Cross country: Champs Schandelmeier, Bell return to Southwest Conference Meet
WORTHINGTON — Balanced with lead-runner quality and exceptional depth, the Marshall Tigers are the defending team champions in both girls and boys, as the annual Southwest Conference cross country meet takes place this afternoon at the Prairie View Golf Links northwest of Worthington.
While the Tigers, who convincingly won both team titles on Oct. 8 at the 21-team Dragon Invitational at Adrian, are the clear favorite to duplicate their dual victories, the races for the individual gold medals may be more competitive.
Both individual champions — Luverne freshman Madison Schandelmeier and Marshall senior Andrew Bell — do return and are having splendid seasons.
But, several other top-notch individuals will likely give both the 2012 winners some keen competition.
Among the leading contenders to dethrone Schandelmeier is Redwood Valley junior Kayla Huhnerkoch, who finished third a year ago. Huhnerkoch has won several races this fall, including claiming a victory at the Milaca Mega-Meet Sept. 21.
A trio of Schandelmeier’s teammates — senior veteran Makayla Hohn, seventh-grade sensation Gabrielle Ferrell and steady-running freshman Mariah Aukes — will also be among the leaders, along with all five of Marshall’s scoring runners, likely paced by freshman Claire Boersma and sophomore Jackie Turner.
Schandelmeier clocked a winning time of 14:59 in last year’s meet at Redwood Falls, while Hohn (15:22) — who also finished second in 2011 — nipped Huhnerkoch (15:23) in a close race for runner-up honors.
Marshall took the next five places in 2012 and claimed the team title with a low score of 30 (4-5-6-7-8).
Aukes was ninth in last year’s meet (16:05), helping Luverne take second place in the varsity girls’ standings of the seven-team meet with 55 points.
“We are aiming to get our top four all in the first 14,” said LHS head coach Pete Janiszeski, who guided the Cardinals to the team championship in 2011. “Getting three or four of them in the top-seven, earning all-conference honors would be really special.”
The top seven individual finishers earn all-conference recognition, while the next seven (places 8-14) are tabbed all-conference honorable mention.
Last year, Worthington runners Meredith Moore (11th, 16:12) and Alicia Darling (12th, 16:13) were honorable mention, as were Pipestone’s Livia Wallace (10th, 16:09) and the Windom duo of Christianna Green (13, 16:21) and Kara Thompson (14, 16:29).
Jackson County Central, which won the girls’ team title three years ago, is led this season by freshman Annika Lilleberg and eighth-grader Jessica Christoffer
Tiger boys continue
While the girls’ crown has been shared between JCC, Luverne and Marshall over the past three campaigns, Marshall has owned the boys’ title.
Once again, the Tigers — led by Bell and juniors Blaine Moran and Michael Larson — appear to the league’s best team. Marshall tallied a mere 42 points (1-3-5-11-22) in winning the Dragon Invite.
Worthington, which had four runners finish among the top-14 last year, and Redwood Valley — which will be paced by individual ace Ryan Phillips — will likely challenge for second.
“We’re thinking that it will be between us and Redwood for second,” said WHS head coach Ken Henkels. “Marshall’s so tough all the way through and both us and Redwood are similar, each with some really good front runners.”
Last year, Redwood edged the Trojans by two points, 46-48, for second, while Marshall won the title with a score of 37.
Bell won last year’ individual 5,000-meter time with a time of 16:22, while Phillips was second (16:30) and Worthington’ Ethan Spittle finished third (16:43).
Spittle graduated, but RV’s Alex Amunrud, who finished fourth (16:48) and Moran (16:58) return.
Worthington senior Anthony Luft (16:58) and Trojan sophomore Amanuel Fissiha (17:02) were sixth and seventh in last year’s conference race.
Fissiha, who won this year’s Turkey Trot race at Prairie View (Sept. 12), is a strong candidate to challenge Bell and Phillips for this year’s individual crown.
“Amanuel has been running well and he likes this course,” summed up Henkels. “Matt Jirele is a good bet to run among the leaders, too.”
Jirele, a junior, finished 14th last year (17:30) and has had several impressive runs this season.
Luverne senior Cody Hess also earned honorable-mention honors last year (13th, 17:25) and is coming off a 10th-place finish at Adrian and is a legitimate threat to finish in the top seven this year.
“I know that’s Cody’s goal,” Janiszeski said. “He has had a fine career for us and I know that he will give a great effort in this year’s conference meet.”
Pipestone Area eighth-grader Michael Suda has also been one of the area’s best runners this season, while seniors Clay Elness and Peter Nasby lead Windom and JCC, respectively.
Action begins at 4 p.m. today with the junior high girl’s 1,600-meter run, followed by the junior high boys’ race, covering the same distance. Worthington eighth-grader Nathan Schuck, who has won lots of races this fall, is among the favorites in that race.
The varsity girls’ race is scheduled for a 4:50 p.m. start, followed by the varsity boys’ event at 5:20.