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PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Over 200 CC runners expected at Adrian for Section 3A meet

ADRIAN -- As it has been since 2003, the Adrian Country Club will again be hosting the huge Section 3A high school cross country meet this afternoon.

A total of 21 girls' teams and 19 boys' squads -- varsity races only -- will compete in the state meet qualifying event, which begins with the boys' 5,000-meter race at 4 p.m.

The shorter girls' 4,000-meter race is scheduled for a 4:45 p.m. gun time.

In alphabetical order, the competing teams are Adrian, BOLD, Canby/Minneota/Lincoln, Hendricks (girls only), Hills-Beaver Creek, Jackson County Central, Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, Lakeview, Luverne, MACCRAY/Renville County West, Montevideo, Mountain Lake Area, Murray County Central/Fulda, Pipestone Area, Redwood Valley, Southwest Christian (girls only), Southwest Star Concept, Springfield/Cedar Mountain, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, Windom and Yellow Medicine East.

Each team is allowed to run as many as seven runners in each race, meaning there could be as many as 147 athletes in the girls' event and 133 in the boys' meet.

Not all the squads, however, will be full and the normal total of finishing runners for each race is in the 110-120 range.

As usual, the top two teams (lowest point totals) will advance all seven of their runners to next week's state meet (Nov. 3) at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

For the first time, however, this year's meet takes a new twist in regards to qualifying individuals.

Members of the two state-qualifying teams will automatically advance, but will not be included in the individual count -- which will take the top eight (not from one of the top two teams).

Perhaps, Luverne head coach Pete Janiszeski explains it best:

"It is going to a great meet (today) as the Section 3A meet always turns out to be," exclaimed Janiszeski, who is the vice president of the state cross coaches association and is also the section's representative. "There are a lot of good teams and great individuals who will be battling for the team and individual spots to the state meet.

"The cool thing this year is that the individual spots could expand out as far as 22nd place, theoretically, with the new qualifying. Whatever the top eight places are -- after the runners of the top two teams are dropped -- will earn that opportunity. I think it's a great thing for our sport."

In the recent past, it has just been the first 10 finishers -- regardless of team place -- who have qualified. So, the new qualification standard will indeed allow more runners, from the other teams, a chance to advance to the state meet.

Host Dragons have won seven straight section girls' titles

To say that the host Adrian Dragons have had a recent dynasty in the girls' race is an accurate understatement.

AHS, which has had a trio of individual champions and three years ago had a 1-2-3 individual finish, has won an amazing seven straight girls' team championships.

After a fourth-place team finish in 2004 (with 113 points), the Dragons impressively claimed the title in 2005 with a mere 29 points.

Adrian's lowest winning total came the next year when its score of 24 won the championship by 55 points.

The Dragons have repeated with scores of 38, 46, 56, 49 and 83, respectively over the past five years.

Following its section meet success, AHS represented the area in grand fashion at Northfield, winning five state championships ('05, '06, '07, '08, '10) and finishing fourth in '09 and seventh last year.

Luverne, which came within three points (86) of becoming the first team since Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI's 2004 championship (77 points) -- other than Adrian -- to win the title, is a strong favorite to do just that today.

"I'm not sure that we are the favorite," says Janiszeski. "However, we do have an opportunity to win our first section championship. The girls have worked hard to prepare, but we have to run well (today) when it counts most.

"Traditionally-strong teams from Canby/Minneota/Lincoln, Mountain Lake Area, Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd and, of course, Adrian will be among the contenders. We know that each of our girls -- number one to number seven -- will have to put out their best race."

The Cardinals, who recently finished second in the Southwest Conference meet (to perennial Class AA power Marshall) after edging Canby (by three points) and Adrian (by eight) at the large 22-team Adrian Invitational (Oct. 9), are led by a pair of potential individual champions as both eighth-grader Madison Schandelmeier and junior Makayla Hohn have been front runners in most meets this season.

"Both Madi and Makayla have a chance to win, as do Kayla Huhnerkoch (Redwood Valley), Leah Jessen (Canby) and both Kopplow (Jordin) and Slater (Nicole) from Adrian, among others," declared Janiszeski. "One thing is for sure, whoever wins is going to have to run an extraordinary race."

Now a senior, after a sparkling six-year career, Kopplow is a returning individual champion, having led a 1-2-3 AHS finish as a freshman in 2009.

Slater, then an eighth-grader, and current senior Megan Sauer (then a freshman), placed second and third in the section race three years ago. Those two, along with sophomore Morgan Sauer give Adrian four runners who could be among the lead runners today.

