For Wayzata junior Abbey Nechanicky, the buzz in cross-country circles is less how she will finish and more how quickly.
MileSplit Minnesota, a respected source in all things cross-country and track and field, put elite expectations on Nechanicky. Among editor Ryan Kotajarvi's "bold predictions" for this season is Nechanicky to become only the fourth female runner to finish a 5,000-meter race in less than 17 minutes.
"It's like someone scoring 100 points in a modern-day hockey season," Kotajarvi said, "or a quarterback throwing 50 touchdown passes. It's something only the most dedicated and talented athletes can attain."
Wayzata coach Addy Hallen said Nechanicky is taking the hype in stride. She's been well-known since placing 10th at the Class 2A meet as an eighth-grader. She finished second as a freshman in 2019.
"She really tries to not pay attention to any rankings," Hallen said. "She doesn't even want her mom to tell her."
As for running sub-17 minutes, Nechanicky's best thus far is 17 minutes, 25.70 seconds. Hallen said Nechanicky's aerobic gifts and blistering workout paces will give her "a really good chance" to join Minneapolis Washburn's Emily Covert, who in 2018 became the first girl to break the 17-minute barrier, plus Stillwater's Analee Weaver and Tierney Wolfgram of Math & Science Academy of Woodbury.
"We're going to stay patient with her training volume," Hallen said. "I want to hand her off to a college coach and see her have a long career."
Nechanicky grabbed the top spot in the Class 3A coaches' preseason poll. She must fend off a solid group of challengers, including second-ranked St. Michael-Albertville senior Ali Weimer — who beat Nechanicky last week at the St. Olaf Showcase run in Northfield on the same course as the state championship meet.
Rounding out the top five are Isabella Roemer (Chanhassen), Sydney Drevlow (Hopkins) and Mariah Fenske (Farmington).
The top five Class 3A girls' teams in the poll were Edina, Wayzata, Minnetonka, Lakeville South and Farmington.
Fast company, part two
On the boys' side, Minneapolis Southwest sophomore Sam Scott didn't make the top five in the Class 3A preseason coaches' poll. No problem. He ran himself into the mix by winning the St. Olaf Showcase. The No. 1 pick in the poll, Mounds View junior Elliott McArthur, placed fifth, one spot ahead of Forest Lake senior Daniel VanAcker. Minnetonka junior Nick Gilles took third.
The big-school coaches picked Wayzata, Stillwater, Edina, Rosemount and Buffalo as the top five teams.
Head of a new class
Cross-country expands this fall from two classes to three. Few teams benefited more than the St. Paul Highland Park girls.
In the past, the Scots battled through a tough section with large schools such as Stillwater. Now, they are the favorite to win the Class 2A title. Senior Molly Moening leads the way. She placed second last fall at the unofficial state meet, the TC Running Company Cross-Country Showcase.
The traditional state meet, lost to COVID-19 last season, returns on Nov. 6 at St. Olaf College. The tentative schedule starts with Class 3A (boys 9:30 a.m., girls 10:30), followed by Class 1A (boys noon, girls 1 p.m.) and Class 2A (boys 2:30, girls 3:30).