With 3,000 photos from all eight State races now posted at www.facebook.com/PreprunningNerd, I now have time to look back at State and share some nerdly thoughts. In a perfect world, I’d sit down with coaches from every class since their insights would be much finer than mine, but these ramblings will have to do.
First, hats off to the NSAA for their execution of the fall sports season. It would have been much easier to cancel sports until the pandemic has passed, but the NSAA has repeatedly shown its commitment to high school athletes. In mid-August, I wrote about how the NSAA was approaching the cross country season; the article is at https://www.nebraskaelitetc.org/single-post/2020/08/17/NSAA.
In a nod to COVID, the NSAA made two changes this fall that I’d suggest they consider continuing. First, they changed the order of races so girls and boys from each Class ran consecutively, starting with D and finishing with A. The boys race started 30 minutes after the girls, and then the girls race for the next class started 60 minutes after the previous race start – which essentially left 30 minutes for an on-site awards ceremony.
I’ve been to 6 of the last 7 awards ceremonies for Class C and A. While there is certainly more pomp and circumstance with the indoor ceremony, the efficiency of this year’s event was outstanding. An indoor ceremony is delayed because athletes need to cool down, teams have to fold up their camp, and the teams and fans need time to drive to and park at the arena. Could the NSAA erect a portable stage somewhere near the finish, and then invest in a better sound system to mimic the UNK arena? The UNK arena could still be reserved for inclement weather.
I also enjoyed the longer gap between classes while the awards ceremonies were being held. It was a nice break for those of us who wanted to see all eight races but still needed to hit the bathroom or warm un in the car – or wanted to see an awards ceremony that typically would have conflicted with subsequent races. Granted, coaches with both girls and boys competing may prefer the previous schedule that allowed a thirty-minute gap between their two teams racing, but it would be interesting to hear if they liked this year's schedule better.
Carson Noecker, a sophomore at Hartington Newcastle, won his second State title with an All-Class best of 15:22. He’s first all-class winner from Class C since Jarren Heng from Norfolk Catholic won in 2008 and 2009. Carson is only the second Class C winner to run faster than 16:00 at State; Chris Peacock of West Holt ran 15:58 in 1987. In terms of all classes, Carson has the fourth-fastest time ever at State, behind Seth Hirsch’s (Millard West) 15:04 in 2016 and the 1987 duel between Nate Nielsen (Lincoln Southeast) and Jim Martin (Omaha Central), who both clocked 15:15. Carson was only 13 seconds off the All-Class gold last year.
In terms of consistency, Carson had five races this fall where results were posted to Athletic.net. In four of the five, he broke 16:00, and in the fifth race he ran 16:16. I hope to catch him for an interview in the spring.
Mason Sindelar, a senior at Pierce, was Carson’s closest competition in Class C this year. He finished 2nd at State in 15:53, and raced Carson at least three times this year. Mason was the second fastest senior this year among all classes behind Liem Chot (Lincoln North Star).
Speaking of Liem, he earned his third consecutive Class A gold medal, the first Class A runner to accomplish that feat since Colby Wissel (Kearney) in 2001-2003. The NSAA’s website has race results back to 1977, and it appears that Nate Nielsen (Lincoln Southeast) is the only other three-time winner, capturing gold in 1984, 1986 and 1987. Nate also finished 2nd in 1985. I had the opportunity to interview Liem twice, with this article written before his junior year: https://www.nebraskaelitetc.org/single-post/2019/08/28/LiemChot
Youth ruled Class A this year, with seniors earning 5 just medals in the boys’ race and 4 medals in the girls’ race. This is often the case in the girls’ race; the 2018 and 2019 race featured 2 and 5 medalists, respectively, but not so for the boys. There were 7 senior boys medalists in 2019, and 10 each in 2018 and 2017. Seven of the top 8 boys finishers this year return in 2021.
Did anyone have a better day that Sean Seiler, the assistant principal at Gering? His sophomore daughter Madison won the Class B title in 18:55, while senior son Peyton placed third in 16:40. Madison had finished second to Omaha Skutt senior Jaedan Bunda at the UNK Invite, but she finished 19 seconds ahead of Jaedan at State.
