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Heartland Region
Sioux Falls SD November 10, 2007


Bringing NTN to the Heartland

“Whoop-Dee-Dos,” Hay Bales will challenge 15 ranked teams in South Dakota;
Katie Flood, Emily Sisson add star power

by Steve U, DyeStat news editor

SIOUX FALLS SD 11/8/07 -- Four teams from the NTN Heartland Region will qualify Saturday for the Nike Team Nationals in Portland. But everyone who competes will go home having had an NTN-type experience.

At least that’s meet director Kristi Rieger’s intention. She and her staff have created a course at Yankton Trails Park in Sioux Falls that mimics the national course at Portland Meadows with its moguls (or Whoop-Dee-Dos) and hay bale jumps.

“The reason that my first vision was to make this like the NTN course is that my girls team has been to NTN twice, and it’s been such a great experience for our kids,” Coach Rieger told DyeStat last week. “They come home and talk to the rest of the team about how cool it was to run these Whoop-Dee-Dos, and that they had go over these hay bales. I thought it would be a great idea to give teams that, maybe, won’t make it to Portland an experience like NTN. Nobody can outdo Portland, but this will be great experience for kids in the Heartland. And teams that do qualify will be that much more prepared for the national meet.”

Majority of top teams will be on hand

Those overseeing the region meets and national meet had high expectations for overall levels of participation. Not quite getting the masses from all the states, they’ve pared down the original day-long race schedules in most regions somewhat, still making for very compelling days of racing. As hoped, however, the strong majority of ranked teams are sending their clubs to compete to make it to Portland. At 2 p.m., clubs from the top six girls teams in this week’s DyeStat Heartland rankings will toe the line. Forty-five minutes later, those representing nine of this week’s top ten Heartland boys teams will battle for supremacy.

In the past, the rankings and the minds that created them decided the invitees to Portland. This year, it will be settled on the moguls and over the hay bales.

South Dakota teams are familiar with NTN

That the meet is in South Dakota is certainly fitting, as five of the six bids to Portland on the girls side the past three years have gone to the clubs from Coach Dan Fitzsimmons’ Yankton squad and Coach Rieger’s at Sioux Falls Roosevelt. The two programs have pushed their state’s profile on the national harrier scene from modest to considerable.

The 3-D Running Club (Yankton) has placed 3rd, 5th, and 5th during the first 3 editions of NTN (2004-06), with leaders Ramsey Kavan (1st in 2004) and Betsy Bies (15th, 1st, 2nd) topping the individual podium. As Four-Pointers XC in 2004 and Sioux Falls XC Club in 2006, Rieger’s crew placed 14th and 11th, paced by top 15 and top 10 showings by twins Krista and Allison Eckert, respectively.

With stars graduated, Yankton and Roosevelt are pack runners now

With their nationally-ranked leaders having graduated, both clubs are relying more on tight packs of solid performers. At the SD 2A state meet, where Yankton and Roosevelt went 1-2 for the 4th straight year, soph Mariah Hofer led the winners in 3rd, while soph Bailey Breems paced SFR in 2nd. But their times were in the mid-15s instead of the mid-14s. At their best, however, their teammates follow these two closely. Most often for Yankton, it’s been soph Megan Hilson, Krista Creager, and sr Kristin Sternhagen; packing with Breems have usually been jr Erin Hargens, soph Seanna Kautz, and fr Megan Brown.

Katie Flood leads Dowling Catholic IA

But the South Dakota teams hardly have a lock on the first two spots. The top bid could easily go to the Dowling Catholic TC (Des Moines IA). Led by soph Katie Flood, the Dowling Catholic HS team began showing up in the rankings last year, then ascended to 2nd this year as they dominated the 4A race at the Iowa State Meet.

Flood also overwhelmed the field at the Roy Griak Invitational, which served as almost a pre-region meet, even though it was a few hundred miles to the east. She ran 17:57 to top Millard North NE star Emily Sisson by 30+ seconds and her team beat Roosevelt, 139-162 (Greeley CO from the SW beat both teams for 1st).

Coach Jim Kirby also has a second national-class athlete in soph Ashlie Decker, who was 5th at Griak and 2nd at state. There’s also the talents of Tanelle Berard and Katie’s senior sister Betsy, who may be the spiritual heart and soul of this crew. Coach Jim Kirby’s team depth has been improving all fall and they could prove better than anyone.

“They just don't want to let the season end,” said Coach Kirby. “Everyone is fit, healthy and running harder than ever. They know well that they will be running with some great teams and they hope they have a chance to advance to the finals in December.”

