Three of the largest and most competitive regular season cross-country meets take place Saturday: the Roy Griak Invitational, the Milaca Mega Meet and Apple Valley's Eagle Invitational. Three of the metro area's top runners, Nathan Rock, Maddie McKeefry and Josh Thorson, are ready to run for glory.
Nathan Rock's journey toward the prestigious fraternity of Eagle Scouts has mirrored his cross-country career at Rosemount.
"Both take a lot of hard work and time," said Rock, part of the 4 percent of Boy Scouts who annually become Eagle Scouts. "There are things you really have to work hard on because if you don't do them right you have to start over."
After two near-misses attempting to qualify for the Class 2A state meet as a freshman and sophomore, Rock enjoyed a breakthrough for himself and his teammates last fall. The Irish finished third, with Rock placing as the second-fastest Rosemount runner and 21st overall.
Continued success is expected of Rock, now a senior, and he delivered at the Irish Invitational in early September. Rock placed second in the two-mile race featuring top-10 runners Zach Roozen of Mounds View and Joel Reichow of White Bear Lake.
Running at the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday will provide another measure of Rock's place among the state's best. His coach, Chris Harder, does not expect the pressure to distract Rock, whose surname doubles as a state of mind.
"Nathan competes in the now, not fearful of past results or of failure," Harder said.
It wasn't always this way. Two seasons of close calls hurt Rock's confidence. Learning to minimize the damage from performances below his expectations helped Rock take a step forward.
"I felt like last year almost made up for the two years I missed out," Rock said. "It was pretty gratifying."
Wayzata boys' cross-country coach Bill Miles brings his team to the Roy Griak Invitational at the Les Bolstad Golf Course because the sheer size of the field makes it a "cake walk" compared to the Class 2A state meet.
But don't try to equate cake with something easy around Trojans standout Josh Thorson. His team's entry into a recent cake-baking competition involving all members of the Wayzata boys' and girls' programs was not considered worthy of making the finals and therefore went untried. Only later did the judge, Miles himself, take a bite and realize he had made an error.
"Be careful mentioning it to him," Miles warned. "I think he's still upset."
Thorson laughed it off. But a competitive nature drives the program toward its just desserts. Wayzata has won three of the past four state titles while Thorson ran to two all-state finishes. And coaches have voted him the state's No. 1 runner in the Sept. 14 poll. But he considers such accolades just icing.
"I don't think anything has changed much because I've been the No. 1 runner for our team the past two or three years," Thorson said. "There's always pressure to do well for the team."
Those expectations left Thorson torn and frayed at times last season. A more relaxed mindset will be the key ingredient in his success this season.
"Last year it was like, 'I've got to get top-3 or first,'" he said. "Now I'm trying to go with the flow and run with confidence."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574
Andover sophomore Maddie McKeefry is back on solid footing after an accidental fall and asthma conspired to ruin key meets as an eighth- and ninth-grader.
Her presence is vital to an Andover team dealing with injuries and resulting disappointing finishes. The Huskies finished fifth at the Class 2A state meet last season and returned four of their top five runners but placed sixth at the recent Lakeville Applejack Invitational.
"We wanted top-3," McKeefry said. "But not getting it will make us work harder. We've got a long way to go but we can still accomplish a lot."
The Huskies will test their mettle Saturday at the Milaca Mega Meet, a race with competition and pageantry that rival the state meet.
"I do like the Milaca meet but I think of it as another meet," McKeefry said. "There's still conference and sections."
That forward-looking approach helped McKeefry battle through adversity. A muddy course led to her falling at the section meet as an eighth-grader and missing out on a state meet appearance.
Last season, asthma affected McKeefry's ability to breathe and swallow and impacted her performances. Chewing gum during races appears to have solved the problem. Her team-best time of 14 minutes, 47.1 seconds at Lakeville was just two seconds slower than her personal best set two years ago. With past disappointments behind her, McKeefry is ready to reach new heights.
"I'm very determined and I like to work hard," she said. "I keep moving forward and never look back."
Rosemount cross-country runner Nathan Rock.