A FINAL 5,000 FOR JADA KOERNER
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Given her family’s pedigree for distance running, it didn’t necessarily come as a surprise that Jada Koerner qualified for the State Cross-Country Meet as a seventh grader, nor was it really a surprise that she earned a medal in that 2017 season finale at Hart Ranch in Rapid City with a 23rd-place finish.
Still, expectations aside, what Jada has done in her prep career since that inaugural season is impressive. She has been a top finisher during the regular season more times than not, been a region champion twice — including at last week’s meet in Burke — and has medaled five times in five appearances at state: 23rd that first year, 10th as an eighth grader, 20th her freshman season, third in 2020 and fourth as a junior last fall.
Now, she’s got one race left in what has been a memorable six-year run.
The Freeman Academy senior will compete in the final 5,000-meter race of her high school days at Broadland Creek Golf Course in Huron Saturday afternoon, Oct. 22. Jada is one of 13 runners from Freeman Academy/Marion, Freeman Public and Menno who qualified for state at the Region 3B meet at a blustery Burke last Wednesday, Oct. 12.
That includes the entire FA/Marion boys team of Tavin Schroeder, Finley McConniel, Hayden Schmidt, Jayson Allison and Seth Balzer; the Bearcats clipped Mitchell Christian by a single point in the final team standings to claim the region title. As an aside, an FA/Marion boys team has finished first or second in the region competition 10 times in the last 11 years.
Other local runners qualifying for state are:
Freeman Public eighth grader Rylee Peters and sophomore Peyton McCune for the girls and seventh grader Brayden Mangel for the boys (seventh grader Lane McCune just missed qualifying with a 21st place finish), and;
Menno junior Ashton Massey and eighth grader Zoe Schaeffer for the girls and freshman Erick Buechler for the boys.
One more race
For Koerner, Saturday’s race in Huron will provide one last opportunity to do something she has been thinking about for years — being the best Class B cross-country runner in the state. It’s something her mom and coach, Suzanne, did three consecutive years in the early 1980s and something her oldest sister, Lillie, accomplished in 2010. And four years later, Jada watched her older sister Clara turn in an inspiring performance on the very course she will run on Saturday; it wasn’t a win, but it was the race of Clara’s career that led to a fifth-place finish.
But, whereas last year Jada was clear that her goal was to win, this year she is taking the pressure off.
“There’s a lot of really tough competition, a lot of really good girls running,” she said. “So I’m just kind of going into it wanting to run my best and have fun with it. It’s my last high school race in cross-country so I want to enjoy it.”
Jada said she is spending the week eating well, drinking plenty of water, cutting back on miles and will try to get some sleep, although she says she’s nervous.
“Oh yeah,” she says. “But I’m also kind of calm about it. It’s weird. I’m trying to take it like a normal week but it’s a little tough mentally.”
As for her strategy, Jada doesn’t flinch.
“Sit and kick,” she said, meaning she will start slower and draft off the energy of the runners in front of her before making a move later in the race. “That way you’re saving your own energy.”
Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Jada will leave Freeman Academy/Marion cross-country as someone who will be remembered for a long time.
“I’m pretty proud of my career,” she said. “It’s a lot to live up to the rest of my family, but I think I’ve done well. I hope I’ve made them proud.”
And she knows she’s got a lot left in the tank, both with her final spring track season and whatever happens beyond high school.
“I’ll probably run in college,” she said, “so it doesn’t feel like the end yet.”
Jada isn’t the only runner who could bring hardware home from Huron. Her teammate, freshman Estelle Waltner, has come on strong this season and has consistantly been only a few places behind. Estelle was third in last week’s region meet.
Another strong runner for the Bearcats, junior Tavin Schroeder, is also set up for a strong finish in Huron. He has been a winner this season more times than not and finished second in the region. Tavin was eighth at state as a sophomore last year. Finley McConniel, a Marion sophomore, has also enjoyed a breakout season and was third at the region meet.
Elsewhere, Menno junior Ashton Massey has enjoyed a successful season of top-10 finishes and was eighth in Burke last Wednesday. She has competed at state every year since she was a seventh grader and is looking for her first medal. For Zoe Schaeffer and Erick Buechler, this will be their first state meet.
Finally, Saturday marks a return trip to state for both Freeman Public eighth grader Rylee Peters and sophomore Peyton McCune, who will be looking to improve on last year’s 60th and 86th place finishes.
Here’s a list of all local runners who competed at the region meet:
Jada Koerner 1st, 20:53
Tavin Schroeder 2nd, 17:29
Finley McConniel 3rd, 18:04
Estelle Waltner 3rd, 21:30
Hayden Schmidt 18th, 20:27
Jayson Allison 19th, 20:28
Seth Balzer 25th, 21:37
Sieta Wiersema 30th, 27:11
Rylee Peters 12th, 23:31
Brayden Mangel 15th, 20:10
Peyton McCune 18th, 24:00
Lane McCune 21st, 21:06
Ashton Massey 6th, 22:23
Erick Buechler 10th, 19:44
Zoe Schaeffer 16th, 23:54
Ashlynn Fergen 28th, 26:17
Hannah Masterson 31st, 27:44