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Cards expected to make strong run for high district meet honors again

It’s showdown time, or at least the first of two vitally important season-ending events, for the Chadron High School cross country teams. The Class C-5 District Meet is Thursday at Ogallala. That’s when and where the qualifiers for the State Meet, which will be Friday, Oct. 22 at Kearney, will be decided.

The Chadron girls, in particular, have had another outstanding season. They won the season-opening Panhandle Classic in late August and also the Alliance Meet in mid-September, tied for second at the Western Conference Meet hosted by Gering in early September, placed third at their home meet on Sept. 11 and were the runners-up at both the Ogallala Meet and the Scottsbluff Invite that wrapped up the regular season on Sept. 23 and Oct. 1, respectively.

As per usual, the Cardinals did not enter the Sidney Invite a week ago Thursday, as Coach Willie Uhing believes rest, relaxation and recovery, plus selective training, are more important than added competition as the schedule winds down.

The Chadron girls won the Class C-5 District Meet in 2019, providing the school with its first district cross country title for either boys or girls. The Lady Cards then placed fourth at the state meet. A year ago, they finished second at the district meet behind host Ogallala and earned fifth place at state.

While Boone Central at Albion won the C state title both years, by 13 points in 2019 and 26 last year, the Cardinals weren’t far behind the second place team either year. Milford was the runner-up the first year with 57 points while Chadron tallied 66. A year ago, Douglas County West was second with 100 and the Cards had 112.

Two weeks ago, Athletic Net, which tabulates the results of most Nebraska high school cross country meets, came out with some hypothetical district and state projections. Douglas County West is at the top of the Class C girls’ list with 55 points, followed by Chadron with 79, Sidney with 95 and Minden with 120.

But first thing first. Qualifying a complete team takes precedence this week. The Cards have done that by placing among the top three at the District Meet six of the last 11 years.

Led by outstanding lead runners, Ogallala and Sidney figure to be Cardinals’ primary competition for the girls’ top team honors. Ogallala features will-o-the wisp Lindee Henning, last year’s district champion and state runner-up, while Sidney is paced by Talissa Tanquary, who was second at the district meet and 12th at the 2020 state meet. Both are sophomores.

Chadron team leader this year has been junior Makinley Fuller, whom Uhing calls the most competitive athlete he has ever coached. He believes she’s one of Class C’s top 10 runners and that she could crack the top five.

Sophomore Grace Pyle also is extra competitive and nearly always places high.

Chadron has had another strong asset the past two years and that’s depth. But it is being put to the test.

Two of the girls whose points counted at both the district and state meets the past two years are sidelined by injuries. Mackenzie Anderson has an Achilles injury and is wearing a medical boot while Micaiah Fuller has missed nearly the entire 2021 season because of a hip problem.

As a sophomore, Anderson was the first Chadron girl to win a district cross country championship in 2019.

Without them, Makinley Fuller and Pyle will lead the Cardinals to the district meet Thursday. The Cardinals have other quality runners who have bounced back from health issues and are ready to help send the entire team to Kearney again. Those stalwarts include junior Emma Witte, who was knocked out of action late last season because of a physical education class accident, and senior Leila Tewahade, the No. 4 runner at state in 2019 but the victim of an arch problem last year. They’ve returned to give the Cards a strong top four again.

Senior Aliyah Mills and junior Aspen Graves also are valuable team members who will help make up the Cards’ roster Thursday.

The Chadron boys team also has been competitive again this season. Athletic Net tabulates that the Cards should rank fourth at the district meet, behind Sidney, Broken Bow and Gothenburg. The Cardinals’ lineup includes senior Carter Ryan, juniors Gavin Sloan and Caden Galbraith and sophomore Chayse Swinney. Senior Garrett Reece is usually a strong fifth and Zander Rust gives the team a capable backup.

Ryan has qualified for state the past two years and Sloan finished among the top 15 at the district meet last year to also earn a state ticket.

The Chadron boys’ team has finished fourth at the district showdown each of the past two years. They tallied 74 points in 2019, just one too many to qualify, and improved by 19 points last year, but missed qualifying by seven.

Sidney has won the boys’ district title each of those years, scoring just 24 points to win by 26 in 2019, and took last year’s crown with 32 points, 13 fewer than runner-up Broken Bow. The Red Raiders won the C championship in 2018. They finished third in ’19 and were second last year.

With three seniors who sometimes have finished one-two-three at meets this year, they’re expected to make another strong bid for the state trophy again.

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