An observer who knows far more about Class B teams than I do sent me an e-mail last week questioning whether the 2020 Skutt boys team qualified as one of the best ever in Class B. By points, the lowest scorers in the State meet are the 1997 Scottsbluff team with 17 points, 1994 York with 21, 2012 Mt. Michael with 25, and then a group of teams with 26 or 27 points, including Skutt's 27 points this year. Skutt scored as 1, 2, 9 and 15 this with their 5th and 6th runners scoring 18 and 21. We'll never know the answer, but it's a good topic to debate.
I believe this change happened prior to this year, but kudos to the NSAA for improving the medals awarded to individual medalists. Until a few years ago, the individual medals were undersized relative to the team medals. The individual medals are now larger and are attached to the impressive NSAA ribbon, which is also an upgrade from a few years ago.
Several years ago I compiled a list of Class A boys 3-time medalists, in part because I wanted to see how exclusive a list my son Jack had joined when he earned his third medal in 2017. I’ve compiled data beginning with seniors competing at the 1996 State meet; 41 boys have won at least three Class A medals over the past 25 years.
During that period, six boys have medaled all four years: Dana Carne (Omaha North, 1995-1998), Chris Gorga (Omaha Central, 1999-2002), Jack Lemke (Omaha Benson, 2000-2003), Matthew Conahan (Millard North, 2003-2006), Marshall Anderson (Papillion LaVista, 2008-2011), and Wyatt McGuire (North Platte, 2010-2013).
During the period I evaluated, 58 boys medaled in their freshman and/or sophomore years, and 71% (41 of 58) were able to medal at least three times. Since 1993, just 12 freshman boys have medaled in Class A; by the end of their careers, 6 medaled all four years, 3 medaled three times, 2 medaled twice, and 1 remains to be seen: Isaac Ochoa from Norfolk placed 5th this year as a freshman.
Because it's so difficult to medal as a freshman or sophomore, in addition to Ochoa there are only three current male athletes with eligibility remaining that could medal three times by the end of their career: Gabe Hinrichs of Elkhorn South, Evan Caudy of North Platte, and Juan Garcia of Grand Island.
Whereas it’s rare for freshman and sophomore boys to medal at Class A state (again, just 58 times since 1993), a whopping 142 Class A girls have done so, including 11 girls who have yet to finish their career. The 15 four-time medalists are:
Sara Farrand (Grand Island, 1994-1997)
Christy Linnell (Papillion LaVista, 1995-1998)
Monica Erickson (Kearney, 1996-1999)
Jennifer Fritz (Lincoln Southeast, 2000-2003)
Tahnee Tuenge (North Platte, 2000-2003)
Ali Gress (Papillion South, 2005-2008)
Kelli Budd (Marian, 2005-2008)
Holly Bussa (Fremont, 2005-2008)
Melissa Parks (Norfolk, 2007-2010)
Sidney Hirsch (Millard West, 2009-2012)
Jeralyn Poe (Lincoln North Star, 2011-2014)
Alexis Altmaeier (Lincoln East, 2011-2014)
Taylor Somers (Millard South, 2013-2016)
Abigail Schmidt (Lincoln East, 2016-2019)
Kaylie Crews (Papillion South, 2017-2020)
These fifteen represent 11% of those athletes who medaled as freshmen. Seven additional girls are still in the running for four medals, including juniors Elli Dahl (Fremont) and Bri Rinn (Lincoln Southwest), who have earned three medals thus far.
In terms of gold medals, Jeralyn Poe stands alone with four wins, Kelly Lindsey (Millard North, 1993-1995, injured during State in her 1996 senior race) has three, and Emily Sisson (Marian/Millard North, 2006-2007) and Taylor Somers (Millard South, 2015-2016) have two. Poe competed at Michigan State and now Northern Arizona, Lindsey played soccer at Notre Dame and professionally, Sissen competed at Providence and now professionally, and Somers is competing at Oklahoma State. I interviewed Taylor in April 2017 at https://www.nebraskaelitetc.org/single-post/2017/04/30/Tales-of-a-Runner-3-Taylor-Somers-Millard-South
If you look beyond 1993 to the start of NSAA competition in 1980, Shona Jones of Hastings also won four Class A golds from 1982-1985. In fact, she was undefeated her entire high school cross country career.