"I would say, yes, we are still 'in the hunt'," exclaimed AHS head coach John Olson. "Luverne and CML, on paper, have the best depth and are likely the favorites. But, anything can happen -- that's why we run the race."

RV is boys' team leader, CML's Stoks is top individual

Two-time defending team champion Redwood Valley is a definite favorite to win the boys' team title. The Cardinals have exceptional balance among their top five runners and recently finished a strong second in the Southwest Conference meet.

Luverne, which finished a close second to RV (33-36) last year's section meet, is among the top contenders for second, along with C/M/L and Montevideo.

The Lancers of Canby/Minneota/Lincoln (Hendricks is now on its own) have the advantage of likely getting the No. 1 finish card from its ace runner, Nick Stoks, the defending individual meet champion.

"Montevideo has a pretty solid pack and could contend, too," explained Janiszeski. "For us, we need a 'lights out' performance from whoever is part of our top five guys. We finished just four points behind Canby at the Adrian Meet, so if we can improve a few spots at every position, we should be 'in the hunt' at least."

The combination of Murray County Central and Fulda has enjoyed a good season, including winning the Red Rock Conference team championship and head coach Dominick Damm is optimistic about a good race from the Rebels.

"We may not finish in the top two, but we would like to make a strong team showing," said Damm, who twice placed among the top 10 runners (in the section meet) himself a couple of decades ago. "We have a pretty strong section again this year with some very tough teams. Our first two runners, Andy Garza and Aaron Boock, both hope to finish in top 20 and have a good chance of doing so if they race well."

Damm predicts some "real good times" by the top individual finishers in the boys' race.

"I am having flashbacks to the '93 section meet and how cold it was," recalled Damm. "The weather may very well have a say in the outcome. The mentally tougher kids will do the best if the weather really turns bad."

Cool temperatures and possible precipitation (either rain or snow) are in today's forecast -- and, of course, if it's windy -- conditions could be brutal in the openness of the golf course, south of Adrian.

Trojans will run at Buffalo in stiff Section 2AA meet

While the rest of the area teams are competing in Adrian today, the Worthington Trojans will travel north and east to Buffalo where they will participate in the 15-team Section 2AA meet.

Running at the Buffalo Heights Golf Course, about a mile south of Buffalo along Highway 25, the Trojans will join large schools Chanhassen, Chaska, Dassel-Cokato, Delano, Holy Family Catholic, Hutchinson, Mankato East, Mankato West, Marshall, Mound-Westonka, Orono, Shakopee, Waconia and host Buffalo in the state-qualifying meet with the same scenario -- as far as advancement -- as the Section 3A meet.

"We will be facing some stiff competition," says WHS head coach Ken Henkels. "But, we are optimistic about running well and finishing among the lead teams in the boys' meet and look to improve our team placing (15th last year) with our girls, who have been practicing really well and are looking forward to the challenge."

The 5,000-meter boys' race begins at 4 p.m. with the girls' 4,000-meter run to follow at 4:30 p.m.

Running for the Trojan boys will be seniors Ethan Spittle, Ian Stewart and Gordy Moore, along with junior Anthony Luft, sophomores Matthew Jirele and Oliver Wolyneic and freshman ace Amanuel Fissiha -- who has been Worthington's lead runner in most meets this season.

Spittle, who possesses outstanding speed -- along with his obvious endurance -- has emerged as one of the area's finest cross country athletes in recent meets, including a third-place finish in the Southwest Conference meet.

"With his speed, Ethan has a good chance to compete well and get a high (low) finish in this race," declared Henkels. "Amanuel, Anthony and Matt are all capable of running up close to the front and Ian, Gordy and Oliver have had great seasons, too. With our balance, we could be one of the first teams to get all five of our scoring runners in the chute."

The Trojans will run without senior Nathan Landwehr, who is recovering from illness and is not yet at full strength for this level of competition. Landwehr was a scoring runner for WHS throughout a stellar season.

Running for the Worthington girls will be senior Stephanie Jaycox, junior Ariana Lopez, sophomores Alicia Darling and Kacey Contreras, freshmen Meredith Moore and Rachel Koller, along with seventh-grader Jessica Darling.

Moore and Alicia Darling have been the Trojans' top two runners, finishing very close to each other, in nearly every meet all season. Jaycox, who has had a fine career for WHS, has been the team's third runner throughout the season.

"I like how our girls have approached practices and meets," concluded Henkels. "We have improved both individually and team wise, which has made the season fun."