Cross country photo

Lincoln North Star’s Liem Chot, the defending state champion in Class A, opened his 2019 season with a win Thursday at Seward.

Liem Chot came out of the chute Thursday and won his season-opening meet. Kaylee Crews tries to do the same Saturday.

Last year’s Class A cross country champions are favored to repeat in a season that began in earnest Thursday in early September heat and will finish Oct. 25 in Kearney at the state meet. And who knows what weather the state’s best will get that day.

Lincoln North Star’s Chot, a junior, held off Zachary VanBrocklin of Norris at the Charlie Thorell Invitational at Seward. Defending Class B champion Ryan Zavadil of Omaha Skutt, getting a rare chance to race Chot, finished fourth.

Papillion-La Vista South’s Crews opens her season Saturday morning at the Titans’ home invitational. Among her challengers there may be 2018 runner-up Jenna Muma of Lincoln East, last year’s team champion. Muma has been ill for part of preseason workouts.

“In terms of the times this team can put up in a varsity race, this should be the best team in our program’s history,’’ Papio South coach Jeremy Haselhorst said. “I would put them up against any of our three state championship teams. Kaylie, Olivia Rosenthal and Anna Jennings give us a really strong front pack and all three will be in the hunt to win any meet we attend on the individual side.”

“The development of our 4 through 7 runners will be the determining factor in what this team achieves as a team at the state level.”

East returns five state-meet runners and welcomes a freshman class that includes proven prospects Kylie Muma — Jenna is an older sister — and Berlyn Schutz. But don’t concede Class A as a two-team race. Lincoln Southwest and Fremont are loaded, as well.

In Class A boys, defending team champion Fremont graduated six of its seven runners. Runner-up Omaha Creighton Prep and Millard West graduated four apiece. So the favorite is Southwest, which was fifth in 2018.

“Their trio of senior runners —Jack Nolley, Tyler Boyle and Trevor Acton — is as good as any three on the same team in as long as I can remember,’’ Fremont coach Sean McMahon said.

Because of realignment, Class A has 34 schools and Class B 26 in cross country this season.

In Class B, defending boys champion Omaha Skutt returns its top two runners from state — Zavadil and fellow junior Isaac Richards. There will be a new girls champion as Lincoln Pius X moves to Class A. So does runner-up Elkhorn. It leaves Skutt and Norris, with returning individual champion Samantha Palermo, as the front-runners.

Malcolm moves up into Class C after winning the past two Class D boys team titles. Also in C for the first time is Aurora, which was fifth in Class B last year. Sidney’s boys and Holdrege’s girls are Class C’s defending team champions.

Rylee Rice of Ainsworth will go for a career sweep of the Class D titles, which would be a first in that class. Ainsworth is the two-time defending team champion.

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Stu is The World-Herald's lead writer for high school sports and for golf. Follow him on Twitter @stuOWH. Phone: 402-444-1041.

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