Burnsville pack has an amazing 8-second spread

Challenges to this big three of the Heartland will come from all sides. From Minnesota, the Burnsville Skinnyski club presents runners from the previously unranked Burnsville HS team that won last weekend’s 2A state title over previous #6 Eden Prairie and #10 Prior Lake. Talk about packing it in – Burnsville (now #4) didn’t have a runner in the top 15 overall in that race, but their 1-5 finished in an incredible 8-second span in that race. Their 5th girl was in 30 seconds ahead of anyone else’s. The spread in their region was just 16 seconds. But the club can’t afford a slip – there’s a gap of well over a minute to the #6.

North Dakota has five clubs in the championship. The Bismarck RC, Fargo South TC, and Minot M&Ms Cross Country are composed of athletes from the 1-2-3 finishing teams in the Class A North Dakota state meet (#6 Bismarck, Fargo South, Minot). They have battled back and forth all year and the best of them should challenge near the top.

From Nebraska, there’s the Omaha Marian CC Club and Millard North RC, including runners from that state’s #1 and #2 teams. HL #5 Omaha Marian was led by runner-up Kelli Budd at state, while state champ Emily Sisson paced Millard North. Sisson, 3rd at Foot Locker Finals last year, is obviously a contender for the title here, along with Flood and Decker. And from Iowa, there’s also Johnston XC Club and City of Iowa XC, with runners from Johnston HS and Iowa City HS, 3rd and 4th in the 4A state meet.

Boys race has all the champions but no heavy favorite

The boys race doesn’t have nearly as defined a pecking order, but it can aptly be called the “Race of Champions,” as the clubs represent teams that won most of the Heartland’s titles in Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and both Dakotas.

Without a doubt one of the hottest right now is the Wayzata XC Club, whose team just ruled the 2A race in MN last weekend by 48 over former HL#1 Rosemount. Coach Bill Miles’ team cranked its season in high gear when they won Griak in late September and haven’t looked back. Coach Bill Miles doesn’t coach the team for this meet, in accordance with state rules, but said this week that “the kids stepped up very nicely.”

“In talking with our athletes about this regional format, they are really happy to be given the opportunity to try to earn advancement to the national meet,” he added. “When the regional plans were announced early in the year, they were all in agreement that letting the athletes decide it on the course was far better than a committee selecting teams.”

Although the weather is supposed to be in the 50s Saturday, he also joked, “We're hoping for snow. Wayzata athletes have had a lot of good fortune in blizzards in championship races!”

The Minnesota contingent is also made up of clubs from Rosemount TC, Brainerd XC Club, and Stillwater RC. They are made up of runners from schools of the same names that were 2-3-4 behind Wayzata at the 2A state meet. The Winged Foot RC is made up from athletes from the Willmar HS team. That school dominated MN last year and, as the Willmar XC club, joined Potosi at NTN last fall. So both 06 qualifiers return.

Until this past week, when they squeaked by Parkway West to win the Missouri 4A title, University High of St. Louis had held the Heartland top spot for several weeks. They’re still #2 and kids from that team, which relies on a strong pack, make up the St. Louis XC club that will be ready to do battle. The Potosi CC Club, which competed at NTN last year, has a tradition of very strong front runners. Its national-class “Joshes” (Mathis and Thebeau) have graduated, but Jacob Swearingen paved the way for the Potosi HS team in its 3A state meet triumph by taking the individual crown.

And no one will overlook Team Swanson (Shawnee KS). HL#3 Shawnee Mission NW just won it’s 14th straight state title in KS 6A by taking 6 of the top 12 spots. They were also 3rd at Griak behind Wayzata and Marquette U. HS of WI. That race also included teams whose clubs will be here Saturday in 4th-place Pleasant Valley IA, Brainerd MN, and Rosemount MN, all of whom were in the top seven.

Indeed, Pleasant Valley TC leads the Iowa entries. It’s HS team, now ranked HL#5, won the 4A state meet, paced by champion Devin Allbaugh. The cleverly named Alejandro’s School of Speed (Des Moines IA), represents the 4A runner-up Roosevelt team.

The Bismarck TC (Bismarck ND) and 3-D Running Club (Yankton SD) also represent the top boys teams in their respective state meets. The 3-D boys team also made it to NTN in 2005, joining their girls. The Emporia Track Club’s Emporia HS team was the 5A state champ in Kansas, not far behind Shawnee Mission NW. The Fremont TC (Fremont NE) is from the team that won the Nebraska state title 3 of the last 5 years before this fall. Ranked HL#8 before the state meet, they were a disappointing 5th, but could bounce back.

Fremont’s Jon Ronhovde won the individual title and was best in the state overall. The individual title is up for grabs here, but Ronhovde will likely battle with Allbaugh, Bismarck's Joash Osoro, Rosemount’s Jordan Carlson, Sioux Falls XC’s Bill Kogel, Team Swanson’s Jared Ellsworth, and Potosi’s Swearingen.

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