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Contributor: The Nerd
In what is now clearly an example of biting off more than I can chew, I set a goal to interview the top-two ranked runners in each division. Those 16 interviews turned into 18 when I threw in third-ranked Madison Seiler and Sam Kirchner. Note to self: use more restraint in pursuing my hobbies. However, my pain is your gain, because no one writes about running nerds like the Nerd.
Jordyn Arens, sophomore, Crofton
2020 State XC: 1st, 19:06
2021 Track: Class C State champion in 800 (2:18), 1600 (5:14) and 3200 (11:16)
2021 XC PR: 19:02, Pender D-2 Districts, 10/14
With the exception of a 13th place, 19:24 finish at the highly-competitive Augustana Twilight meet, Jordyn has won all of her races this year in convincing fashion. She’s been pleased with her season thus far, and the highlight has been meeting new competitors, particularly at Augustana. She also enjoys running with her freshman sister, Rylie, who has established herself as Crofton’s #2 runner. I have to imagine that Class D teams are not thrilled about competing against the two Arens girls in 2022 and 2023.
Some athletes may take a serious approach to distance running but Jordyn is not one of them. Two weeks ago she gave me two remaining goals for the season: improve on her 19:05 PR from last year (accomplished at Districts) and have her team qualify for State (achieved). She’s been the top-ranked runner all year, so I asked her if that added any pressure for her. She does see the pressure building up but her approach is simply to do her best and put the focus on fun. In her words, “what’s the point of being 1st, 2nd or last in running if you’re not having fun.” In large part because of my interview with Jordyn, last week I wrote the phrase, “Running is joy expressed through motion.” Jordyn exemplifies that.
Jordyn comes from a huge running family – and I mean huge. She is the fourth of eleven kids aged 2 through 22. Her sister Haley is a senior competing for South Dakota, brother Tanner is a junior competing at Morningside, and Connor (now at South Dakota School of Mines) finished 8th in State as a freshman and 5th as a junior while battling injuries.
She’s just a sophomore so it’s a bit too early to think about college. She’ll probably stay in the Midwest and she’d like to compete.
Jordyn didn’t track her mileage over the summer but estimates she ran 25-30 miles per week. She attended the Run Across Texas summer camp. In-season, she feels she gets the most benefit from hill repeats and 8×600 intervals. She plays guard for the Crofton basketball team in the winter. She tries to eat well and stretch well, but she’s sure that luck plays a big part in staying healthy.
Like a number of other highly-ranked runners, Jordyn is from a farming family. Her parents run a pig farm and, with Tanner off at college, she’s primarily responsible for the pigs’ obstetrical care. She works regularly on the farm and it allows her to earn spending money to buy running shoes and go on field trips.
Aside from the Augustana race, Jordyn has run alone for most of her races. Last year Jordyn had several chances to race against Alexus Sindelar of Pierce, but Alexus had a significant knee injury this spring that delayed her XC season until a few weeks ago.
Looking ahead to State, while Jordyn is the clear favorite, she said that she doesn’t have to win a second title to be satisfied with her season. “If someone runs better than me and I lose, that’s OK.” At the close of the interview, I asked her for advice she would give to a freshman just starting cross country. Her reply: “Train hard, give it your best and keep it fun.”
Hannah Swanson, sophomore, Nebraska Christian
2020 State XC: 4th, 19:59
2021 Track: Class C State, 10th in 1600 (5:32), 5th in 3200 (12:20)
2021 XC PR: 19:04, Goldenrod Conference at Burwell, 10/8
Hannah Swanson feels she’s had a good transition into her second season, although competing seems harder this year due to higher expectations. She’s work hard to improve her confidence and mental approach, and her remaining goals last week were to have the team qualify for State (accomplished), compete well at State, and improve upon her 2020 State time.
Hannah ran 250 miles this summer with a range of 20-25 miles per week. She didn’t run every day but instead experimented with weekly long runs of 8-11 miles, and she enjoyed those. She’s continuing to run 20-25 miles per week during the season, and to that she’s added a strength-training class as part of school. Her most beneficial workout is a 4-mile tempo run on hills.
Hannah started running in 7th grade and by her account was not good at all that year. In 8th grade she lost one race to a Kearney Catholic competitor, and she wishes she would have known about the State junior high meet. Her older sister also ran cross country and twice placed 16th in Districts, that dreaded almost-qualified-for-State spot. However, her family has attended the State meet for years to cheer on Nebraska Christian athletes and to just take in the meet. Because of that, she said her biggest running achievement thus far in her career was getting 2nd place at the UNK Invite last year (she won this year) despite being terribly nervous.
Hannah also plays basketball for Nebraska Christian but she has no aspirations of being the next Michael Jordan. This past year she’s devoted more attention to better nutrition, including eating more protein. She’s stretching before and after runs, and she’s intentionally avoiding big crowds to reduce the chances of getting COVID or a cold.
I haven’t spoken with her since she competed against Alayna Vargas at Districts (Vargas won by 37 seconds), but prior to that Hannah felt like she hadn’t run her hardest race of the year. With reasonable weather, she believes she’s capable of a sub-19:30 time at State.
