Location: Yankton Trail Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Weather: High 60s, sunny, moderately windy
The Skinny: Braden Peters is the top returner from this meet last year, and he has the benefit of racing at Yankton Trail Park several times over the course of the year. In fact, he already ran there once this fall- and put up a quick 15:35 PR. It looks as though Peters might run away with this one the same way his older brother, Derick, did last year. Looking to deny this will be a pack of Minnesota athletes including Hudeife Mire (if he's racing), Adam Koller, Max Lauerman, Mason Wendt, and Adam McCollor. Many of these athletes also experienced their PRs on this course at last year's NXR Heartland competition. The team projections are as close as they possibly could be, with Willmar narrowly edging out the reigning champion Minnetonka by 1 point. Unfortunately, many of Willmar's top runners have been banged up early on this season, so they've yet to reach peak form. Minnetonka has a healthy group, and something to prove after a mediocre showing at the Rosemount Irish Invitational. Led by Lauerman and followed by a tight pack of 2-5 guys, expect Minnetonka to attack early and make up for lost time. Don't count out Willmar just yet, though, because if their top crew is racing they could easily give the reigning champions a run for their money.
GIRLSThe Skinny: In terms of PRs, this race will be Heidi Schmitz's to lose, however she did race on Thursday at Gale Woods at the Baumann/Rovn Invitational. Additionally, junior Eleanor Abraham is the top returner, as she finished runner-up last fall, 36 seconds ahead of Schmitz. Watch out for other Willmar girls to take charge early on, on several did successfully on Thursday. In fact, they are projected to put 6 runners in the top 10, with a 4-6 spread of just 6 seconds. Minnetonka should be solidified as a top two team, as none of their Varsity team has ran yet this week. The battle of Rapid City teams and Sioux Falls O'Gorman for 3rd will definitely be one to keep your eye on. All three reign from South Dakota and have sufficient experience on this course. Rapid City Stevens's team is bottom heavy, with a tight closing 3-5 pack but a lot of distance from the front runners. On the other hand, Rapid City Central's group is built around a low stick, and two separate yet close packs for their 2-3 and 4-5 runners. O'Gorman is projected to put 4 in the top 34, but a wide spread separates the 5th, which should allow another team to sneak in. It'll be interesting to see how the race inevitably shapes up as these strategies develop.
(written by Adam Wilkinson)