Sixty-nine Class A girls have medaled as freshmen since 1993. Here are the career results for freshman girl medalists, excluding those with eligibility remaining: 15 with four career medals, 12 with three career medals, 25 with two career medals, and 17 who only medaled their freshman year.
Eleven girls have won Class A state titles as freshmen or sophomores. Of the nine who have completed their careers, 2 earned four medals, 2 earned three medals, 3 earned two medals, and 2 did not earn another medal beyond their gold. In addition, Elli Dahl (won as a sophomore, three medals in three years) and Stella Miner (won as a freshman, one medal in one year) have eligibility remaining.
Finally, out of the 131 freshman and/or sophomore girls who have medaled (and exhausted eligibility) since 1993, 48 (37%, compared to 71% of boys) earned at least three career medals. Of the 11 girls with eligibility remaining, 2 have already earned three medals, and 7 still have the opportunity to do so. Seven of the 11 with eligibility remaining could still earn four medals.
As one of my readers noted, the most difficult part for boys is to medal as a freshman or sophomore; for girls, the toughest part may be medaling as a senior.
Stella Miner of Marian won the all-class gold with a time of 18:11, a new Marian school record and a State meet record, just edging the 18:14 and 18:15 that Jeralyn Poe ran at State in 2013 and 2014, respectively. She chased Bri Rinn for much of the race, and was a few steps behind on the final turn when she stepped on a root and almost fell. She caught up with Bri with about 100 meters remaining and won by four seconds. It was Bri’s first loss of the season despite running the fourth fastest time in State meet history. I expect some great battles next year between these two and…
Defending champion Elli Dahl finished 11th this year, providing the boost Fremont needed to take 2nd place over Millard West. Elli was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the late summer, raced just three times this year, and was only able to train the last four weeks of the season. We expect she’ll be back in top form by track season.
Senior Kate Dilsaver of Lincoln Southwest placed 6th this fall, adding to the 13th place medal as a freshman. She qualified individually all four years but, more impressively, became a sprinter during her track sophomore season. She’s the reigning 100- and 200-meter champion in Class A, but only after proving to her coach that she had the chops to drop below 400 meters. I wrote about Kate in the article at https://www.nebraskaelitetc.org/single-post/2019/05/06/Sprintance
With no Spring 2020 track season and limited on-campus visits since March, recruiting for this year’s seniors have been seriously disrupted by COVID. Here were the fastest seniors at State this year:
Liem Chot, LNS, 15:37
Madison Sindelar, Pierce, 15:53
Owen Wagner, Fremont, 16:11
Henry Slagle, Creighton Prep, 16:13
Drew Snyder, LSW, 16:18
Jack Schembari, Creighton Prep, 16:19
Isaac Richards, Skutt, 16:22
Grant Reid, LSW, 16:31
Zac McGeorge, Fremont, 16:33
Peyton Anthony, Papio South, 16:36
Kaylie Crews, Papio South, 18:31
Hannah Godwin, Kearney, 18:33
Kate Dilsaver, LSW, 19:04
Shelby Bracker, Fremont, 19:10
Jaedan Bunda, Skutt, 19:12
Jenna Muma, Lincoln East, 19:28
Mara Hemmer, Fremont, 19:47
Jordan Stopak, Boone Central, 19:48
Molly Bies, Millard West, 19:51
Maddie Yardley, Elkhorn, 19:52
I took 6,000 pictures at State, and probably 15,000 throughout the season. Two things stand out to me: (a) spit on the face ruins an otherwise great photo, and (b) why do so many runners have untied shoelaces in the middle of a race?
In October 2019, I wrote about Molly Paxton from Mullen, who went before the Mullen school board to ask the members to re-instate the cross country program after 30+ years. The Board said 'yes,' and Molly placed 8th and 13th in 2018 and 2019. Her coach, Janie Kuncl, coached two boys and one girl in 2019. The team exploded this year - to five athletes. This year the boys team of three qualified for State, and Janie's son Trevor Kuncl finished 8th at State. The team finished 11th out of 18 teams.
Callie Coble and Josey French constituted the girls' team, and they finished 1st and 4th at Districts. Callie finished 5th at State, allowing Trevor and Callie to become the 2nd and 3rd Mullen athletes to ever medal at State.
