Claire Hynek could join some elite company Saturday.

Hynek has a shot at a top-20 finish and all-state recognition at the North Dakota Class A girls state cross country meet, to be held in Minot.

Should Hynek achieve that top-20 finish, she would join Karly Ackley and Alexis Roehl as the only eighth-grade girls at Grand Forks Central to gain all-state honors since Sean Allan became head coach in 1998.

Ackley and Roehl both are currently NCAA Division I runners, Ackley at Iowa State and Roehl at North Dakota State. More than a dozen of Allan’s other former Central runners went on to run at the collegiate level, but weren’t all-staters as eighth-graders.

To achieve what Ackley and Roehl did “shows that Claire has some very special skills,’’ Allan said. “I think Claire is very likely to make the top 20. In the last three or four meets, she’s run better. She’s gained a ton of confidence.

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“I told Claire this summer that I thought she had a chance at being an all-stater this year and she looked at me, shook her head and said, ‘I don’t believe that’s possible.’ But she has the confidence now. And that’s huge. You have to believe you can be successful.’’

Hynek was ranked in the top 10 in the weekly state coaches’ poll earlier this season. She’s going to state coming off a fourth-place finish at the EDC Championships. She’s been a consistent top-10 finisher in races all season.

“Claire’s very competitive,’’ Allan said. “She loves to compete more than she likes to practice. That love of competition can be hard to find sometimes in kids. She has natural talent to go with it.’’

The eighth-grader is well aware of the stature of Ackley and Roehl.

“I had the pleasure of running with Alexis last year, and I know Karly was an amazing runner for Central,’’ she said. “They’re girls I look up to.

“Getting all-state is a big goal for me. It would be a really great experience, knowing the work I put in would pay off.’’

Hynek is one of two Central runners Allan expects to earn all-state status. Senior Mikayla Weiss, a top 10-ranked runner for much of the season and runner-up at the EDC Championships, also is a strong all-state candidate. Weiss was atop-10 finisher at each of the last two state meets.

Riders rebuild quickly

Grand Forks Red River was in the top five in the Class A boys coaches weekly cross country rankings almost all season. That’s status Roughriders coach Richard Dafoe wouldn’t have anticipated at the end of the 2018 season.

“The top teams had a lot of good kids coming back. We graduated three of our top five runners,’’ said Dafoe, whose team placed sixth at state last season.

“But we have a bunch of kids who worked really hard and got better, probably a little more improvement than we would have anticipated at the end of last season.’’

Of the top teams in the state, Dafoe said, the only ones Red River has lost to are Bismarck Century, Williston and Fargo North.

Dafoe looks for sophomore Hunter McHenry, freshman Matt Rongitsch and junior Broden Diederich to be the team’s top contenders for top-20 finishes.