PREP GIRLS' CROSS COUNTRY: Dragons repeat as conference champsSLAYTON — Smooth-running Austyn Thier won her first-ever varsity cross country meet Monday afternoon as the determined senior claimed the Red Rock Conference individual title and paced the Adrian Dragons to their ninth consecutive team championship.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
SLAYTON — Smooth-running Austyn Thier won her first-ever varsity cross country meet Monday afternoon as the determined senior claimed the Red Rock Conference individual title and paced the Adrian Dragons to their ninth consecutive team championship.
Thier took the lead early and gradually opened up the distance on the 36-runner field, putting some separation between herself and the other leaders — most of whom were her teammates.
With a strong wind blowing and temperatures in the middle 50s, Thier covered the challenging —- several long slopes and one steep hill — 4,000-meter course in 15 minutes and 45 seconds, finishing 13 seconds ahead of steady-performing junior teammate Megan Sauer, who was a solid second, clocked at 15:58.
“This is the first varsity cross country race that I have ever won,” exclaimed Thier, a fine basketball post player and one of the state’s best track and field half-milers. “So, this was a pretty good day for me.”
“She has continued to get better and better,” declared AHS assistant coach Darin Pater. “Austyn has run her best times ever in nearly every meet this season.”
“Austyn combines great physical talent with genuine mental toughness,” praised Dragons’ head coach John Olson about this year’s conference champion. “She is having a great year.”
Olson noted that Sauer likes the cooler weather and ran her usual strong race.
“Megan is a better runner when it’s a little cold out,” the coach said. “She certainly ran well for us today.”
After Murray County Central/Fulda senior Tiffany Gehl claimed third (16:12) and Mountain Lake Christian’s Whitney Klassen (16:17) finished fourth, Adrian runners Nicole Slater (16:24) and Morgan Sauer (16:37) nabbed the next two places, giving the Dragons four of the top six overall places.
“I really think that Morgan Sauer had an awesome race,” declared Thier about her freshman teammate. “I was impressed with her performance. She always runs well, but she was especially good today. I don’t think she gets enough credit for how much she does for our team success.”
Morgan Sauer was locked in a battle with Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin’s top runner — freshman Lydia Hildebrandt — for much of the race. But a strong surge with about 800 meters to go put Sauer firmly in sixth, finishing just 13 seconds behind Slater.
“We had a good race going,” said Morgan about her duel with Hildebrandt. “I know she has a great kick, so I needed to make a move early to get a bit of a lead if I could.”
Hildebrandt paced the Wolverines, placing seventh overall (sixth teamwise) with a time of 16:47.
Stacy Harder (17:04) and seventh-grader Liana Blomgren (17:04) moved up progressively and earned the next two spots, giving ML/B-O three finishers in the top eight of the team scoring.
But, MCC/F backed up Gehl’s outstanding lead run with a trio of consecutive finishes of their own and then received a stellar effort from fifth runner Breanna Breberg to edge ML/B-O for conference runner-up honors.
“I just love cross country,” beamed Gehl, who is running in the fall for the first time in her well-rounded high school athletic career. “We have an awesome coach (Dominick Damm, a former star runner for Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield’s back-to-back boys’ conference championship teams in 1992 and 1993) and our team concept is getting better all the time.”
Freshman Sariah Cheadle (ninth, 17:14), sophomore Melissa Gehl (10, 17:28), seventh-grader Averi Pankonen (11, 17:29) and Breberg, a sophomore, (15, 18:24) combined their efforts with Tiffany Gehl’s to give the Rebels a team score of 46, five ahead of ML/B-O’s total of 51.
Adrian, however, with Thier, the Sauer sisters and Slater had a mere 12 points from its top four and the Dragons secured the team title when senior Hunter Hieronimus (18:38) entered the chute in 15th place among the runners from complete teams, giving AHS a low score of 27.
“Hunter came through as our fifth runner, locking up the team victory,” declared Olson. “She had a good effort all the way, finishing especially strong.”
The Dragons were again competing without Jordin Kopplow, the team’s usual top runner, who is sidelined with a foot stress fracture.
Southwest Christian, led by a 12th-place team finish by Morgan DeRuyter (18:23) finished fourth in the team standing with 109 points.
The Wilgenburg sisters — Jenna (18:00) and Siera (18:05) — were Hills-Beaver Creek’s lead runners, finishing 12th and 13th, respectively, overall.