Ty Schlueter, senior, Ainsworth
2020 State XC: 2nd, 16:48
2021 Track: Class C State, 3rd in 3200 (10:15), season 1600 PR of 4:55
2021 XC PR: 16:33, Ord Invite, 9/24
The year after he finished no worse than third in every race, Ty Schlueter’s magical senior season had kept him as the top-ranked runner in Class D all fall. He’s undefeated in six races this season and feeling fresh heading into the State meet. While he wasn’t at the UNK meet, he’s faced off against some of the best boys in western Nebraska in other races, including Conner Wells of St. Paul, Addison Smith of Bloomfield-Wausa and Class D #2 Trevor Kuncl of Mullen. He knows that Kuncl will be in better shape at State, and he’ll race Grant Lander of Homer for the first time since State 2020.
While he has already had a successful career, this is the first year that he’s been able to put Osgood Schlatter knee pain behind him. The absence of pain has allowed him, since a bit of rest after the State track meet, to train on a cycle of three hard weeks followed by an unloading week. He ran 520 miles over the summer, roughly 40-45 per week, and he’s been running 35-40 per week during the season. While Ainsworth has had one cancelled meet, his coach is intentionally trying to have the team race less often.
Ty’s family lives on a cattle ranch with 320 Black Angus cows, so his summer largely consisted of running at 6:45 a.m. and then working 8-10 hours on the ranch. He has a wide range of chores: calving, baling hay, feeding animals, equipment maintenance, repairing fence, etc. When I spoke with him last week, he admitted that during the last two weeks of the season he tries to avoid wresting calves so that an ‘angry mama cow doesn’t kick me.’
Ty isn’t certain if he will compete in college. He’s talked to coaches a few smaller schools but his intended field is agricultural engineering, and UNL is the only in-state college that offers that major. A Regent’s scholarship winner, he may hang up his spikes if he heads to UNL.
If he was talking to his freshman self, he’d tell him the following things: (a) anyone can be good at XC but you have to put in the work even when you have disappointing results; (b) cross country is mentally demanding, so it’s important to focus on how you approach training and races; (c) do the little things like icing, stretching and staying engaged at every practice.
After the season ends, Ty will forego Nike regionals so he can focus on basketball. He’s one of the first guys off the bench for a team that is returning all of its starters from last year.
He has two major goals remaining: win State cross country and keep his 4.0. GPA. In particular, he’s looking to improve upon his results from State track, where he was suffering from the after effects of food poisoning. He always run well at Kearney, so if the weather is good he’d like to take a shot at the Class D State meet record of 16:02 held by Ainsworth alum Ben Arens (now running at UNK).
Trevor Kuncl, senior, Mullen
2020 State XC: 8th, 17:24
2021 Track: Class D State, 4th in 1600 (4:39), 2nd in 3200 (10:08)
2021 XC PR: 16:42, Bayard, 9/30
Trevor got off to a slow start this season due to a hip injury that limited him from putting in speed week until after races had started. His hardest race of the season was his second race, when he lost to Ty Schlueter by 56 seconds. After Ainsworth, he began cutting down his times, and has recorded four races under 17:10.
Despite his hip injury, Trevor was able to run 40-50 miles per over the summer, and he estimates he’s averaged 25-30 miles per week in-season. His summer mileage is supplemented by his job as a caddy at the Sandhills Golf Course (he says he walks/run 7 miles every 18 holes). He’s been working on hip mobility, deep stretching, weight lifting and hydration in order to stay healthy. This season Trevor has been motivated by his results at the State track meet; he finished 2nd in the Class 3200 but was passed in the final 50 meters, an experience he would prefer to avoid in the future.
I don’t usually ask hard-hitting questions, but I had to ask Trevor what he thought of his coach. He replied ‘most days,’ although he thinks that Coach Janie pushes him a little bit harder than the other athletes and has higher expectations for him as both an athlete and a leader. Coach Janie also follows him home from practice every day – which isn’t that weird considering Janie is his mom – but he tries to treat her as his coach when they’re at practice or a meet. (We first met Janie when I profiled Molly Paxton, who successfully lobbied the Mullen school board to start a cross country team.)
Trevor definitely wants to run in college and is planning visits to UNK, Nebraska Wesleyan, Wisconsin Lutheran and Concordia, but he’s open to exploring other options. He’s searching for a school with a sports management program and a family-type team atmosphere. He’ll turn his attention to basketball once the State meet is finished; Mullen returns three starters from last year’s State-qualifying team.
Trevor had a great dual with Grant Lander of Homer at the UNK meet, with Trevor closing hard in the last stretch to win at the tape. At State, Trevor expects that he will be fighting for the title with Ty Schlueter, Grant Lander, Jarrett Miles (NP St. Pats) and Damon Luedke (Paxton), who beat Trevor by 0.03 seconds at the D-6 District meet. The Mullen community has been incredibly supportive of his running career, so he does feel some added pressure this year. With good weather and good competition, he’s shooting to beat his PR of 16:42. Hopefully that will be enough to get on the podium.
For the best Cross Country Coverage in the State of Nebraska: Prep Running Nerd - www.preprunningnerd.com - Follow on Twitter: @PrepRunningNerd | Facebook: PrepRunningNerd and Instagram: PrepRunningNerd!