PREP GIRLS' CROSS COUNTRY: Adrian, Luverne advance to stateADRIAN — Powering her way to the finish Thursday afternoon, Adrian’s Austyn Thier won the Section 3A high school girls’ cross country individual title, leading the Dragons to a remarkable seventh consecutive team championship — and another trip to state meet.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
ADRIAN — Powering her way to the finish Thursday afternoon, Adrian’s Austyn Thier won the Section 3A high school girls’ cross country individual title, leading the Dragons to a remarkable seventh consecutive team championship — and another trip to state meet.
Paced by Thier’s first-place finish, along with solid performances from the trio of Nicole Slater, Megan Sauer and Morgan Sauer, Adrian was the first team to have four runners in the finish chute — and each one of them ran the challenging 4,000-meter course in less than 16 minutes.
But, a young and well-balanced Luverne squad — which has been steadily improving all season long — had a pair of runners place in the top five and displayed exceptional depth by having all seven of its runners finish among the top 44 in the huge 112-runner field.
It appeared like the Cardinals, whose five scoring runners finished in team places 2-4-18-28-34, may have beaten the Dragons, giving the section a new champion for the first time since 2004.
But, a strong run and an exceptional finish by Adrian senior Hunter Hieronimus — who ran the course 40 seconds faster than she had just 16 days earlier — tipped the edge back to the Dragons (1-9-10-15-48), who tallied 83 points, bettering Luverne’s total of 86 by a mere three points.
“Both (assistant coach) Darin (Pater) and I told Hunter that we hoped she could run a 17:45,” exclaimed Adrian head coach John Olson after learning of the official results. “She did better than that by 15 seconds and must have passed four or five runners with her final kick.
“Hunter had a tremendous effort, she took matters into own hands and did what we needed her to do.”
With the absence of Jordin Kopplow — Adrian’s top runner, who has been out of action for more than three weeks with a stress fracture in her left foot — the pressure was on Hieronimus to come through as she moved up from the sixth runner (non-scoring) position to the very important No. 5 spot.
“I knew I had to run my best,” summed up a happy Hieronimus, who suffered a torn ACL during her sophomore season of basketball and has been steadily working her way back into running form. “I think this was my fastest race since my freshman year.”
“Hunter did so well,” declared Thier, who won her second consecutive race, having claimed the Red Rock Conference individual title at Slayton Oct. 17. “I am so happy for her and for the rest of my teammates — now we all get to run at state again.”
Luverne sophomore Makayla Hohn, who led most of the race and paced the Cardinals with a stellar second-place performance, was excited, too, about getting the chance to be surrounded by teammates for another week of practice.
“We wanted to win (the team title) and we almost did,” said Hohn, who finished third in last year’s section meet and ran individually at the 2010 state meet. “But, getting second gets our whole team to the state, which is something that we really wanted.”
A pair of balanced team performances by Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson Boyd (7-20-23-24-32) and Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI (5-26-27-29-31) allowed those two northern section teams to finish third and fourth in the team standings with 106 and 118 points, respectively.
Both the Eagles and the Lancers had one high-placing front runner, but neither squad was able to match Adrian or Luverne at the second-runner position.
Luverne seventh-grader Madison Schandelmeier (fifth, 15:15) and Adrian sophomore Nicole Slater (10th, 15:21) both qualified individually by finishing in the top 10 Thursday and their second-runner places were key factors in both squad’s success.
“Madison has been a great addition to our team,” praised Luverne head coach Pete Janiszeski about Schandelmeier, who was running just her sixth varsity race. “She ran with confidence and had another very steady race, not backing down at all — she was battling for a top-five placing the whole way.”
Redwood Valley finished fifth in the team standings of the 19-team meet with 138 points, followed by Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin (145), Murray County Central/Fulda (160), Montevideo (186), Windom (258), Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (280), Hills-Beaver Creek/Ellsworth/Edgerton (309), Mountain Lake Christian (321), BOLD (353), MACCRAY/Renville County West (391), Southwest Christian (409) and Springfield/Cedar Mountain (433).
Jackson County Central, Pipestone Area and Yellowstone Medicine East were each incomplete.
Thier utilizes strong finish to claim title; Klassen, Bezdicek, Gehl qualify individually
In the chase for the individual title, Hohn took the early lead with JCC eighth-grader Jadin Bezdicek in hot pursuit.
Thier, Schandelmeier and Mountain Lake Christian sophomore Whitney Klassen were running side-by-side in third place as the leaders completed the first mile.
By the end of the second mile, Hohn was beginning to separate from Bezdicek — and Thier was starting to make her move.
