Just a sophomore, Grand Forks Red River's Jocelyn Schiller entered this fall already with a strong reputation in both varsity basketball and track and field.
She had competed in volleyball in the past but after a little coaxing from her brother, teammates and coaches, Schiller decided to try cross country for the first time this year. She made the decision the day before the first practice of the year.
What a good decision that has turned out to be.
Schiller has risen from a novice to an East Region champion while pushing the Roughriders to what local cross country coaches believe is the first girls region title in school history.
How big was Red River girls' cross country turnaround this season? Here's the region finish for the last 13 years for the program: 7th, 8th, 6th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 7th, 7th, 6th, 7th.
"We knew she was a very talented athlete from competing in basketball and track," Red River girls cross country coach Sarah Boese-Noreen said. "It was kind of a huge surprise but not entirely because she has good relationships with our coaches and athletes."
Boese-Noreen, whose team will compete at the North Dakota state meet in Jamestown on Saturday, said it isn't completely unique Schiller became a cross country standout, despite having a reputation as more of a sprinter in track.
"Talent is talent," she said. "When you talk about athletes like a Laura Roesler or a Heather Zander ... those athletes were just good runners overall and they could have that success from the 100 to cross country."
Schiller said she has supported her brother Tanner during his Red River cross country career and always wondered how she'd stack up to the competition.
She also ran a leg on a 4x800 relay during the track and field season, where she met more of the distance runners.
"They all just said how fun and exciting it would be," Schiller said.
Schiller finished fifth in her first career race. She ended the year with two victories.
Boese-Noreen said her assistant coach Nicole Kopff helped Schiller slowly add more and more to her race plan as a cross country newcomer.
"I didn't really know what to think," Schiller said of her cross country expectations. "I was basing myself off track. I didn't have much of an expectation. I was a little nervous but the coaches really helped me start out small and grow."
As Red River's success built throughout the year, opposing coaches started to notice.
"We weren't necessarily pegged to win EDC but our girls and coaches knew our team was capable of winning EDC," Boese-Noreen said. "Some opposing coaches might've had in their minds that Red River has been stronger than in the past and maybe were worried about them. It took all five, it not all seven, to race the way we did in order to win the team championship."
Schiller had to chase down West Fargo senior Kaelyn Berg to win the East Region individual crown. Despite being about 12 seconds back with half of a mile left, Schiller won the race by about 7 seconds.
"She went out strong, and I was trying to stay with her," Schiller said. "She really went out, and I had to reel her in in the last 800 meters."
Red River is ranked No. 2 in the state in the latest coaches poll. The Roughriders, No. 1 Williston and No. 3 Bismarck High are the favorites.
"A number of our runners have battled through injuries in early years or had success at the middle school level before hitting a lull ... now everyone is putting it all together," Boese-Noreen said. "The confidence is high and they feel like then can compete with everybody."
Still a relative newcomer, Schiller, who's ranked No. 4 in the last coaches poll, isn't sure what to expect at state.
"I really want to go out and give it all I've got," she said. "Originally, (going out for cross country) was to get in shape for basketball, but I really do like it. It's not just the running, it's getting to be with all the girls."
Red River boys have high hopes
Red River didn't just sweep the individual and team titles on the girls side at EDC, but the boys pulled off the same feat.
Red River won EDC for the fourth time in five years. They're ranked third in the state behind Williston and Bismarck High.
Hunter McHenry, the region's senior athlete of the year, won the EDC race and is the state's top-ranked runner. McHenry finished eighth at state last season. He's looking to become the first Red River state champion since Bob Newark in 1975. Grand Forks Central's Lee DeKrey was the last local runner to win in 2000.
McHenry started the season ranked No. 1 before falling back after losing to West Fargo Sheyenne sophomore Aiden Johnson during the pair's first two races together.
In the EDC race, McHenry beat Johnson, who lost to a North Dakota foe for the first time this season.
"We've watched him progress all season and getting stronger in workouts," Red River coach Richard Dafoe said. "The last couple of races he's looking better and better. It's going to be a great competition for those top 5-10 spots. (McHenry) is as hungry as anybody."
Dafoe said Red River will need to surprise the top teams at state. The Riders haven't faced directly against Williston and Bismarck this year.
"We're in the mix but we're an underdog," he said.
Grand Forks Central's Quinn Roehl finished third at EDC and is ranked sixth at the state level.
"We're hoping he can get in that top five at state," Central coach Sean Allan said. "You get in that top pack and get competing and you don't know what happens when the race develops. You race it out and see what happens."
On Central's girls' side, junior Annika Presteng is the top hopeful after finishing eighth at EDC. She was injured for last year's state meet.
"She's healthy now and running what we had thought she'd be able to do," Allan said. "She wants that Top 15 at state. It'd be nice to sneak a couple of places higher. Every week she's running a little better and a little more confident."
Grand Forks runners
GF Central boys: Jr. Quinn Roehl (3rd at EDC); sr. Zach Martin (19th at EDC); soph. Curtis Sande (37th at EDC); fr. Aidan Fiala (56th at EDC); fr. Layton Boaz (68th at EDC); jr. Cayden Reed (73rd at EDC); sr. Avery Harsell (79th at EDC); soph. Preston Diederich; fr. Derek McLaren (95th at EDC); soph. Jaden Schwan (123rd at EDC).
GF Red River boys: Sr. Hunter McHenry (1st at EDC); jr. Matthew Rongitsch (8th at EDC); sr. Dameon Zenawick (10th at EDC); fr. Elijah Dafoe (15th at EDC); jr. Jonah Dafoe (16th at EDC); sr. Tanner Schiller (22nd at EDC); jr. Matthew Evans (25th at EDC); soph. David Radke (28th at EDC); jr. Jake Jenkins (31st at EDC); soph. Michal Larsen-Schmidt (32nd at EDC).
GF Central girls: Jr. Annika Presteng (8th at EDC); fr. Katie Uhlir (31st at EDC); jr. Marie Derenne (37th at EDC); soph. Aria Kindseth (39th at EDC); sr. Hannah Hynek (43rd at EDC); soph. Claire Hynek (53rd at EDC); jr. Sierra Heyd (55th at EDC); soph. Katelyn Stern (54th at EDC); seventh-grader Emma Brown; seventh-grader Claire Fiala.
GF Red River girls: Soph. Jocelyn Schiller (1st at EDC); sr. Campbell Dorsey (6th at EDC); jr. Lauren Dosch (15th at EDC); fr. Mya Mannausau (16th at EDC); seventh-grader Jocelynne Hoefs (26h at EDC); jr. Emily Nelson (33rd at EDC); soph. Morgan Hartze (38th at EDC); fr. Rylie Lelm (57th at EDC); fr. Brooke Dorsey (65th at EDC); sr. Narria Neubert (86h at state).
Note: The state meet is held at Jamestown's Parkhurst Campground/Pipestem Reservoir. The Class B races are Friday with the girls at 3 p.m. and boys at 3:45 p.m. The Class A races are Saturday with the girls at 2 p.m. and the boys at 2:45 p.m. Results will be posted online here.