SOUTH SIOUX CITY – A youthful South Sioux City boys cross country team will compete Friday at the Nebraska state meet at the Kearney Country Club.
The Cardinals are the defending Class B state team champions, though, graduation hit the team pretty hard.
This year’s squad of six runners has just two returners from last year in juniors Zekariya Abdela and Mubarek Abdela.
The other four members of the sixth-ranked Cardinals unit will be competing at the state meet for the first time, seniors Lencho Abduraman and Firomsa Mohamed and freshmen Juan Balderas and Aman Abdella.
“We graduated four seniors (three that ran at state), so that opened a lot of room for guys to move up (to varsity),” said South Sioux City boys coach Sean Fitzsimmons.
Zekariya Abdela, who was 15th at the state meet last fall, went from being the No. 3 runner to the No. 1 guy. Abdela plays soccer in the spring and dedicated his summer to get caught up in the mileage department heading into this fall.
“He plays soccer in the spring so he felt like he had to make up some mileage,” said Fitzsimmons. “He ended up doing a lot of runs on his own, a lot of two-a-days.
“By feeling like he was behind and having a sense of urgency all summer he ended up getting himself quite a bit ahead.”
Abdela, who won the district race last week in Elkhorn in 16:30, is one of just six returning state meet medalists from last year’s race. A race that South Sioux City, behind then seniors Abdul Mohamed and Osmen Geele, went 1-2 in.
The two seniors on this year’s squad are a pair of runners according to Fitzsimmons that just missed being apart of the varsity six a year ago.
“Our seniors are trying to step up and fill some big shoes,” said Fitzsimmons. “They are getting there with only a week left they are trying.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with this group of guys.”
The two freshmen weren’t expected to push for varsity spots this early in their careers, but due to injuries and depletion from the team, they have pushed through and competed well according to Fitzsimmons.
The Cardinals lost junior Shaafici Mohamed, last year’s No. 4 runner, who has missed pretty much the entire season with a hamstring injury.
Omaha Skutt enters the race ranked No. 1 while Elhorn, who defeated South Sioux City in the district meet is third. Lexingon (#2), Aurora (#4) and Gretna (#5) are all ranked ahead of South Sioux City entering Friday’s 3:30 p.m. race, the final race on the schedule.
“We haven’t seen with this group, everybody having a great day and just an outstanding day as a team,” said Fitzsimmons. “So that’s kind of our hope for this group on Friday and that’s the way we have trained them all season.
“The hope is to jump up there in the top 3-4 and see and try and mix it up with those teams.”
South Sioux City girls have a pair of qualifiers, both first time runners at state, in junior Sadie Rocha and freshman Emane Ahmed. Rocha was fifth at the district meet in 20:53.0.
Hartington/Newcastle senior Brian Santiago, a four-time qualifier, is seeking a fourth state meet medal and more importantly chases a state title.
Santiago, the Lewis & Clark Conference champion, won the district meet race in 17:05 and has finished 13th, ninth and third in his state meet career.
He will challenge defending state champion Aidan Wheelock of Minden, the junior, who ran 16:59 at his district meet while Holdrege senior Gavin Klein, seventh a year ago, also went under 17 minutes while winning his district meet race.
Hartington/Newcastle, the Lewis & Clark Conference champs, also have senior Seth Wiebelhaus, the three-time qualifier who was a state medalist a year ago.
The Hartington/Newcastle girls are making their third straight state team appearance. The Lewis & Clark Conference champs are led by senior Allie Rosener, the individual league champ, a three-time state qualifier.
Wayne has a pair of state qualifiers in senior Andrea Torres and junior Gabrielle Meyer.
The Crofton boys, led by brothers Tanner and Connor Arens, head into the state meet ranked second after winning the district title with 34 points.
Connor and Tanner ran 1-2 at the district race in Pender while teammate Tyler Janssen was eighth. Tanner Arens and Tyler Janssen are each three-time state qualifiers.
Winnebago senior D’Von LaPointe will run in his second state meet while Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur Northeast advanced as a team for the first time in its co-op existence.
Crofton senior Haley Arens will gun for a fourth straight top-three finish for an individual who has finished second, first and third in her previous three trips to Kearney.
Arens, the Mid-States Conference champ, won the Marsha Koebernick Invite earlier this fall and was the district champ by over a minute in Pender.
Arens will look to push defending state champion Rylee Rice from Ainsworth in a race that has 12 returning state medalists.
One of those is Bloomfield/Wausa sophomore Bree Eisenhauer, who was 13th last fall and led her team to the district team championship with 39 points while Crofton was second in 47.