Pulling away from Klassen and Schandelmeier, Thier closed in on Bezdicek, and — after passing her — tracked down Hohn, passing her on the back side of the pond, about 400 meters from the finish.
“I felt strong and it seemed like they (Hohn and Bezdicek) were slowing down,” explained Thier about her late-race tactics. “I picked up my pace and thought ‘I can handle this’ as I knew this was my last section meet and I was not going to hold anything back.”
Coming around the final turn, Thier began her ascent up the course’s final long hill in the lead and then powered her way to the chute, clocking a winning time of 15 minutes flat.
“That was an awesome finish by Austyn,” declared Olson. “I think that was the most visible surge of speed I have seen from a runner near the end of the race. It was like someone snapped her out of a rubber band and she just took off.”
“She’s fast,” summed up Hohn about Their’s late surge past her. “I felt somebody on my side and was hoping that it wasn’t her. She has such a strong finish.”
Hohn finished well herself, clocking a solid second-place time of 15:05.
The race for third was close, but Klassen — who also plays volleyball for the Bears — outkicked both Bezdicek and Schandelmeier to qualify as Mountain Lake Christian’s first-ever state-meet participant.
“I love both sports,” stressed Klassen, who only practiced with the Bear’s cross country team on Wednesdays and on special “pace work” days.
Otherwise, she ran on her own, often at 6 or 6:30 a.m.
“I ran a lot this summer, too,” Klassen said. “I think all the extra training really paid off.”
“I gave Whitney a plan to follow and she followed it to the letter,” praised MLC head coach Gary Hildebrandt, who has coached many cross country runners to state-meet qualificiations during stints at Jackson, JCC and ML/B-O. “She’s just a super dedicated girl, who sure worked hard and deserves this opportunity to run at state.”
Klassen ran a personal best time of 15:11, as won the sprint to the finish for third.
Bezdicek, the Southwest Conference champion, earned a trip to St. Olaf with a solid fourth-place finish, clocked at 15:13.
“We’re so happy for Jadin,” declared JCC co-head coach Kerry Kocak. “She’s had a super season and ran another strong race here against some outstanding competition.”
Defending champion Leah Jessen of C/M/LH was closing hard, too, and finished just a second behind Schandelmeier with a sixth-place time of 15:16.
The race for seventh was close, but MCC/F senior Tiffany Gehl — capped her first season of cross country in fashion — by utilizing a great kick and earning a state-meet qualification.
Clocked at 15:18 in seventh-place, Gehl was elated about getting one more week to practice and compete again.
“I am sure happy about this,” beamed Gehl after the race. “I get another week of cross country, which is a great sport.”
“I tried for a couple of years to get her to come out,” summed up Rebels’ head coach Dominick Damm about Gehl. “This year, she finally came out, tried it, liked it and became very good at it. This was her best race yet.”
Alaysia Freetly (LQPV/D-B) and Kayla Huhernoch (RV) finished right behind Gehl eighth and ninth, respectively, also timed in the 15:18 range.
Three seconds later, Slater secured 10th and was followed into the chute by junior teammate Megan Sauer (15:28), giving Adrian three of the top 11 overall finishers.
Freshman Morgan Sauer crossed the finish line five places later with a time of 15:53, giving the Dragons a mere 35 points through their first four runners (Bezdicek’s placement was discounted as JCC was incomplete).
“I was proud of each of the girls,” stressed Olson of the efforts of the Dragons. “They all ran well, there is never a doubt that each of them will give their best effort for the sake of the team.”
Tofteland, Aukes, Oye complete scoring for Cardinals; Hustoft, Dooyema also run well
Lydia Hildebrandt (15:47) and Liana Blomgren (15:50), both of ML/B-O, finished in 13th and 14th places overall, respectively, to lead the Wolverines.
Windom senior Merideth Hentges capped a fine career for the Eagles with a 15th-place time of 15:51.
Luverne’s trio of Anna Tofteland (19th, 16:12), Mariah Aukes (29, 16:42) and Madi Oye (35, 16:55) locked up the Cardinal’s second-place team finish, while sixth and seventh runners Zayna Hustoft (42, 17:14) and Naomi Dooyema (44, 17:20) also ran well, as LHS put its entire lineup among the top 40 percent of all the runners.
“We came so close to winning,” summed up Janiszeski. “But, we get to take the whole group to the state and we have a whole week to get fresh and see if we can improve. The big thing is that we get another chance to race.”
Klassen, Bezdicek, Gehl and the entire seven-member Adrian and Luverne squads will compete in the state meet at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.