From left to right: Clay Shively, Robert Mechura, and Manny Putz
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 Boys Contenders
Clay Shively (Wichita Trinity Academy)
Shively, a Northern Arizona University commit, will most likely come into the NXR Heartland Regional with the target on his back as the prohibitive favorite. Shively earlier this year clocked a 5K time of 14:42.60, setting a new five-second PR. Shively also snatched the Kansas state record and the Kansas soil record all in one go.
On top of his Kansas state record, Shively won the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational with a time of 15:23.90, setting a new meet record and finishing ahead of some of his main competition at the Heartland Regional. Overall this season, Shively has won just three races, but those three races were major wins at the Olathe Twilight, Roy Griak, and the Kansas State Championships.
Sam Scott (Minneapolis Southwest)
Long one of the best runners in the NXR Heartland Region, Scott owns past finishes of 12th in 2022 and 4th in 2021 in the Boys Championship race and a 2nd place finish in the Rising Stars race in 2019. Scott is coming off yet another strong Minnesota season where he won four races and finished 2nd in his other two. His only two losses of the season came against some of his chief competition here in Clay Shively and Robert Mechura.
Scott quietly had one of the fastest season's in Minnesota state history, with his slowest 5K clocking in at 15:25 and his average 5K time being 15:11.64. After running on tough Minnesota courses all season, could we see Scott run under 15 minutes for the first time or even challenge the Minnesota state record?
Aloysius Franzen (Stevens Point)
Competing against his future teammate at the University of Minnesota in Scott, Franzen will come to Sioux Falls along with the Stevens Point boys looking for a team title and maybe a win for Franzen himself. Franzen is coming off a strong performance at the Wisconsin State XC Championships where he finished 2nd overall with a time of 15:09.70, just 4 seconds behind Manny Putz. There he led the Stevens Point boys to a dominant meet victory, scoring 36 points.
Overall, Franzen is coming into the meet after a strong season where he won six races, ran 15:10 or faster six times, and finished 4th at the Roy Griak Invitational, a strong Heartland indicator. Franzen also owns one of the strongest 5K PRs in the field after running 14:53.60 at his D1 sectional meet.
Manny Putz (Onaslaska)
The two-time Wisconsin state champion will head across Minnesota and into South Dakota looking to improve on his 7th-place performance from 2022 and become the first Wisconsin champion since Drew Bosley in 2018. Putz is coming off one of the best seasons in Wisconsin state history, going undefeated in-state and winning seven meets overall, with his only loss coming at Roy Griak.
Putz has run consistently strong this season, starting off his season with a 5K time of 15:13 and finishing with a time of 15:05 to win the state title. Overall, Putz ran a time of 15:20 or better six times and consistently beat top out-of-state talent at the Luther All-American, Rochester Mayo Invite, and his 6th-place finish at Roy Griak.
Robert Mechura (Roseville)
The Class AAA Minnesota state champion this year, Mechura parlayed his first-place performance in the 2022 NXR Heartland open race into a breakout 2023 season and a place as one of the best runners in the Heartland region and the nation. Mechura won six times this season and won big titles at the MSHSL State Championships, the 5AAA Sections Championships, and the Alexandria Meet of Champions. When it counted, Mechura won the big ones in 2023. Mechura only lost once this season, finishing 3rd behind Scott and Shively at Roy Griak.
Mechura ran 15:06 or faster three times on the season and finished with the second-fastest 5K time in Minnesota this season with a time of 15:04.20. Mechura will bring a streak of four straight wins into the race and will seek to become the first junior champion at the Heartland Regional since Drew Bosley in 2017.
Micah Blomker (Shawnee Mission North)
The 6A State Champion of Kansas for 2023, Blomker has long been a star in Kansas, having run a time of 14:49 back when he was a sophomore. Blomker has had a strong season for the Shawnee Mission North, winning six races. His only loss of the season was a 3rd place finish at the Olathe Twilight meet, where he ran a time of 14:51.20, finishing behind Shively and Andrew Hauser.
Blomker is no stranger to the Heartland Regional as he has finished 14th there in 2022 and 5th in 2021. In his most recent victory at the Kansas State Championships, Blomker ran his 3rd fastest 5K of the season to win by 15 seconds in dominant fashion.