If the Class C-2 district meet was any indication, Northeast Nebraska may have quite the impact at the upcoming state cross country meet.
It would be easy to focus on Boone Central junior Jordan Soto-Stopak, the defending Class C runner-up who won her second straight district meet in 19 minutes, 31.79 seconds — just more than two seconds ahead of Pierce sophomore Alexus Sindelar.
But as he’s done all season, Carson Noecker stole the show.
The freshman from Hartington (a co-op between Hartington-Newcastle and Cedar Catholic schools) surged past Pierce junior Mason Sindelar midway through the race on his way to a winning time of 16:05.02, almost 10½ seconds ahead of Sindelar. It was revenge after Sindelar defeated Noecker at the Battle Creek invite — the only race that Noecker has not won individually this season.
“Everyone has their day, and today was my day, but he (Sindelar) is going to have his days in the future, and it’s going to be close in every race I face him,” Noecker said. “It’s going to be back-and-forth, and I've got to keep working hard.”
Noecker didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He won last season’s state junior high cross country meet in Gothenburg, after all. But that doesn’t make the freshman’s impact any less surprising.
“We watched him win the junior high state championship last year, and we knew he was good,” Hartington coach Mandy Hochstein said. “You don’t know how they (incoming freshmen) are going to run against high school teams.
“He’s an amazing kid, and his leadership as a freshman is kind of a silent leadership, but he’s humble and he just genuinely wants everybody to do their best.”
After winning the individual district title, Noecker was hesitant to open up about his own performance, choosing instead to focus on the team race.
“I really hope the team makes it to state,” he said. “That’s where I really wanted to focus at. I knew I had to do my part, had to run my race or whatever, but most of all, I just hope the team places (in the top three) so we can make it to state as a team. That’s really what I want this year. We have a really good team this year.”
Hochstein said that’s no different from normal.
“He’s very humble,” she said.
Noecker, a student at Cedar Catholic, wears a scapular around his neck when he competes. That’s not by accident.
“I’ve just got to thank God for this race. ... What a great gift and opportunity it is, honestly, to be able to run,” he said. “I’ve wore one my whole life, pretty much. I’ve just kept wearing it. I just know that today, it wasn’t really me — it was God who worked through me. I’ve just got to be thankful, because I’m blessed to have this great talent.”
Running has been a family affair, said Noecker, whose cousin is assistant coach Laura Noecker. Carson has two brothers and another cousin who either currently or recently donned the Wildcat uniform.
“They would always beat me, because I was young and stuff,” Carson said. “It’s a truly great family, and I’m thankful for that. They all motivate me to keep going.”
Hartington’s top six includes seniors Brayden Kathol, Chase Lammers, Cole Noecker and Bode Noecker, along with junior Dagen Joachimsen. Those five have seen recent graduates and current college runners Seth Wiebelhaus and Brian Santiago set the bar for the program.
“It’s become an expectation that you have to be getting first or second, the lowest third, at a meet,” Hochstein said. “That confidence is something. I don’t know if you can coach it. You just earn it. I think that’s been huge.
“You say a little prayer and hope that it turns out well, and thank God when it does,” she said. “It’s been a good year. We knew this was the year we thought we might have the chance to get in there and see what they can do.”
That expectation, however, led to more pressure going into districts.
“They were nervous. This was the most nervous I’ve seen these boys and girls,” Hochstein said.
EXPECTATIONS ARE high once again for Boone Central, and for good reason.
“We compete against some of the best teams and the best people in the state, and that’s going to help us (this) week,” Boone Central coach Justin Harris said after the Cardinals polished off last week’s C-2 district title.
Boone Central finished fifth as a team last year, led by Soto-Stopak’s individual runner-up finish.
Last year, the Cardinals had four sophomores, one senior and one freshman at state. This year, Boone Central appears to be similarly experienced, as it will be represented by two freshmen (Alicia Weeder and Kyra Kruse), two sophomores (Morgann Johnson and Tessa Hamling) and two juniors (Soto-Stopak and Autumn Simons).
However, don’t mistake a relative lack of experience with a lack of confidence.
“Jordan and Autumn are the only two out of our six who have ran there (last year). Alicia had seen her sister (Samantha), and it’s Morgann’s first time out for cross country this year, but Morgann’s kind of run fearless this year,” Harris said. “I think we’ll be all right.”