Coaches are seldom satisfied, but Wayzata’s Mark Popp found few flaws in his boys’ cross-country team at its section meet.
The Trojans ran away from a strong field and sent notice they are the favorites to repeat as Class 2A champions at Saturday’s state meet in Northfield.
Khalid Hussein took overall medalist honors, covering the 5,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 37.4 seconds. Teammates Blake Buysse, Grant Matthews, Mitchell Tolander and Andrew Brandt formed a tight pack. Just 3.4 seconds separated the quartet.
“Any one of our top five runners are in striking distance of other teams’ No. 1,” Popp said.
Wayzata is poised to be even faster at state because runners didn’t taper for the section meet. Popp said his veteran group hopes to maintain their peak through the Nike regional and national meets taking place in the coming weeks.
On the individual side, Hussein hopes to improve on his runner-up finish last season. He will be pushed by Roseville’s Acer Iverson, whose time of 15:31.9 was the fastest of any section race, and Rosemount’s Luke Labatte (15:49.4).
Iverson’s time reset his personal best by about eight seconds. He lightened his summer training load in hopes of being more fresh later in the season.
Class 1A boys
Mounds Park Academy’s Declan Dahlberg and Matt Steiger of La Crescent provided great drama at state last year with a race to the wire. Dahlberg won by outkicking Steiger.
The best part? They both return on the strength of great performances. Each won his section meet. Dahlberg took Section 4 in a time of 16:04.8 while Steiger triumphed in Section 1 in 16:01.6.
Mora’s Cooper Lennox, Nathan Williams, Zach Garza, Josh Rawls, Kaden Smart, Jordan Woods and Wilson Krueger hope to capture the program’s fourth consecutive team title.
Class 1A girls
Tierney Wolfgram of Math and Science Academy in Woodbury and Grace Ping of Winona Cotter will finish their season how it started, facing each other on the St. Olaf College course.
Ping, the Class 1A state champion in 2015, defeated defending state champion Wolfgram by 19 seconds in the St. Olaf High School Showcase on Aug. 31. But the freshmen, two of the fastest in the nation, know the rematch means more.
“Grace is a role model of mine and she has so much experience so I expect a close race,” said Wolfgram, who ran a 17:42.8 in her section final race at Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul.
Ping, who lived with her family in Utah last year, said she plans to “run my race and give it my best.” She finished in 18:11.9 at her section meet at Northern Hills Golf Course in Rochester.
They helped each other get to this point, training together during the summer in Winona at Ping’s four-day Project Gold camp. They endured tough threshold workouts and emerged as better runners and closer competitors.
Class 2A girls
Defending Class 2A champion Anna Fenske of Farmington also trained at Project Gold camp. She joins Wolfgram and Ping to give Minnesota a trio of nationally regarded freshman runners.
Fenske expected to concentrate on the task ahead Friday evening.
“I don’t try to think about a race until the night before and then come up with a plan,” she said. “I’ll keep winning in mind, but I just hope to do well and have fun.”
Fenske ran a 17:24.9 at sections. Emily Covert of Minneapolis Washburn (17:40) also could contend for the title.
On the team side, Wayzata is favored to break Edina’s two-year hold on the crown. Emma Atkinson and cross-country newcomer Caroline Sassan give the Trojans speed that other teams haven’t been able to match.