If not for COVID, Class A would have moved to a single-site District this year. In May I wrote about how this proposal made it through the NSAA decision-making process even though the majority of Class A coaches are not in favor of it. The current plan is to move to the single-site approach in 2021 unless a new proposal is approved this year. Let’s hope the coaches, who have worked collaboratively all season, will band together to advance a new proposal. Here's the article from May: http://www.jayslagle.com/files/documents/dfecec7b-8f11-4b84-bef7-f2e31ae0421f.pdf
The primary argument for a single-site Districts appears to be that it will allow for a more equitable distribution of teams across the four Districts. This year 11 of the 12 seeded teams advanced for both boys and girls. The Gretna girls, seeded 3rd in District (11th overall), did not have their top runner at Districts due to a COVID quarantine. Gretna was 21 points out of 3rd place, and likely would have had a chance to qualify for State with a full team.
On the boys’ side, Grand Island was seeded 2nd in District 1 as the #7 overall seed, but they finished 5th, 29 points out of 3rd place. Grand Island’s #2 runner, Gage Long, fell ill after finishing 4th at the UNK Invite and didn’t race in October. Had he been healthy, the team would have had a much better chance to qualify.
The McCool Junction girls won the Class D title by one point over Ainsworth. Four of the five girls on the McCool Junction team were among the last 15 runners in the race at 200 meters. While their top performer Payton Gerken moved up from 13th after the first mile to 12th at the finish, the other two scorers, Alyssa Plock and McKenna Yates, moved up 27 and 25 spots, respectively, in the last 2.1 miles.
Speaking of late movers, Zach Cloud (GICC) moved up 10 spots in the last 1.1 mile to earn a 6th place medal in Class C, while Tyler Neville of McCool Junction improved from 20th to 10th in Class D. The next best improvements were in Class A where Nolan Miller of Fremont and Henry Slagle of Prep moved up 7 and 5 spots, respectively, in the last 1.1 mile to finish 10th and 11th.
On the girls’ side, Class B had a lot of action after 2 miles. Hailey Amandus of Blair jumped 16 spots to 13th, Sienna Dutton of McCook jumped 10 spots to 14th, and Abigail Metscke of Elkhorn improved from 22nd to 15th. Shelby Bracker of Fremont had the best Class improvement, moving from 15th at two miles to an 8th place medal. Interestingly, the top 16 Class D runners at two miles were the same top 16 at the finish.
For both genders, Jarrett Miles of North Platte St. Pat’s had the best improvement among medalists between the first mile and the finish, improving from 49th to 14th.
I’ve had the good fortune to have a son competing at State for the last seven years, including 2017 where my sons raced together. The State meet is the culmination of a season of work and possibly a career of work, and I suspect the majority of competitors walk away disappointed. I posted an article earlier this week about how everyone wins in cross country, and perhaps you’ll take it to heart. It is posted at https://www.nebraskaelitetc.org/single-post/2020/10/29/YouWon.
While my career as a high school cross country parent has wrapped up, I plan to continuing writing and taking pictures this spring. I will have two boys competing in college next fall, so my high school coverage may suffer a bit. However, I’ve had a love affair with high school distance running for over 40 years, and I will do my best to stay engaged.
After all the State races were finished this year, I was packing up the Creighton Prep tent when three Papillion South runners passed by on their cooldown run. I suspect that they didn’t run as well as they had hoped, but they made a U-turn when they saw the Prep banner. They wanted to stop to congratulate the two Prep medalists. Three years ago these kids were competitors and strangers, and now they’re friends and five members of a running community that wants everyone to do well. Welcome to the club, boys.
Jay Slagle is a volunteer writer for the Nebraska Elite TC website www.nebraskaelitetc.org. He posts Nebraska high school race pictures at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd and race results at @preprunningnerd on Twitter. The father of three teenagers, Jay is a self-professed running nerd who was never good at running. His article about Noah Lambrecht, The Runner with the Broken Heart, has been viewed over 200,000 times and is available at https://www.nebraskaelitetc.org/single-post/2018/10/07/NoahLambrecht. He’s a sucker for a good story, so e-mail him at email@example.com if you’ve got one. He has written two children’s books available for sale on Amazon. Visit www.jayslagle.com for more information.