In a largely individual sport, Evan Sayler is the unassuming cross country star.
The Bismarck Century standout, ranked No. 1 in Class A, enjoys the team aspect of the sport. But his individual success can’t be denied. He’s the favorite in Saturday’s state meet, which will be held at Valley City’s Bjornson Golf Course.
“I never would have thought I would have the position I do. I’m just very thankful to be in the spot I am,” said Sayler, who already owns two top 10 finishes at the state meet. “I guess the one thing I’ve tried to do is work hard. I’ve been blessed to have so many great opportunities. I just want to make the most of them.”
He’s certainly done that. After a surprise ninth-place finish as a sophomore, Sayler took third last year when Century ended Bismarck High’s dynastic 11-year state title run. From the opening gun this season, he’s been No. 1 and has worn the bull’s eye well.
“I’ve tried not to look at it as being a situation where it adds pressure. There’s a lot of great runners out there,” Sayler said. “I just look at it like it’s a really great honor to have that ranking and I want to live up to it.”
Century coach Brad Lies said Sayler’s stellar season, and career, is no accident.
“The thing that has made him the runner he is today is that he doesn’t take any short cuts,” Lies said. “He’s worked hard to develop as a runner. He puts in the miles, lifting, eating better … he’s done all of the essential things it takes to get to the next level.”
On average, Sayler logs between 55 and 60 miles per week.
Lies believes Sayler’s commitment to lifting weights, something that might seem paradoxical to cross country, has been integral to his success.
“Getting stronger and being able to put on more miles, that’s a really important aspect of being a successful runner,” Lies said. “Making sure your lower legs are strong so you can stay healthy and remain injury free is a really important part of the equation.”
Sayler’s success and dedication has not gone unnoticed. He recently took a college visit to North Dakota State. There also is mutual interest from the University of Minnesota and University of Nebraska. He expects to make a decision in the next month about where he plans to run in college with long range plans of studying occupational therapy.
“I really like the coach at NDSU,” Sayler said. “I’m trying to take my time with the process and not be impulsive.”
His focus is squarely on Saturday, although he seems to take as much joy in team success as his significant individual accomplishments. Century is ranked second as a team behind Legacy, which is considered the favorite for the team title.
“Our team has worked really hard this year. We have some very talented underclassmen who have stepped up to the plate,” Sayler said. “Legacy has been really good this year. Obviously, being a senior it’d be a dream scenario to win it back-to-back, but a lot of things can happen that are hard to predict.”
The Sabers have superior team depth. Carl Reis (5th) and Isaiah Germolus (6th) lead the way.
Bismarck has a pair of contenders in third-ranked Morgan Fairbairn and Sean Korsmo.
Alex Luz of Fargo North has been ranked No. 2 most of the season and is coming off an East Region title.
Sayler knows the competition will be stiff.
“I’m hoping to run up to my potential and I know my teammates will do the same,” he said. “We’re excited for the race to see how everything plays out.”
Rinas running for a title
While Sayler has sat atop the boys poll all season, Mandan’s Kelby Rinas has done the same.
Just a sophomore, Rinas has proved virtually unbeatable against North Dakota competition this fall, typically winning by large margins.
Rachel Torrey of Grand Forks Central won the East Region championship on Oct. 14 in Fargo. Her teammate Alexis Roehl took second.
Bismarck’s Mattie Shirley-Fairbairn has come on strong down the stretch.
Lindsey Werner of Legacy and Century’s Emily Goldade also enter Saturday’s meet with top 10 rankings.