BLOOMFIELD — Three-time defending state champion Rylee Rice will have a chance at a four-peat at next week's state meet after winning the D-4 district cross country meet at Rolling Hills Country Club south of here.
The Ainsworth senior was in control throughout the 5,000-meter race. She ran with the lead pack for most of the first mile, then gradually began to separate herself.
“When I hit the miles, I like to speed up a little bit, so I can get into a different gear,” she said, “because you get too comfortable.”
Rice finished in a time of 19 minutes, 53 seconds, nearly a minute ahead of runner-up Christina Martinson of Bloomfield/Wausa.
Martinson, a freshman, said she tried not to start out of the gate too fast.
“I had a little more energy at the end, so I could sprint, so I could get a better time, so I didn't die out,” she said.
Lutheran High Northeast’s Alison Stineman finished third to qualify for her fourth state meet. The first two were while she attended Elkhorn Valley. The senior said she started out fast to get up front.
“Then I cruised and didn't tire myself out too much,” she said. “I was just trying to stay with the Bloomfield girl (Martinson). I've been running by her all year, so I just paced off her.”
Rice and her Ainsworth teammates — CeeAnna Beel, Bria Delimont and Molly Salzman — all finished in the top 13 to easily claim the district team crown with just 29 points.
“It was a good team effort, but it always starts up front with Rylee,” Ainsworth coach Jared Hansmeyer said. “There's a lot of expectations as a group, that they're going to be toward the front, and having somebody that can be a winner at about any meet that she goes to is always a good way to get it kicked off at any meet.”
Bloomfield/Wausa was second with 37 and Battle Creek third with 60. All three qualify as teams for the state meet, which is set for next Friday, Oct. 25, at the Kearney Country Club.
On the boys side, Crofton’s Connor Arens led from the start and powered his way to the finish line in 17:23, just seconds ahead of Ainsworth teammates Qwentin Kappelmann and Ty Schlueter.
Arens said it was nice to have hard work pay off at the end of the season.
“I didn't have the best race before this,” he said, “but I was just ‘don't think about that, just go for it.’ ”
Kappelmann said he normally goes into a race thinking about how others are going to react, but not on this day.
“Today, I just went in, thinking about God, and who I really want to be running for,” he said. “When I focused in on that, I ran the best race of my life.”
Kappelmann said it couldn't have been a better situation than to have his teammate, Schlueter, close behind.
Schlueter said he and Kappelmann got out fast and said their first miles were some of the fastest they've had this season. “You really started to feel it with the wind, going back to the south,” Schlueter said, “but you just had to keep fighting through, because your team has to have you.”
Meanwhile, Osmond had three runners finish in the top 11 to edge co-runners-up Norfolk Catholic and Ainsworth 44-50.
Osmond coach Joe Ortmeier said it's been one of those seasons that you dream about and that it all starts at practice. “They're very, very competitive,” he said. “They go after each other pretty good.”
After some successful early meets, Ortmeier said he thought his team had the potential to be a district champion.
“But the closer it gets, the more nervous you get, and there are some pretty good teams in this district that are state placers every year, not just state qualifiers.”
Osmond, Norfolk Catholic and Ainsworth all qualified as teams for next week's state meet in Kearney, but Norfolk Catholic earned the runner-up plaque ahead of Ainsworth as the result of the fifth-runner tie-breaker.
Knight coach Doug Zoucha said he’d been talking with his team about how a fifth-place runner could come into play.
“We got second by our fifth-place runner beating Ainsworth's fifth-place runner,” he said. “Eli Pfeifer was that runner. He's pretty pumped up.”
Norfolk Catholic sophomore Ben Hammond finished fourth and was the only Knight to medal by finishing in the top 15.
“I went out a little fast, but that's normally what I like to do,” Hammond said. “I got a little tired toward the end but just had to keep pushing.”
Despite just missing out on medals, the pack-running Knights did have three other athletes finish in the top 20: Dalton Brunsing (16th), Travis Kalous (17th) and Trey Foecking (20th).
“Our team is just a great group of guys,” Hammond said. “We're all really close, and it's just really exciting to do this.”
Ainsworth, 29; Bloomfield/Wausa, 37; Battle Creek, 60; North Central, 70; Crofton, 110; Burwell, 113; Boyd County, 115; Norfolk Catholic, 129; Summerland, 139; Osmond, 154; No team scores: Niobrara/Verdigre, Neligh-Oakdale, Plainview, West Holt, Twin Loup, Chambers/Wheeler Central, Elkhorn Valley, Lutheran High Northeast, Stuart.
1. Rylee Rice, AIN, 19:53; 2. Christina Martinson, B/W, 20:46; 3. Alison Stineman, LHNE, 20:53; 4. Daisy Frick, NCENT, 21:01; 5. CeeAnna Beel, AIN, 21:02; 6. Afftynn Stusse, BCRK; 7. Darla Nelson, B/W, 21:06; 8. Natasha Zeisler, BOYD, 21:20; 9. Maggie Bishop, BCRK, 21:21; 10. Kaci Wickersham, SUM, 21:23; 11. Jymmie Jensen, BUR, 21:31; 12. Bria Delimont, AIN, 21:46; 13. Brooklyn Kumm, PLA, 22:02; 14. Mariah Ost, NCENT, 22:06; 15. Emma Bixler, N-O, 22:10.
Other Norfolk finishers
23. Cecilia Kann, NC, 23:22; 35. Emily Faltys, NC, 24:54; 48. Meghan Colton, NC, 26:46; 58. Morgan Timmerman, NC, 28:27.
Osmond, 44; Norfolk Catholic, 50; Ainsworth, 50. Crofton, 78; Plainview, 96; West Holt, 98; North Central, 120; Elkhorn Valley, 138; Neligh-Oakdale, 144; Boyd County, 150; Summerland, 160; Chambers/Wheeler Central, 190; No team scores: Battle Creek, Bloomfield/Wausa, Burwell, Lutheran High Northeast, Twin Loup, Stuart, Niobrara/Verdigre, Randolph, Creighton.
1. Connor Arens, CRO, 17:23; 2. Qwentin Kappelmann, AIN, 17:34; 3. Ty Schlueter, AIN, 17:41; 4. Ben Hammond, NC, 17:51; 5. Hunter Bennett, EV, 17:57; 6. Addison Smith, B/W, 17:59; 7. Eli Thiele, SUM, 18:09; 8. Johnson Chishiba, OSM, 18:12; 9. Aaron Kraus, WH, 18:13; 10. Mason Bykerk, OSM, 18:14; 11. Graysen Schultze, OSM, 18:15; 12. Thomas Ortner, AIN, 18:16; 13. Cory Martinson, B/W, 18:22; 14. Gabriel Potts, CRO, 18:23; 15. Joseph Albrecht, WH, 18:28.
Other Norfolk finishers
16. Dalton Brunsing, NC, 18:43; 17. Travis Kalous, NC, 18:46; 20. Trey Foeking, NC, 19:00; 26. Eli Pfeifer, NC, 19:16; 31. Wyatt Ash, NC, 19:41; 45. Brady Jackson, LHNE, 20:45; 49. Ronald Molina, LHNE, 21:03; 50. Cuauhtemoc Molina, LHNE, 21:05.