Dragon harriers sweep both team titles
MOUNTAIN LAKE -- In dominating fashion Wednesday afternoon, the Adrian Dragons served notice to the area that they are once again the "cream of the crop" in high school cross country.
Utilizing its exceptional balance and depth, along with top-notch lead-runner performances, the Dragons impressively claimed both team titles of the 16-team season-opening Wolverine Invitational. Waseca finished a distant second in each team race, edging a solid Jackson County Central squad by five points in the boys' meet.
Paced by the third-place individual finish of senior leader Leslie Stover, the Adrian girls put all five of their scoring runners among the top 14 (3-8-9-11-14) and won the team title by 39 points with a low score of 45.
Later, the Dragon boys nearly duplicated that performance, as junior Nate Reyne finished second individually and four other Adrian runners placed among the top 16, giving the team a winning total of 48 points on scoring places 2-8-9-13-16, which was 24 points better than Waseca (72) and 29 better than JCC (77).
"We had a good day," declared AHS head coach Doug Petersen in an understatement. "Our balance really showed. With both the girls and the boys, our finish order among our top five is going to be hard to predict, it will change from meet to meet."
While Adrian was literally running away with both team championships, several area individuals came home with varsity medals after racing to top 15 finishes.
Most notable among those performances was the race run by Tracy-Milroy-Balaton senior Ryan Tholen, who pulled away from the 142-runner boys' field in the last 1,500 meters, winning his first Wolverine individual gold medal with a 5,000 meter time of 16 minutes, 49 seconds.
"I finished second here last year," said Tholen, who won the Section 3 title later in the season and capped his junior year by finishing fourth at the state meet. "I was nervous before the race and started out slow. But I moved up and caught the front pack and it was a four-runner race until I took the lead on that last big hill."
Once Tholen scaled that long hill, he steadily opened up the spread and finished 15 seconds ahead of Reyne (17:04), who had taken the lead earlier in the race and outkicked a pair of Waseca runners to earn the silver medal.
JCC junior Matt Kocak finished fifth to lead the Huskies, while sophomore Justin Cook also earned a medal by placing 10th.
Entering the chute between Kocak and Cook were a pair of Adrian runners, as senior Chris Reisdorfer (17:51) and junior Jordan Pater (17:55) finished eighth and ninth, respectively. Seniors Kyle Henning (18:09) and Brett Springman (18:15) completed the team victory for Adrian by placing 13th and 16th, respectively.
Two other area boys that brought home medals were Southwest Christian's Corey Vis, who finished 11th, and Worthington junior Aaron Grafing, who ran close to Vis much of the race and placed 14th with a time of 18:11.
Trojan sophomore O.J. Ojullu made his cross country debut a good one, as he finished second for WHS and made the top 20, placing 19th, clocked at 18:21.
"Both those guys ran good races," praised WHS head coach Mike Traphagen. "Aaron was up among the leaders the whole way, and O.J. had a very strong last mile, passing lots of runners and getting into the top 20, which is really good at this meet. Both of them have been practicing well and competing against each other."
Backing up the lead runs of Grafing and Ojullu were Trojan teammates Ian Fleace (47th, 19:46), Kreguto Okello (48th,19:51) and Michael Patten (69th, 20:30) -- rounding out the scoring for the Trojans, who finished sixth among the 12 complete teams with a score of 197.
"That was a pleasant surprise," declared Traphagen. "I was really pleased with how all of our boys ran and worked at staying together as a pack."
Trojans Michael Harberts (70th, 20:40) and Zach Von Holdt (76th, 20:50) completed the WHS varsity.
MCC's Christensen claims second
While the always-consistent Stover set the pace for Adrian, Murray County Central senior Laura Christensen was running a stellar race.
Christensen passed Stover midway through the girls' 4,000 meter race, taking the lead for a stretch of the race before being passed by Waseca's Allison Streich, who clocked a winning time of 15:46. Christensen, who has battled injuries much of her career, ran the course in 15:48.
"Laura ran a tremendous race today and came so close to winning it," praised MCC head coach Dominick Damm, who helped the Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield Silver Bullets win the boys' team title 15 years ago in 1993. "She has a lot of talent and she always runs with great determination."
Stover was also well under 16 minutes, finishing third with her time of 15:51.
"We can always count on Leslie to provide leadership and give us a solid meet performance," declared Petersen. Traphagen also had praise for Stover, "She has had a tremendous career for Adrian and has been remarkably consistent."
Stover had remarkable team support Wednesday, as Dragon teammates Megan Sauer (16:22), Jordon Kopplow (16:24), Hailee Heitkamp (16:30) and Erica Thier (16:39) entered the chute in finish places eight, nine, 11 and 14, respectively. Thier, a senior, is back after missing last season with an injury. Heitkamp is a sophomore, while Sauer and Kopplow are just eighth-graders.
Southwest Christian's Megan DeRuyter also brought home a medal, as the Eagle runner finished just ahead of Thier in 13th place with a time of 16:37.
Worthington was paced by the Jaycox sisters, Allison and Stephanie. Allison started strong, running among the top 15 much of the first mile, while Stephanie moved up progressively over the final 1,200 meters. A junior, Allison ran the course in 17:04 and finished 26th. Stephanie, a freshman, was close behind, placing 28th with a time of 17:07.
Completing the Trojan scoring were sophomore Stephanie Behrens (38th, 17:26), junior Deann Naab (60th, 18:31) and freshman Kinzie Myrom (94th, 20:44). Juniors Maggie Fornoff (101st, 21:44) and Kelsey Ray (110th, 22:21) completed the WHS varsity.
Teamwise, the Trojans finished ninth with 246 points, ahead of United South Central (250), Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (314) and T-M-B (397) among the complete teams. Scoring between Adrian and WHS were Waseca (84), Fairmont (91), Blue Earth Area (115), MCC (177), Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin (192), JCC (209) and Windom (232).
In the boys' scoring, Fairmont finished fourth with 121 points, followed by USC (155), Worthington (197), BEA (200), T-M-B (209), MCC (351), Maple River (373), Windom (398) and LC-WM (492) among the complete teams.
Worthington had three girls finish among the top 10 in the 33-runner girls' junior high race, as Lydia Kemper (6:35), Kirsten Aljets (6:54) and Morgan Jensen (6:59) finished fourth, ninth and 10th, respectively in the 1,600 meter race.