Panther Cross Country

Isaac Ochoa will lead Norfolk High will lead the Panthers at the state meet in Kearney.

During a team retreat to the Black Hills last summer, the Norfolk High boys cross country squad set three primary goals and, even though two of those didn’t quite happen, the third — a top five team finish at the Nebraska state cross country meet — is still in play.

The Panthers, who have been state-ranked at No. 7 or No. 8 among Class A teams all season long, are led by sophomore Isaac Ochoa — who finished fifth at the state meet last year. He’s joined by seven seniors — Isaac Guenther, Tristen Kittelson, Cole Uzzell, Wyatt Mead, Daniel Weitzmann, Devan Schmit and Daniel Yowell — as well as junior William Reynolds.

Unfortunately, a recent foot injury to Yowell interfered with the team’s goal of being a district runner-up. With a third-place finish, Norfolk still qualified as a team for the Class A race. The Panthers also fell short of another goal of finishing among the top three at the Heartland Athletic Conference, where the team took fifth.

But the Panthers, according to coach Aaron Bradley, are “emphasizing the positive” garnered from Norfolk’s many successes throughout the season as they look ahead to the opportunity to compete at the Kearney Country Club on Friday and, hopefully, improve on last year’s eighth-place finish.

“The team has learned recently that their individual times are not what is important at this point in the season,” Bradley said. “It’s about the race that develops in front of them and how they react to that.”

Bradley said the team’s strategy would focus on “going after Lincoln North Star,” a team that is even with the Panthers.

“The two squads know each other well, and the runners get along — and even hang out together at meets,” Bradley said. “There’s a comfort level competing against each other, but we consider North Star to be a team that we need to beat if we’re going to meet our goal of a top five finish.”

The Panthers are hoping that Yowell, who has been receiving treatment for his injury, will be able to participate and fulfill his role in Norfolk’s team strategy.

Based on times that the senior has run throughout the season, Bradley knows what a ready-and-able Yowell means to the Panthers’ ability to score well, but Bradley said Weitzmann would be ready as an alternate if needed.

Individually, Ochoa has his own strategy assignment for state — some of which Bradley was willing to share — ”run with the lead pack.”

The sophomore finished second in the HAC meet and was the district champion, overcoming a “team pack” strategy employed by Millard West, which grouped six runners and a seventh close to them but slowed the race’s pace considerably.

“Isaac was concerned that his time was slow,” Bradley said. “But he’s a student of the sport and learned that times are sometimes irrelevant when an adjustment in strategy is necessary.”

Norfolk High state cross country roster:

Seniors: Isaac Guenther, Tristen Kittelson, Cole Uzzell, Wyatt Mead, Daniel Weitzmann, Devan Schmit and Daniel Yowell.

Junior: William Reynolds.

Sophomore: Isaac Ochoa.

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