Lincoln’s Will Lauer (in front) leads the way during the boys NXN Heartland Regional meet Sunday at Yankton Trail Park.(Photo: Jay Pickthorn / Argus Leader )
Lincoln senior Will Lauer had his sights set on Sunday's Nike Heartland Regional Meet for months, and he delivered with a tremendous performance.
Lauer rose to the occasion at Yankton Trail Park, finishing second in a race that included runners from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Lauer finished second with a time of 15:07.5. Olin Hacker won the race with a time of 15:05.4.
"It feels really good to accomplish this," said Lauer "The goal going into it was to win it of course, and I came really close to that. It was a really good race, and I was able to break the old course record."
The run against the best competitors the Midwest has to offer provided challenges to Lauer, but he was able to break away from a tight pack and claim his runner-up finish.
"For the first mile and a half, there was still a huge group at the front," said Lauer. "It was a little nerve-wracking, but I was able to stay with the group that kind of broke out in front."
Lauer's reward for finishing second is a grand one. Lauer will now have the opportunity to compete at the program's national meet held in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 6. A total of 22 seven-person teams and 45 individuals are eligible for the national meet.
"It will be really fun to be at nationals," Lauer said. "I'm still considering racing in the Foot Locker regional, but Nike Nationals is a huge race. There will be a great a lot of great runners there, so I can really see where I stack up."
Lauer could have some familiar company at the race. The top-two teams from each of the seven regional races are guaranteed a slot at nationals, but Lincoln's third-place finish could still punch its ticket to Portland with at-large bids decided Nov. 29.
"The thing about Nike Nationals is that it's mainly a team race," Lauer said. "We want the entire team there because of that. We have a team with a lot of seniors together, and that makes us want to make nationals even more."
The national race will conclude a benchmark season for Lauer and all of the Patriots. The senior's year has featured an individual state title and a team title prior to Sunday's accomplishment.
"The state title was for the school and everything so it's great, but the fact that this had teams and runners from the surrounding states makes this more special," Lauer said. "This was a better race for us as a whole."
Lauer and the Patriots weren't the lone members of the community to put in a great effort. The meet featured 556 runners in either the boys or girls races, and Sioux Falls answered the challenge of hosting such a large event.
"The biggest reason for the meet going smoothly is that Nike puts their name and brand on it, and they're willing to do what it takes to ensure that it's a great meet," said Meet Director Kristi Rieger. "There are also so many local people that help with this event and so many local businesses that support it. It's really a team effort."
Sunday marked the seventh consecutive year that Sioux Falls has hosted the event, and the meet has seen a steep increase in participation over the course of those years.
"I was really excited to see that we had a 30-percent increase in registration from last year," Rieger said. "It's been really need to see the event evolve into what it was (Sunday). I think it was a very special day for all high school cross country runners."