On October 23rd, 2020, the Lincoln East Girls Cross Country team etched their names in history once again at the Kearney Country Club in Kearney, Nebraska on a frigid Friday.
They won the team title at the Nebraska State Championships for the third year in a row, the first time since Omaha Marian won five in a row (2002-2007) that a team in Class A (Nebraska’s largest class) has won three or more consecutive titles.
Even though the Lady Spartans had won the previous two years, they were considered the third best team in the state leading up to the championship behind Fremont and Lincoln Southwest. But this was before East was fully healthy. Three time state medalist Jenna Muma and her younger sister Kylie Muma were injured most of the season, but both returned just in time for the most important race of the season.
That may have been the key to the Spartan’s upset: getting healthy at the right time. Throughout the 5K race, East stuck together, the difference between the first East runner across and 5th runner was a mere 13 seconds. In cross country, a team score is determined by your first five runners to finish places. For example, if a team finished 3rd, 10th, 11th, 20th, and 22nd their team score would be 66. East’s team score was 65, Fremont finished second with a score of 88 and Millard West third with 97.
The Spartans were led by sophomore Izzy Apel, who finished 9th overall with a PR (Personal Record) of 19:15. Apel was followed by sophomore Kylie Muma, freshman Peyton Svehla, sophomore Berlyn Schutz, and senior Jenna Muma. The difference between Izzy and Jenna was a mere 13 seconds. That was all part of the game plan for a third straight state title.
“The plan was to get out there in packs and maintain those packs,” said Izzy Apel.
The Spartans were told to stay on the attack and maintain groups in order to push one another forward and continue to motivate one another to the finish.
If there was one word to describe this anything but normal season, it would be “surprising,” says Jenna Muma. “We were ranked third coming into state but we still took home the title. I didn’t know I’d be running at state until about a week prior too,” Jenna said.
Jenna and her sister Kylie were injured for much of the season, Kylie came back a week before state and was able to compete in one varsity race while Jenna’s first varsity race of her senior season was in Kearney. They came back just in time and could be seen as an X-Factor to the Spartans surprise State Championship.
For anyone that may be on the fence whether to run cross country next year and become part of a dynasty in the making, Izzy Apel says “jump over the fence and do it. You will not regret it, you meet some of the best people you will ever meet. And even if you don’t like running, you will grow to like it,” said Apel.
The Boys Cross Country team also qualified for state and ran some of their best races of the season in a loaded Class A field. The Spartans finished in 9th place but will return six of their seven varsity runners next year. East was led by sophomore Isaac Graff, who ran a PR of 16:50, good for 30th overall. Junior Joe Volkmer was nine seconds behind him. Lincoln North Star senior Liem Chot won the race for the third time with a time of 15:37 and Fremont won the team title with 58 points, followed by Millard West and Creighton Prep.
The future for Lincoln East Cross Country continues to look bright as all but one athlete each on the boys and girls teams that ran at state will return next year.