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Cross country: Gehl and Nelson lead the way in 2018

BY LES KNUTSON

The Globe

SLAYTON -- Fulda sophomore Morgan Gehl and Luverne freshman Tenley Nelson are back for another season as front runners among area high school cross country runners.

Both girls have enjoyed extraordinary success as young distance runners in both cross country and track. Gehl (fourth, 10:59.91) and Nelson (fifth, 11:04.85) each finished among the leaders in the 3,200-meter run in June at the Class A state track and field meet. Gehl also earned a fourth-place medal in the 1,600 (5:04.23), while Nelson ran the third leg on the Cardinals’ 4x800-meter relay team which blazed a gold-medalist time of 9:29.56, winning the event by more than eight seconds.

Last fall, Gehl (18:35.1) and Nelson (18:50.9) finished an impressive fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Class A cross country meet over a 5,000-meter course at St. Olaf College in Northfield among a huge field of 176 runners.

Gehl returns to run for veteran coach Dominick Damm with the long-standing pairing arrangement between Murray County Central and Fulda still intact. She will be joined by a large number of girls competing this fall for the Rebels, including eighth-grade twin sisters, Ashley and Amanda Overgaauw, who after a busy summer with 4-H, are showing lots of potential as runners, according to Damm.

“We have a nice bunch of young girls,” said Damm, who also returns a veteran group of boys, led by junior Justin Clarke (a two-time state-meet qualifier), along with seniors Nate Everson, Cameron Kresko and Spencer Wajer.

At Luverne, Nelson is joined by sophomore Regan Feit (leadoff leg) and freshman Brooklyn VerSteeg (anchor) who each ran on the state-championship 4x800 relay. Both Feit and VerSteeg have also been front runners for the Cardinals in cross country the past two seasons.

LHS coach Pete Janiszeski has plenty of returning depth with eighth-grader Tiana Lais and senior veteran Gabrielle Ferrell also back from last year’s sectional championship team.

“We need to stay hungry and humble, as we strive to improve,” said Janiszeski, who also has a strong cast of returning boys. “We have great numbers on the boys’ side, so I look for this group to really push each other and grow as a team.”

Senior Dalton DeSollar and junior Jonah Friedrichsen both placed among the top 20 finishers in last year’s section meet, as did Pipestone Area senior Matthew Dulas.

Mountain Lake Area, which also includes Red Rock Central and Comfrey, returns a trio of runners who were top 20 section-meet finishers in 2017. Senior Dalton Piotter (sixth), junior Emilio Garcia de la Cruz (13th) and senior Ryan Blomgren (15th) each had strong runs, helping the Wolverines capture second-place in the standings of the 21-team meet and qualify to run as a group at St. Olaf.

MLA will miss lead Nathan Runck (third) who graduated from RRC last spring after winning the Red Rock Conference championship last October.

The combination of Southwest Christian and Edgerton continues to build its programs, under the motivating guidance of veteran coach Brian Tschetter. “We are looking forward to the excitement of another season,” he said. “Our girls will again be a competitive team and our boys have the potential to make great strides as the fall progresses.”

Eagle sophomore Mikayla Johnson was last year’s conference (Red Rock) runner-up, behind Gehl, and qualified for the state-meet with an 11th-place run at the section. Senior Audra Homandberg and the sophomore trio of Sydney Van Essen, Mara Fick and Ella Veldkamp also ran on SWC/E’s sixth-place section meet team in 2017.

PA senior Jonna Strasser, Adrian junior Moriah Bullerman, MCC freshman Ryanna Schreier, Windom Area sophomores Grace Bucher and Jadyn Wormstadt, Heron Lake-Okabena freshman Skylar Fisher, MLA freshman Mercedes Saengosoth, Jackson County Central freshman Olivia Anderson, Adrian sophomore Gracia Elias, MLA sophomore Anika Fast, and Adrian freshman Hiltyn Heitkamp are some of the other area girls who are returning after experiencing previous success at the varsity level.

Janiszeski is looking for LHS leadership from junior Brayden Tofteland, along with seniors Shane Berning and Austin Winter. Windom’s Patrick Green (junior) and Cameron Alm (sophomore) both ran on the Eagles’ 2016 Section 3A championship team and have lots of experience. The Juarez twins -- Carlos and Christian, now seniors -- will lead HL-O, along with sophomore Paul Salentiny. Other top returning boys include PA sophomore Seth Lingen, MCC sophomore Maverick Beckmann, SWC/E junior Denver Decker and the JCC trio of Clayton Cavness (freshman), Clay Cranston (sophomore) and David Strom (junior).

New coaches in the area this year are Jordan Pater at Adrian and Gary Hildebrandt at HL-O.

This year’s Section 3A meet will be run at Luverne on Oct. 25.

                                                                                                                                      

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