- - -
Anything can happen in the Heartland.
That's been the recurring theme over the seasons at this Nike Cross Nationals Region. While Minnesota teams have dominated these races over the years, teams have changed and new competitors -- like Wisconsin's Middleton -- have emerged.
What's true every year, though, is the unpredictability of race day.
South Dakota's weather swings like a pendulum, and this event has seen it all: Hot days, frigid ones, and everything in between. Sunday's forecast in Sioux Falls will be teetering on freezing, with 30-degree temperatures expected.
Cold temperatures could thwart a reasonably fast race. But don't be surprised if it happens, either. The Yankton Trail Park is looped, flat and fast. NXN qualifiers have traditionally dropped times under 15 minutes to be in contention for national bids.
2018: 1. Mounds View (MN), 2. Middleton (WI), 3. Edina (MN), 4. Stillwater (MN)
2017: 1. Wayzata (MN), 2. Middleton (WI), 3. Dowling Catholic (IA), 4. Edina (MN)
2016: 1. Wayzata (MN), 2. Edina (MN), 3. Millard West (NE), 4. New Town (ND)
2015: 1. Hopkins (MN), 2. Edina (MN), 3. Wayzata (MN), 4. Minneapolis Washburn (MN)
2014: 1. Wayzata (MN), 2. Edina (MN), 3. Sioux Falls (SD), 4. Hopkins (MN)
Teams To Pay Attention To:
- Saint Paul Mounds View (MN): Confidence should be high for the defending NXR Heartland champion Mustangs. After securing the school's first title in 34 previous tries this past weekend, almost every conceivable bucket list item has been achieved -- a year ago, after finishing second at state, Mounds View secured its first bid to NXN by winning this meet. While the season hasn't been perfect -- Mounds View dropped a decision to Eden Prairie at the Milaca Mega Meet and won by just 1-point at state -- there could be an advantage to that. Mounds View knows it can't take its foot off the gas. While the squad may be the favorite, they'll still have to go out and earn it.
- Eden Prairie (MN): The Eagles, meanwhile, know it's possible to win this meet, as long as everything goes to plan. That means a tighter compression will make the difference -- the squad had a faster average than Mounds View at the state meet, but 50-seconds separated its first and fifth runners.
- Middleton (WI): Don't count these guys out, either. The Wisconsin program are the veterans of this meet, having qualified for NXN the past two seasons. And they're coming off another win at state, putting together an average of 16:31 over a 19-second spread.
- Dowling Catholic (IA): The Maroons could be the upset-special. At its state meet over the weekend the squad compiled a 16:04 average across a 67-second spread. That average is faster than any other team on this list. And on the Yankton Trail course -- which runs flat and fast -- speed will matter.
- Edina (MN): Never count out Edina. While the Hornets were rebuilding this season, they finished fourth at state and put together a 16:30 average across 50-second spread.
- Washburn Rural (KS): This Kansas team may be another sleeper. The Class 6A champions compiled a 16:36 average and 50-second compression at state.
- Oliver Paleen, Saint Paul Highland Park (MN): After winning the Roy Griak Invitational's elite high school gold race in September, Paleen admitted his broader plan was to qualify for Nike Cross Nationals. And the Minnesota athlete has remained undefeated since, winning his MSHSL Class AA state race in a new PR of 15:25.20. But to complete his mission, the odds are that he'll have to run significantly faster. The top boys in this field, on a good day, typically run under 15 minutes on the Yankton Trail Park course in Sioux Falls.
- Emmet Anderson, Staples Motley (MN): Anderson has finished as a runner-up twice this season: First, in a battle to the line with Paleen at Roy Griak; and recently, when he was second to Geno Uhrbom in the MSHSL Class A race. That might be enough motivation for the Minnesota distance athlete to put his best foot forward. He's posted a PR of 15:09.40 on the season.
- Ben Schnoor, Germantown (WI): He's the top returner from last year at NXR Heartland, but he was 12th at his most recent Wisconsin state meet. He was sixth at Roy Griak and fourth at the Arrowhead Invitational. He owns a PR of 15:21.80.
- Brady Yoder, Dickinson (ND): North Dakota has had its share of runners qualify for NXN before. Could Yoder be next in line? He's undefeated thus far in 2019, winning his North Dakota State Championship while also posting a PR of 15:13.22 months earlier in August. He was 16th in this race last year.
- Max Murphy, Pleasant Valley (IA): It took a last-ditch kick to win Iowa's Class 4A championship last weekend -- Murphy's first cross country title over his four years in high school. He's run a PR of 15:26.60 for 5K.
- Jake Krause, Hortonville (WI): Krause's progression, from August until November, has been all uphill. And so you would have to suspect Wisconsin's Division I champion might have a chance here.
- Daniel Harkin, Manhattan (KS): The Class 6A champion in Kansas has lost just once in eight tries this season, so expect him to make a push for a qualifier in this race. He's run a PR of 15:11.50 on the season.
- AJ Green, Eastview (MN): The final stretch at NXR Heartland is a dead sprint. And if Green is in the picture among the leaders, expect the high school senior and 1:49 800m runner to go for it. He ran a PR of 15:31.80 at his MSHSL Class AA State Championship for 5K.
- Sam Hall, Dowling Catholic (IA): Hall was in the lead in his Class 4A state championship on Saturday until the wheels came off and Murphy made the late pass. But despite that, Hall remains a viable candidate to earn a qualifier at NXR Heartland -- as does his program. He was 28th in his race last year.
- Liem Chot, Lincoln North (NE): Chot has only broken 16 minutes once this season, at his Nebraska state championship when he ran 15:50.30 to win his second straight title. But experience is also on his side this time around. He finished 33rd in this race last year.