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Cross country: Great numbers grace Worthington teams

WHS Trojan boys cross country returning letter winners are (from left, front) Michael Schneider, Andrew Huber, Azael Rodriguez, Christian Lietz, Adam Koller, (back) Theodore Stewart, Jordan Melendez, Blaine Doeden, Davis Moore and Bryan Ramirez. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)1 / 2
Girl leaders for the WHS cross country team are (front row, from left) Jenna Hoffman, Nedoh Gyi, Sena Uli, Grace McGaughey, (back) Elizabeth Spiegelhoff, Maranda Thier, Brynne White, Jada Bonnett and Lillyana Newman.2 / 2

BY LES KNUTSON

The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Once again with an abundance of participants, the Worthington High School cross country program, under the leadership of head coach Cory Smidt, is on solid footing as 50 boys and 25 girls are listed on the early roster.

“We have got great numbers,” exclaimed Smidt, now in his third year as the head coach after assisting Ken Henkels for a couple of seasons. “I have a great staff of assistant coaches and a bunch of really good runners who have put in a lot of miles this summer. We are blessed that so many of our kids work hard and want to get better. I’ve really been impressed.”

One of those Trojans who has certainly put in the mileage is junior Adam Koller, who emerged as Worthington’s lead runner on a well-balanced boys’ team last year. By season’s end, Koller was a consistent front runner and qualified for the Class AA state meet -- which is not an easy thing to do.

After qualifying with a personal record 5,000-meter time of 16:47.8 at the Section 2AA meet (13th out of 112 finishers), Koller did even better at St. Olaf as he clocked a time of 16:40.0, finishing ahead of 100 runners in 76th place. His time would have placed him 20th (out of 176) in the Class A race.

“Adam ran great at state,” summed up Smidt. “Out of 352 of the best high school cross country runners in Minnesota, he had the 96th best time -- better than 256 others.”

While Koller returns, the Trojans have several other top-notch boys who will keep him focused and challenge for the team’s top spot.

Senior Andrew Huber and junior Christian Lietz were each Worthington’s lead runner at a couple of meets in 2017. Those two are looking good again in practice this year, as are senior Tad Steward (coming off a fine track season) and sophomore Jordan Melendez (great summer of running). But there’s more, according to Smidt:

“We have at least those five that are capable of running up front, but I look for strong challenges from several others, including eighth-graders Mikele Walu, Charlie Brands and Grant Petersen. Freshmen Jake Ahrenstorff and Alec Langerud are both going to have good years. Davis Moore is a good senior leader, as is Blaine Doeden. We have a lot of other guys who are showing lots of potential, too.”

There are eight seniors, five juniors, three sophomores, and eight freshmen on the boys’ roster, along with 14 eighth-graders and 12 seventh-graders.

Girls will be well-balanced

While the girls have only half as many runners as the boys, there’s plenty of balance among the runners challenging for spots on the varsity.

Junior Sena Uli was the top Trojan at most meets last year. She and the graduated Jessica Darling both ran well at the section meet. Uli had several other impressive performances, including an eighth-place at Worthington’s Turkey Trot.

Freshman Jenna Hoffman, along with sophomores Maranda Thier, Nedoh Gyi and Liz Spiegelhoff all return with varsity experience and will strive to be scoring runners for the Trojans. Smidt has been well-pleased with Thier, who “had a great summer, running a lot.”

Eighth-graders Grace McGaughey, Kassidy Madison and Lillyanna Newman, along with sophomore Madison Schaeffer, are also considered as top prospects to compete at the varsity level.

“I like how our girls have responded to practices,” summed up Smidt. “They are working hard and I’ll bet our finish order changes from meet to meet.”

There are no seniors on the girls’ roster, but there are five juniors and seven sophomores. Three freshmen, six eighth-graders and four seventh-graders complete the WHS roster.

Assisting Smidt are Lonnie Myrom and Paul Barduson, while LeAnn Barduson and Spencer Wieneke are also helping as volunteers.

“I can’t say enough good things about my assistants,” concluded Smidt. “They are just great.”

The Trojans, like many other area teams, open the season at Mountain Lake Aug. 29. Worthington will host the Turkey Trot (at Prairie View) Sept 13. The Big South Conference meet is at Redwood Falls (Oct. 16) and the Section 2AA meet will be run Oct. 25 at Waconia.

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