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PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Loaded field expected at Thursday's Turkey Trot

WORTHINGTON --- For the sixth consecutive year, the 45th annual Worthington Turkey Trot high school cross country meet will be held on a Thursday afternoon, rather than a Saturday morning --- as it was during the first 39 years of its existence.

With anticipated cooler temperatures for today and tomorrow, area distance-runners may experience their first taste of what's upcoming as the fall season progresses.

"It's been a hot summer," summed up Worthington High School cross country coach Ken Henkels. "We've had a lot of practices on very warm days, had one meet (season-opener at Mountain Lake, August 29) cancelled because of the heat and had high temperatures during a couple of the meets which we did have. So, the cooler weather is a good thing for most runners."

As it has been since 1993, the Turkey Trot will be run on the Prairie View Golf Links, northwest of Worthington.

The first event --- the girls' junior high 1,600-meter race --- starts at 4:30 p.m.

This year's meet features 13 teams, including perennial power Fairmont, which has not participated in the meet in recent years.

The Cardinals won the team title (boys' only) of the inaugural Turkey Trot at the Worthington Country Club in September of 1968.

In 1979, a girls' division was added to the meet and Mountain Lake claimed the first four team championships.

Running as Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin, the Wolverines won back-to-back girls' team titles in 2007 and 2008, but Adrian --- which has won the last three girls' team championships --- has finished first in the girls' team standings five of the past seven years.

The Dragons, paced by senior Jordin Kopplow who will be seeking her fourth straight individual title in the 4,000-meter varsity girls' race, have been running well again so far this season.

Surprisingly, neither Kopplow or AHS was ranked in the top-12 of the Minnesota Cross Country Coaches Association's pre-season poll.

Kopplow has won three straight Turkey Trot races, clocking times of 15:13 (2011), 15:28 (2010) and 15:58 (2009), respectively.

Senior Megan Sauer, along with junior Nicole Slater and sophomore Morgan Sauer have each contributed greatly to Adrian's string of three consecutive team titles, as the Dragons have dominated with low scores of 20, 21 and 46 points, respectively, in 2011, 2010 and 2009.

Jackson County Central Jadin Bezdicek, who finished third last year (15:31) is expected to be a strong challenger for the individual title, as are Martin County West freshmen Morgan Larson (eighth, 15:48) and Whitney Smith (10th, 16:23).

Lydia Hildebrandt, a sophomore from Mountain Lake Area (new combination of Mountain Lake and Mountain Lake Christian), is also a returning top-10 finisher from last year (ninth, 16:21).

Freshman Meredith Moore, sophomore Alicia Darling and senior Stephanie Jaycox have been the lead trio for the Worthington girls over the past two seasons and will be striving for top-10 finishes Thursday.

Two-time defending boys' champion MCW returns in strong field

Meanwhile, Martin County West returns a bundle of talented experience and will be aiming for a third straight varsity boys' team title. After finishing second in 2009 (to three-time champion Jackson County Central), the Mavericks raced to the team title in 2010 with a low score of 69.

Last year, MCW repeated in a very close three-team battle as the Mavericks tallied 53 points and edged Worthington (57) and St. James (59).

Both the Trojans -- who were third in '09 and second each of the last two years -- and Saints, who are led by senior Jonathan Surber, the state's No. 10-ranked Class A boys' runner, are expected to challenge MCW, as will Fairmont.

"It could be a very close race between at least four teams," declared Henkels, who has been pleased with the exceptional balance of all seven of Worthington's top boys. "We know how well both St. James and Martin County West have raced here in recent years and Fairmont is always good, so it should be a very competitive challenge for the boys' team title."

Surber, who finished second last year with a 5,000-meter time of 16:54, is this year's favorite -- as three-time winner Mubarik Musa has graduated and is running at the University of South Dakota (Vermillion, S.D.). Musa won the 2011 individual title in a sizzling time of 16:24.8. The former Trojan ace also won in both '09 (16:45) and '10 (16:34), winning by convincing margins each time.

The course record is 16:16 set by MLBO's Josh Metcalf in 1993.

Runners from Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, Southwest Christian, JCC, MLA, Windom, Murray County Central/Fulda, Pipestone Area and Southwestern United will complete the 13-team field, which will feature more than 300 participating runners.

Following the opening girls' junior high race, the 1,600-meter junior high boys' race is scheduled for a 4:45 p.m. start time.

The varsity girls will begin at approximately 5:10, with the varsity boys' gun time set for 5:40 p.m.

More than 50 runners will likely compete in each of the junior high races and there have been well over 100 participating runners in each of the combined varsity/junior varsity races in recent years.

"We have unlimited entries in each race, so some of the schools may put a lot of kids out there on the course," summed up Henkels. "I know that we will have at least 20 in the varsity boys' race and Fairmont probably will, too."

Leading the well-balanced Trojan boys has been freshman Amanual Fissiha and senior Ethan Spittle, while sophomore Matt Jirele, junior Anthony Luft and the veteran senior trio of Nathan Landwehr, Gordy Moore and Ian Stewart give WHS a very solid top seven.

Fissiha finished ninth (18:11) at last year's Turkey Trot, while Landwehr (16, 18:30), Jirele (17, 18:32) and Stewart (19, 18:48) also placed in the top 20.

St. James sophomore Zuriel Chacon (fifth, 17:47), MCW senior Walter Fuller (sixth, 17:54), MLA senior Kyle Blomgren (10, 18:22), Pipestone Area junior Andrew Berg (11, 18:25), MLA senior Adam Blomgren (13, 18:25), MCW sophomore Dylan Brockman (14, 18:26), MCW sophomore Jonah Mayo (15, 18:28), Windom senior Ryan Helmoski (18, 18:44) and MCW sophomore Matthew Viesselman (20, 18:51) are other expected returning runners who were among last year's first 20 finishers.

"It should be a great meet," concluded Henkels. "The course is laid out so fans can see the runners several times, including the finish."