Perfect plan, perfect race: Incline’s Pietzke wins cross country state championship
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Niklas Pietzke had the perfect plan, ran the perfect race and dominated his competition.
The Incline High School junior broke away from the pack late during the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Class 2A State Cross Country Championships and finished 17 seconds clear of his next competitor to win the title.
He was 29 seconds ahead of third place and finished nearly a minute ahead of fourth place on the 5,000-meter course at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno.
“It feels really good,” Pietzke told the Tribune. “I felt really proud that all the hard work I put in throughout the season paid off.”
Pietzke helped the Highlanders to a second place finish as a team with North Tahoe using its depth to claim the team crown.
“It was the best possible outcome for us, both individually and as a team,” said Highlanders head coach Ross McMahan. “It was a team effort, we earned second place by just a couple of points and the kids knew everybody they passed was going to matter and they gave all they had. It was a good day for Incline.”
McMahan said that he, assistant coach Thomas Reymer, Pietzke and his parents collaborated to come up with the best plan to beat Teagan Hansen, a senior from Sierra Lutheran that has beaten Pietzke in every other competition leading up to the state event.
And that plan was to stick to Hansen and not let him have any space out front.
“In the past, Teagan would get a small gap and it would never change and wouldn’t get any bigger,” McMahan said.
Pietzke said he was surprised when Hansen didn’t start strong and finally got fed up with the slow pace after the first mile.
“I decided to take the lead at about halfway and went hard up a hill,” Pietzke said. “Teagan stayed with me and took the lead for a bit after the hill but I followed right behind, I never let him get more than a couple of meters ahead.”
Pietzke grabbed back the lead in the final mile and never was challenged again.
Pietzke last year lost to Hansen at the regional meet by 25 seconds and then lost again by 17 seconds the next week at state.
This year, Pietzke was within 10 seconds a couple of weeks ago at the regional meet, before blowing by him for the state crown in a time of 16 minutes, 55 seconds.
“I was really proud to finally beat him,” Pietzke said.
Pietzke had time to catch his breath after crossing the finish line and went back to cheer on his team, including younger brother, Brendan.
The older Pietzke may have started a streak where his family owns 2A cross country in Nevada for the next three years.
Brendan Pietzke was the fastest freshman in the race, just like Niklas was when he was a ninth grader.
The frosh crossed the line in eighth place in 18:15, five spots and 12 seconds ahead of the next freshman from Southern Nevada.
“It was good to run with my brother,” Niklas said. “I think he definitely looks up to me and it’s nice to have someone to train with. He had a really great season, was the fastest frosh and ran really well.”
The third fastest freshman in the field was Incline’s Luc Casini, who finished as the third fastest Highlander in 26th place in 20:12.
Highlander sophomore Jimmy Cleary was right behind in 27th (20:21) in the 49-runner field.
Incline finished with 41 points, two better than Silver Stage and 25 behind North Tahoe.
Following the race, McMahan noticed his team was already talking about next year.
“We have no seniors, just one junior and freshmen and sophomores and as amazing as this season was, the kids are already talking about next year,” McMahan said. “We’ve got a good group of eighth graders coming up next year and we’re looking forward to next year and bigger and better things to come.”