) of Bloomfield and D #10 Trey Foecking (18:07) of Norfolk Catholic.
Class D competitors
Class D #1 Ty Schlueter of Ainsworth won the Ord Invite on Thursday in 16:33. His teammates #8 Emma Kennedy (20:31) and #6 Katherine Kerrigan (20:36) led the girls' race, outpacing #12 Maddie Davis (20:46) of West Holt and #5 Julianna Maxfield (21:01) of Fullerton.
Class D #4 and freshman Peyton Paxton won the Boone Central Invite in 20:21, followed by Class C #9 Ella Buhlke (20:24) of Central City. Paxton has three wins this year and has only lost to Lindee Henning of Ogallala. Class D #2 Trevor Kuncl of Mullen won the boys' race in 17:25 followed by #5 Abe Larson and #7 Kolter Van Pelt of Stanton, who both finished in 18:02.
At the North Bend Central Invite, Class #13 Chaney Nelson (21:01) of Oakland-Craig edged Class D watch-list Kairece Morris (21:08) of Pender and Class B watch list Marisol Deanda (21:15) of Schuyler.
Class D #3 Alayna Vargas of Hastings St. Cecilia won the Thayer Central Invite in 19:48, followed by D #1 Brekyn Kok of Cornerstone Christian in 21:05. D #11 Justin Sherman of Cornerstone Christian won the boys' title in 17:23 followed by D watch-list Rowan Jarosik of South Central in 17:29.
I'm a fan of teams heading out of state at least once during the season to see how they stack up against different competition. It's also a great reward for the athletes. Who doesn't love a three-hour bus ride?
Nebraska is a big state and XC is a big sport. If you'd like to hear about something I'm not covering, shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. And, if you notice that I've been misspelling Katie Stienike's last name for four weeks, shoot me a DM so I figure out sooner than I would on my own.
Who's in favor of a videotaped State XC meet? Arlington did it at their home meet with a student-run Striv team. Wouldn't this be a godsend for grandparents and relatives who can't run around the Kearney course? I have to imagine that athletes would love to watch it later when they're not dying of exhaustion.
I haven't got much feedback from coaches on the merits of a 3-day vs 4-day State meet, but I'll publish a solid proposal from Parker Schoen later in the in week.
May you all have a Nerd-filled week. I tend to hide on the backside of the UNK course, but don't hesitate to give me a shout if you see me tooling around in a media golf cart.