From left to right: Katelyn Rupe, Norah Hushagen and Libby Castelli
One of the premier meets nationally, the 2023 NXR Heartland Regional is nearly here and will pit the top runners and teams from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin for regional pride and a trip to Nike Cross Nationals.
Here we look at who some of the top individual contenders might be in the NXR Heartland Boys Championship race!
Top NXR Heartland Girls Contenders
Katelyn Rupe (Salina Central)
The highest-ranked MileSplit50 runner in the field at #20, Rupe dominated this season in Kansas to the tune of eight wins with every one of her wins coming with a 5K time under 18 minutes. Rupe is now a two-time Kansas 5A state champion and has won the state title in both of her attempts.
Rupe has dominated in Kansas the past two seasons now, winning every meet in the state her sophomore and junior years. Her only career cross-country loss so far came at the 2022 NXR Heartland Regional where she finished 13th overall. She is the 6th fastest returner from last year's meet but has gotten better and stronger this fall. She will be one of the top contenders.
Libby Castelli (Sioux Falls O'Gorman)
Castelli will sure be the local favorite as she doesn't have to travel far for the Heartland Regional as it's in her hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Castelli hasn't run much this season, but when she has she has consistently won and run around 17:30. She has four wins on the season and a 2nd place finish at the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational on the season.
Castelli is no stranger to the Heartland course having run at the regional two times and at the Heartland Preview meet four times. Castelli also just won her first South Dakota State cross country title, also at Yankton Trail Park.
Norah Hushagen (Forest Lake)
The 2023 Class AAA state champion from Minnesota in a dominant effort, Hushagen comes into the Heartland Regional on a heater having won five straight races. In those five races, Hushagen has won by 33 seconds, 54 seconds, 34 seconds, 44 seconds, and 66 seconds. In short, Hushagen has dominated in Minnesota ever since finishing 3rd at Roy Griak.
In those last five wins, Hushagen has averaged a 5K time of 17:43 over those five races, but with an average of 17:29 in her four most recent wins. She ranked as the #1 5K runner in Minnesota this year with a time of 17:25.44. At last year's Heartland meet she finished 5th overall with her PR of 17:17.40.
Nora Gremban (Northland Pines)
The University of Wisconsin commit came into the fall coming off a strong 2022 season that saw her win eight meets and finish with a runner-up finish at the Wisconsin state champiosnhips, but she one-upped herself this fall running one of the fastest season's in Wisconsin state history. This year, Gremban has won six meets and run 17:06.
Gremban is coming into the meet strong after winning her first Wisconsin State XC Championship title just a couple weeks ago, running a time of 17:46.70. Only a month ago, Gremban also ran a time of 17:06.60 at the Great Northern Conference Meet. Her time of 17:06.60 is the 38th fastest in the nation this year and the 2nd fastest in the field.
Autumn Michalski (Chequamegon)
The Chequamegon senior and Oklahoma State University commit finished with the second fastest 5K time in Wisconsin this year with a time of 17:18.44, won ten meets on the season, and won the D3 girls State title for Wisconsin.
Michalski had an incredible season that only saw her lose once to Nora Gremban. Her time of 17:18.44 was the 53rd fastest time in the nation this season and one of her two performances under 17:30 for the season. Last year she finished 27th at the Heartland Regional, but I would expect a much higher finish this fall.
Anjali Hocker Singh (Olathe North)
Anjali was the 18th-place finisher at the 2022 Heartland Regional and 4th in 2021, could this be the year she breaks through for the win? Anjali is coming off her strongest season since 2021, the year she finished 4th at the regional, and should again be a top contender at the Heartland Regional.
Anjali has saved the best for last this season as she went four-for-four, taking home her fourth cross country state title of her high school career. Singh finished with a new personal best of 17:30.20, in which she shaved off nearly 50 seconds from last year. She currently holds the second-fastest time ever recorded on the course.
Honorable Mentions: Ryin Miller (Seaman), Isabelle Schmitz (Hutchinson), Olivia Verde (Johnston), Claire Helmers (Ames), Addison Dorenkamp (Valley), Sydney Drevlow (Hopkins) and Isabelle Bloker (Sioux Valley)