It’s not difficult to find Ellen Hirsberg on a cross country course.
She’s the runner usually well out in front of everyone else.
The Meadows sophomore has dominated Division III girls cross country in Southern Nevada this year with no one even close to her. She’s hoping that domination can travel north for one more race when she and her teammates compete Saturday in the state meet at Reno’s Rancho San Rafael Park.
The Division I and I-A state meets also are Saturday at Rancho San Rafael.
Hirsberg enters the meet having won the Southern Region meet Friday by almost two minutes. She finished the 3.1-mile race in 21:32. Teammate Ashley Lee was second in 23:20.
“Our belief is that Ellen can and will win the state championship,” The Meadows coach Charles Bernick said. “In our state meet, there’s going to be some stiff competition. We’re going to have to push.”
Being pushed hasn’t happened often to Hirsberg this year. She won the Southern League meet Oct. 17 by a margin of 2:14 and won by 1:47 in a seven-team meet in late September.
In her freshman year, Hirsberg was surrounded by a talented senior class that included Jeneke Heerema, Bailey Gosse, Delaney Gosse and Krista Thompson — all top 12 finishers in last year’s Division III state meet.
She had someone forcing her to compete hard in each race and on each practice day.
“They really brought me up,” Hirsberg said. “They were really helpful in races.”
This year, Hirsberg often finds herself alone on the course in meets, trying to gauge how well she is running by her time rather than by where the nearest competitor is.
“It’s definitely more of a challenge for her when she is more advanced than a lot of runners,” Bernick said.
Still, Hirsberg’s times are comparable with the top runners in larger-school divisions. Her time in the region meet would have been good for second in the I-A Southern meet, only 10 seconds behind the winner, and would have been the sixth-best time in the Sunrise Region meet.
And that’s without someone running near her to force her to push harder.
“It’s really hard,” Hirsberg said. “I have to run against my own time, but it helps with my mental side a lot. It’s really different because a lot of those girls (last year) were really good.”
The Mustangs have only one senior and no juniors this year, and that has meant a different role and different training for Hirsberg.
She often runs with the Mustangs’ boys team in practice and serves as motivation for the less-experienced runners on the girls team.
“She’s one of the hardest workers on the team, and for us in a small school and with a young girls team, that effort and that energy rubs off on the others,” Bernick said. “We have a lot of kids who had never run before, never even stepped on a cross country course before they came out with us at the beginning of the season. That model just helps them.
“She would do well no matter what because she’s talented and a very hard worker.”
Hirsberg will be challenged Saturday by several Northern Nevada runners.
Defending state champion Quinn Lehmkuhl of North Tahoe finished fourth in the Northern Region meet and joins teammates Sophia Sanchez and Elan Lindsey, Sierra Lutheran’s Elaina Marchegger and Hirsberg as favorites to win.
“I don’t really go in having any expectations at all,” Hirsberg said. “I just want to do my best.”
Contact reporter Bartt Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5230.