Northland Pines Junior Nora Gremban has set herself apart from the rest of her cross-country competition so far this season.

Had it not been for a mid-season ankle injury which kept her out of one race this season, she’d likely have accomplished placing in the top spot in every event on her calendar this season to date.

Following another Great Northern Conference individual championship and Runner of the Year award again this season, her attention turned to the postseason series for which her and the Pines teams headed to the Oconto Falls Sectional last Saturday.

There Gremban qualified for the State championships once again, doing it in style as she repeated as the Sectional champion and finished nearly one minute faster than her closest competition.

Though she dominated, Gremban admitted after the race she could have performed better.

“I feel like the temperature change affected me,” said Gremban. “Even though 60s aren’t that hot, it felt hotter because I was used to 30-degree weather. Also, my legs were a little tired during the race, but I think I ran pretty solid for how I felt.”

Gremban was one of four girls who broke the 19-minute mark out of the eight separate Division 2 Sectional meets.

Junior Abigail Sadler of Mount Horeb won the Prairie du Chien Sectional in 18:53. Winneconne junior Sophie Yetter won the Portage Sectional in 18:43.

Defending State runner-up Faith Wehrman of New Berlin Eisenhower sent a message to the entire field as she won the Shorewood Sectional in 18:06 which was, albeit on a different course, four seconds faster than last year’s winning time at the State meet.

“I ran against her at the State meet last year and if I’m honest, I don’t know her really at all,” said Gremban. “I didn’t really race with her. I was battling other runners. I’m going into the race just hoping to stick with her and be within reach of her toward the end.”

Gremban said she will take it fairly easy as she prepares for the big race with minimum miles to keep her legs fresh. And what if she wins a State championship?

“I think since I don’t feel like cross-country is my strong suit compared to track, winning a State championship would definitely make me feel more well-rounded as a runner,” she said. “Also, it would just mean a lot to me because I would know I can win in both sports, which to me, is very important. And I would just be very proud.”

As a freshman, Gremban’s season was cut short.

With the entire Pines team aboard the bus awaiting departure to Tomahawk for what then was the Great Northern Conference championship race, a close-contact tracing outcome left Gremban, the likely GNC runner of the year and teammate Samantha Krueger at home.

That same close contact eliminated Gremban from the postseason roster as she then set her sights on her freshman basketball season and pending spring track and field season.

Last year Gremban ended her sophomore season finishing third in the Division 2 title race, and hopes that by staggering herself for this race particularly, she can capture the elusive title in Wisconsin Rapids a few days from now.

“I started to really develop my love for running when my high school career started, doing it for me and not for other people,” she said. “It started to kind of change my mindset about running. I really enjoyed just going out for a run on a nice day and that mindset change helped me with my success, I think.”

Gremban said competitive running can be stressful but understands also how important it is to diagnose herself early in a race.

“I try not to stress myself out about my times. I base it off my first mile. If it’s really slow, I might not be feeling it that day,” she said. “Or I may have a really great next two miles. So, I just keep a calm mindset, but I also like to strategize and plan the rest of my race.”

Two other freshmen from last year will be back at State this year. Twin sisters, Ellie and Annie Robinson of Dodgeville/Mineral Point finished fifth and seventh respectively in 2021.

“They’re twins and I actually became very good friends with them after the last track season,” said Gremban. “I had fun racing against them. We want to beat each other, but we really like each other.”

Along with a State championship, Gremban has another running goal which is to break the 18-minute mark. And she believes it can be done.

“In the last regular season race, I ran 18:36 and then ran an 18:26 earlier on my home course,” she said. “But I know I have more in me and I’m just going to have to push through my mental barrier that I’m trying to work around.”

The State meet is set again at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids to be held this Saturday, Oct. 29. For information and State championship results following Saturday’s races go to wiaawi.org.