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Cross country: Koller, Gehl shine; Trojans win boys team crown at Turkey Trot

Mt. Lake Area/Comfrey runner Dalton Piotter (left) and Worthington rival Adam Koller run side-by-side during the Worthington Turkey Trot cross country meet Thursday. Koller pulled away later for the win. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)1 / 4
Murray County Central/Fulda cross country competitor Morgan Gehl breaks out early and takes a commanding lead in the Turkey Trot meet. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)2 / 4
Southwest Christian's Ella Veldkamp (left) and Worthington's Sena Uli sprint near the finish line of the Turkey Trot. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)3 / 4
Runners bunch together at the starting line of the Turkey Trot cross country race at the old Prairie View golf course. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)4 / 4

WORTHINGTON -- Sometimes when petite sophomore Morgan Gehl runs in front of the pack in a cross country race, she’s so far ahead of the field that you want to ask if she ever gets lonely.

“No,” she said, laughing, on Thursday after she dominated the girls varsity field in the 2018 Turkey Trot race at the old Prairie View golf course just north of Worthington. “This time there were girls in the back of the cart going, ‘Go, Morgan!’ the whole time. I liked that a lot.”

As is often the case, the Fulda girl who runs with Murray County Central led all the way, and by a wide margin. Her only touchstone was the pace car tracing out the course ahead of her. She finished the race in 18:42.10, more than a minute and a half ahead of her next nearest competitor, Laura Thompson of Fairmont, whose second place time was 20:23.10.

Gehl, who placed fourth in the Class A state meet last season in a time of 18:35.1, has won all four of her cross country races so far this season.

Another impressive showing on Thursday occurred on the boys’ side, as Worthington junior Adam Koller was first in the chute at 16.45.80. He finished several strides ahead of second-place Dalton Piotter of Mountain Lake/Comfrey, who was timed in the 5,000-meter event in 16:53.10.

Koller, whose personal best last year was 16:48.8 in the state Class AA competition, said because it was a windy day on Thursday he wanted to stay behind Piotter for a brief stretch for draft purposes. After 2.5 miles in, he went to the front and stayed there.

“I felt smooth. I felt I had something left at the end,” said Koller, who added that the Turkey Trot is special for him because it’s a home meet.

“Cuz you got a lot of community members out here watching,” he said.

It wasn’t just Koller who shone at home Thursday afternoon. Trojans Christian Lietz and Andrew Huber placed 3-4 in the boys varsity competition, Lietz coming in at 17:08.00 and Huber coming in at 17:13.60. Another Trojan, Jordan Melendez, was 11th overall in 17:45.40. And yet another Trojan, Mikele Walu, cracked the top 15, finishing 14th at 17:57.10.

With that kind of bunch-up at the front, it was no surprise that Worthington won the boys varsity team competition with a score of 33 points. Last year’s Turkey Trot boys winner, St. James, was next with 42, followed by Fairmont with 101, Murray County Central 115, Mountain Lake/Comfrey 119, Windom Area 155, Pipestone Area 157, Jackson County Central 260, Southwest Christian 261, Heron Lake-Okabena 290 and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 312.

Fairmont won the girls varsity team competition with 46 points, ahead of Murray County Central/Fulda 51, Pipestone Area 94, Southwest Christian 100, Mountain Lake/Comfrey 129, Worthington 154, St. James 179, Adrian 184 and Jackson County Central 238.

Sena Uli led the WHS girls with a ninth-place clocking of 22:02.30. Trojans Jenna Hoffman (28, 23:43.20) and Maranda Thier (40, 24:37.00) also ran well.

Alejandra Acevedo of St. James finished fourth in the girls individual standings in 20:50.00. Moriah Bullerman of Adrian was fifth at 21:10.90), ahead of Gracie Bucher of Windom Area (6, 21:45.20), Jonna Strasser of Pipestone Area (7, 21:54.40), Ella Veldkamp of Southwest Christian (8, 22:00.10) and Uli.

Gehl said she was satisfied with her race on Thursday.

“I guess it was all right,” she said. “It was a little bit warm and windy. But the wind was OK. It seemed like the clouds were over the sun. So that helped.”

Koller prepared for the fall season by running 50 miles a week throughout the summer. It has obviously helped prepare him for his 2018 goal of getting under 16 minutes at the state meet and finishing in the top 35.

On Thursday, he modeled his racing tactics to fit the conditions, and it worked.

“My goal was to draft as long as I could in the race, and kick it in in the end. It’s just ‘cuz today’s pretty windy, and there aren’t any trees. So I had to change my strategy,” he explained.

Seth Pierson of St. James placed fifth in the boys varsity individual standings, at 17:20.30. Justin Clarke of Murray County Central/Fulda was next at 17:32.50. St. James placed 7-8 with Jackson Miest (17:35.30) and Troy Parulski (17:35.90).

Sam Pidde of Mountain Lake/Comfrey won the junior high boys race in 6:38.20, ahead of runner-up Tim Salentiny of Heron Lake-Okabena (6:42.40) and Charlie Brands of Worthington (6:45.20). The girls junior high winner was Ellie Decker of Southwest Christian (7:30.80). Pipestone Area finished 2-3 with Brooklyn Goelz (7:34.80) and Avery Brecher (7:35.40).

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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