NXR HEARTLAND GIRLS INDIVIDUAL PREVIEW:
The individual title race at NXRHL remains surrounded in intrigue by the potential appearance of one of the nation's top individual talents in Woodbury junior Tierney Wolfgram. Ruled ineligible for MSHSL varsity competition in 2019 (see back story here), Minnesota's only current sub-17 minute athlete did run in a pair of JV races this season, rolling an 18:08 for a victory margin of over 2 minutes in her only 5k event. In early September she ran in a JV 4k in 13:43 (sub 17:10 5k pace) at the Auggie Twilight run on the very same Yankton Trails course that hosts Sunday's NXRHL races. Eligible to run events after the MSHSL championship, her name is in the entries/box assignment list and we expect her to race. While her race readiness is a potential unknown, every runner in the field with their eyes on a NXR title also knows the 2017 Heartland Champ Wolfgram will likely be in their way.
The last two NXRHL champs hailed from Minnesota and fresh off her class AA state title, Stillwater junior Analee Weaver may have the most momentum of any Minnesota runner, posting a 17:46 PR in her victory head to head with most of the state's top NXR competition. Weaver was just 36th a year ago but has run nearly a minute faster this season. The top returner from the 2018 NXRHL field is Farmington junior Anna Fenske who was third in Class AA last week in 17:58 and has run six seconds better than that result this season. Some may consider her state meet result a bit of a disappointment but she was third at state a year ago before blasting a fourth place individual NXR result and heading to Portland where she was 87th. Fenske was third in the region in 2017 and went on to a 10th place result at NXN so along with Weaver, who she defeated at Griak this season, and Wolfgram it is easy to call her a race favorite. Also consider Wayzata freshman Abbey Nechanicky among the top Minnesota favorites as she bettered Fenske for second at state last week and has the same season best. She was 19th a year ago in her first NXR.
The fastest time in Minnesota prior to the state meet belongs to Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo freshman Natasha Sortland. Sortland emerged as one of the state's best athletes this season and was in the lead pairing with a mile left in the Class A meet last week before fading all the way to the back of the field. Even with her struggle at state she averaged an 18:39 over eight races this season. Saint Michael Albertville sophmore Ali Weimer also looks ready to improve on her 16th place NXR finish last season after taking fourth in class AA and posting the third best time in the state (17:49).
While Minnesota may hold the largest group of contenders for individual NXN berths, Junior Kora Malecek of Onalaska (WI) and sophomore Lauren Pansegrau of Middleton (WI) have both gone under 18 minutes multiple times this season and have performances that show up well in speed rating formulas. Malecek soundly defeated Pansegrau by 30 seconds in the WIAA D1 state race last week with a 17:44 and has the fastest time in the field this season, a 17:29 while also averaging 17:52 over six 5k events. She was 18th a year ago and looks to be in even better form this season. Stevens Point (WI) sophomore Roisin Willis was third in WIAA D1 behind Malecek and Pansegrau and has run under 19 minutes in all five of her 5k events this season with a 18:31 average and season best 17:49.
Liberty (IA) sophomore Ashlyn Keeney has run 17:32 this season, and ran a 17:44 last week as runner-up in the IHSAA 4A race. She was 40th a year ago but averaged 18:09 over seven 5k events this season, nearly 30 seconds better than her NXR time a year ago. Jamestown junior Meghan Ford is also a name to watch after running 17th last season and she won the class A North Dakota title for the second straight year, this time 17:40. Ford averaged an 18:19 over six races this year. Another big name to remember is Mid-Prairie (IA) senior Marie Hostetler who was 10th a year ago at NXRHL. Last week she won the IHSAA 2A title for the third straight year, this time by 41 seconds with a 17:58, and averaged 18:14 over eight 5k races this season. Her overall results are very similar to slightly better than a year ago so it's easy to see Hostetler back in the top ten and fighting for one of the five tickets to Portland.
OTHER INDIVIDUAL NAMES TO KNOW: Lillian Schmidt, Dubuque (IA), Tori Wingrove, Blue Valley (KS), Ella Dufault, Waseca (MN), Sydney Drevlow, Hopkins (MN), Molly Moening, Saint Paul Highland Park (MN), Liesl Paulsen, Eden Prairie (MN), Alea Hardie, Sioux Falls O'Gorman (SD), Eleanor Abraham, Brookings (SD)*, Genevieve Nashold, Madison West (WI), Anna Fauske, Kaukauna (WI), Riley Collett, Fond du Lac (WI), Kate Sperka, Muskego (WI)