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The East Ridge girls’ cross-country team, which placed second in the Class 2A meet last fall, hopes to reach state for the fifth time in the school’s six years of existence. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune)

 

Lloyd Ness said a coaching counterpart told him once you have a good cross-country team, you always have a good cross-country team. Ness said he isn’t sure if that’s true, but he hopes so.

This fall Ness and the East Ridge girls’ cross-country team are looking to reach a fifth state meet in the school’s sixth year of existence. The Raptors are ranked No. 7 in the Class 2A preseason coaches poll.

“We should be favored to make [the state meet] again, but anything can happen,” Ness said. “Ranked where we are, you should feel you have a good chance, but you’re always an injury away.”

East Ridge, which won the past four Suburban East Conference championships, has improved its finish at state each year it has qualified. Last year the Raptors earned second place in the big-school meet, behind Wayzata. East Ridge won all of its races aside from state.

“It was a very joyous time,” Ness said of last year’s state meet. “I’ll never forget it. It was just a great group. They all ran really well.”

East Ridge will need to replace two of its top five runners from last year in 2014, graduates Bailey Ness and Sandra Gramer. Bailey Ness, the daughter of Lloyd Ness, will run for the University of Minnesota this fall. She finished 21st overall in last year’s state meet. Gramer, who is now running for South Dakota State, was 75th.

“I lose two really good girls,” Lloyd Ness said. “They were my leaders. But we have a good little team coming back.”

The Raptors return senior captains Emily Betz and Brenley Goertzen. Betz, who was East Ridge’s top finisher at last year’s state meet, and Goertzen have each run varsity since eighth grade and have been part of every one of the Raptors’ state meet squads. East Ridge also welcomes back junior Olivia Hummel, sophomore Megan Schiferl and junior Anna Betz, who were each among the team’s top seven runners last season.

Betz said the team is “really close” and is pushing each other to live up to the lofty expectations.

“There’s definitely pressure,” Betz said. “When you’re ranked a certain number, you feel like you should be that good. The goal is to go to state again and do well. We hope to do better than our ranking.”

Last year Betz won the Class 2A, Section 4 individual championship, then went on to take fifth place overall at state. Goertzen was the Raptors’ third-best finisher at state last year, taking 61st. Betz and Goertzen both have Division-I running talent, according to their coach. Betz is one of the state’s best distance runners, while Goertzen is a top 800-meter runner in track.

The two have come a long way since middle school. Goertzen remembers the first time she ran with Betz.

“I asked her to walk part of it with me,” Goertzen said. “She told me she thought we should start running again, so we ran the rest of it. I feel like I was the baby not too long ago, but now I’m the oldest. It’s way different.”

In addition to leading on the course, Emily Betz and Goertzen are expected to lead the team off the course as well, taking roles previously held by Bailey Ness and Gramer.

“I want to make Bailey and Sandra proud,” Goertzen said. “I want us to live up to what we’ve achieved for so long.”

Cross-country at East Ridge has grown each year. The program has 115 runners this season, including 56 girls. The Raptors’ first meet is Friday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

“I’m always so excited for it all to start — the fall, school and cross-country,” Goertzen said. “I can’t wait to race.”

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