Les Knutson: Garza, Hartle, Erickson lead balanced MCC boy runners
SLAYTON — Competing in adverse weather conditions — wet grounds, driving rain and a definite chill in the air — Murray County Central’s lead trio of Andy Garza, Clayton Hartle and Jack Erickson set the pace Monday at the Red Rock Conference boys’ cross country meet.
While the rains had eased up during the running of the junior high race and just a light rain fell throughout most of the varsity girls’ meet, the rain increased as the longer boys’ race started and continued to come down — getting even worse while the post-meet awards ceremony was happening.
The tough conditions didn’t seem to hamper the determination of Garza, Hample and Erickson who claimed the top three places on the ever-challenging 5,000-meter course, which includes two trips up “Big Bertha” — a steep hill near the club house — as well as three times up the long hill along Highway 59.
Garza, a senior veteran who finished third in last year’s conference meet, won this year’s race with a time of 18:20, while sophomore teammates Hartle (18:32) and Erickson (18:42) earned second and third, respectively.
Erickson improved four places from his seventh-place finish last year as a freshman, while Hartle — who has run well in track — is a cross country rookie.
Both Garza and MCC head coach Dominick Damm stressed how important the competition and camaraderie between the trio is.
“I was hoping I could win the race,” Garza said afterwards. “But, it really helps to have Clayton and Jack always pushing me. We compete together in our practice runs and usually a different guy is in the lead.”
Damm, who helped Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield win back-to-back conference titles two decades ago, agrees with Garza.
“Those three are competitive with each other,” Damm said. “Their finish order is not always the same in meets, but they usually finish close to each other, as they kind of run as a pack.”
Damm was also pleased Monday with his second “pack” as sophomore Nathan Beech and the freshmen duo of Isaiah Olsem and William Gehl finished within 16 seconds of each other in places 11-12-13, clinching a repeat conference team title for the “two pack” MCC boys.
Those same three runners in that second group had an 81-second spread between them at MCC’s previous meet at Adrian six days earlier. So, it’s obvious why Damm was so satisfied with how that group came through Monday, helping the team perform as well as it did.
Junior Jacob Boerboom was unable to run in the conference meet, but has been the fourth or fifth finisher for the Rebels in several meets, giving the Rebels a strong top seven.
MCC will be one of several teams in the “hunt” for a possible state-meet team berth when it competes in the Section 3A Meet at Adrian Thursday.
SWC girls, SWU boys shine in junior high meet
While Adrian sixth-grader Moriah Bullerman ran away with the junior high girls’ individual title, the combination of Southwest Christian and Edgerton was dominant in the team chase.
Bullerman clocked a time of 7:04 over the 1.1 mile (1,760 meters) course and teammates Elizabeth Erwin (8:21) and McKinley Nelson (8:28) finished seventh and eighth. In between, five SWC/E runners — Annika Brands (7:45), Kailyn Jasper (7:56), Emily Nerem (7:59), Jessa Nibblelink (8:01) and Sommer Schaap (8:13) — entered the chute, clinching the team title for the Eagles with 20 points (2-3-4-5-6).
SWC/E had five other finishers in the race, giving them 10 of the 24 runners.
Meanwhile, Southwestern United had three of the top-13 finishers in the junior high boys’ race, including the first two —Ben Sheldahl (6:33) and Brett Mueller (6:44) — as the Wildcats repeated their team championship.
SWU’s Tyler Brunk (7:15) and Carlos Juarez (7:31) finished seventh and ninth, respectively, while both MCC and Adrian had two boys place in the top 10.
MCC’s Cameron Kresko (6:50) and Jack Peterson (6:54) were third and fourth, while Adrian’s Brent Hokeness (7:11) and Caleb Hornstein (7:38) finished fifth and 10th, respectively.
Mountain Lake Area’s Kaleb Haberman (7:12) placed sixth and SWC/E’s Joshua Raak (7:18) was eighth.
SWU ended up being the only team with five finishers, so the Wildcats original score of 31 (1-2-7-9-12) was adjusted to a perfect score of 15 (1-2-3-4-5) after the runners from the incomplete teams were discounted.
Great decision to postpone one day
While Monday’s conditions at Slayton were not good, it could have been worse.
For one, if had been somewhere else other than Slayton — which is well-protected from the wind by many trees — it would have been more miserable.
The cold rain continued on Tuesday and the temperature dropped, Worthington officials made the right call by moving the Southwest Conference Meet to Wednesday, which turned out to be a near-perfect day for cross country competition.
As always, the Southwest Conference Meet was a great one with lots of season-best performances.
Lynx are impressive
As a former long-time high school girls’ basketball head coach, I simply marveled at the exceptional all-around play of the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA finals.
While I have not followed them over the years as much as I now wish I had, I was impressed with Minnesota’s enthusiasm, hustle, defensive work ethic and offensive teamwork. The Lynx certainly play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.
Coach Cheryl Reeve has done an outstanding job of molding a very good group of players into a great team — one which has claimed the only recent championships for Minnesota.