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Cross-country teams seek state meet peak with titles on the line Saturday

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 11/01/19, 5:22PM CDT


Team and individual champions will be crowns in boys’ and girls’ races in Class 2A and 1A at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Farmington’s Anna Fenske, left, finished third and Wayzata’s Emma Atkinson fourth in the 2018 girls’ Class 2A cross-country meet. Fenske, now a junior, won the race in 2016 and is among the favorites to win on Saturday. Photo: Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Cross-country is the name of the sport. The name of the game, however, is getting the best from five of your seven runners on the same day.

That’s the challenge for Heather Strait, coach of the defending Class 2A champion St. Michael-Albertville girls’ program, at the state meet on Saturday. Ditto for Mounds View boys’ coach Ross Fleming, hoping to avoid second place for a second consecutive season.

St. Michael-Albertville and the Class 2A girls’ programs take the 5,000-meter course at St. Olaf College in Northfield first, going off at 10 a.m. The boys’ race begins at 11 a.m. The Class 1A races are scheduled at 1 p.m. (girls) and 2 p.m. (boys).

“We have had some ups and downs with iron and sickness, and the girls haven’t really all felt good about their races on the same day until this section meet,” Strait said.

The results were encouraging. The Knights won the Section 5 meet for a sixth consecutive year and jumped in the coaches ranking from No. 8 to No. 4. They will chase top-ranked Stillwater, No. 2 Edina and No. 3 Wayzata.

School record-holder Ali Weimer, who is fifth in the individual rankings, leads the way. Fellow sophomore Katie Sigerud ran second a year ago. Senior Anna Belair contributed points last year. Senior Paige McAloon participates in her sixth consecutive state championship meet. Junior Jessica Immer runs for a third straight year. And two ninth-graders, Avery O’Rourke and Emma Windingland, make their state meet debut.

Team scoring is determined by the place finishes for the five fastest runners of each seven-person squad.

Projecting the state meet individual medalist honors starts with Farmington junior Anna Fenske. She won the meet as an eighth-grader in 2016. After the top-ranked Fenske comes Wayzata’s Abbey Nechanicky, Stillwater’s Analee Weaver and Molly Moening of St. Paul Highland Park. Moening led the Scots’ team to state for the first time since 1980.

On the boys’ side, Mounds View hopes to end the high school season as it started, with a victory in Northfield. The Mustangs won the St. Olaf High School Showcase on Aug. 29 on the same course.

The final coaches ranking placed Mounds View second behind Eden Prairie.

“We certainly have a chance,” Fleming said. “We did last year, too. But Eden Prairie is the favorite and White Bear Lake is right on our heels.”

St. Paul Highland Park is ranked fourth, one spot ahead of defending champion Edina.

“They warrant attention,” Fleming said of the Hornets, “because they know how to peak. There’s a culture of expectation there.”

Fleming said his veteran team carries a similar expectation. Seniors Finn Sokolowski, Alec Nelson and Will Sacay, plus ninth-grader Elliot McArthur, were part of last season’s near miss.

“This season has been about checking boxes,” Fleming said. “They see the state meet as another box. The three seniors know what it takes and what they want.”

Individuals in the title mix includes Chanhassen senior Nicholas Scheller, the highest returning qualifier, having placed fifth in 2018. Eastview senior AJ Green was eighth. But senior Oliver Paleen of St. Paul Highland Park, 10th a year ago, holds the No. 1 spot in the coaches ranking.

Class 1A boys

Junior Geno Uhrbom of Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin returns to defend his title. In team competition, Perham aims for its third consecutive and eighth overall title. Metro area teams in the field are Nova Classical Academy of St. Paul, Minnehaha Academy/Hope Academy of Minneapolis and Heritage Christian Academy, which includes students from West Lutheran of Plymouth.

Class 1A girls

Junior Morgan Gehl of Murray County Central, who placed third in 2018, is this year’s highest returning qualifier. Two-time defending champions from Perham headlines the team competition. Providence Academy and Blake are returning teams from the metro area.

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