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Cross Country Preview: Numbers vary, optimism is high

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

Luverne, Mountain Lake Area return strong group of experienced runners

As fall approaches, area distance runners are gearing up for another season of competitive high school cross country.

Two area teams –– Jackson County Central and Southwestern United –– open their 2013 schedule by participating in today’s 11-school Fairmont Early Bird Invitational.

Most area programs, including Worthington, will compete in the huge Wolverine Invitational (often with as many as 16 teams) at the Mountain Lake Golf Course Wednesday.

A preview of Worthington’s upcoming cross country season is scheduled for Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Globe.

The Trojans –– who will compete against most area teams in the majority of their meets, including hosting the 46th annual Turkey Trot at Prairie View Golf Links Sept. 12 –– will again run in Section 2AA at the end of the campaign, while the rest of the surrounding schools participate in Section 3A.

Luverne, which has enjoyed remarkable team success in the past several seasons, is likely to be a strong contender again this year. The Cardinals, who have 12 boys and 12 girls listed on their roster, return a pair of girls who earned All-State honors last November and four of their runners off of last year’s state-qualifying boys’ team.

Freshman Madison Schandelmeier placed an impressive ninth at last year’s state meet and senior teammate Makayla Hohn finished 18th in the same race, running in her third consecutive state meet.

“It’s nice to have two great lead runners like Madi and Makayla returning for another season,” exclaimed LHS head coach Pete Janiszeski. “We are optimistic about competing well as a team again, with both our girls and boys.”

Freshman Mariah Aukes, sophomore Madi Oye and freshman Zayna Hustoft are each experienced varsity runners and are among several Cardinal girls who will challenge to be a scoring runner for LHS.

Senior Cody Hess, juniors Drew Weis and Ethan Marshall, along with sophomore Eric Wohnoutka, return from last year’s Section 3A runner-up boys’ team, which ran a fabulous race to earn a repeat trip to St. Olaf.

Mountain Lake Area has a total of 36 runners participating, which pleases veteran coach Mike Nelson.

“I’m just thrilled with our numbers,” he said. “We have a good mix of experienced runners and younger kids with lots of potential. We’re about evenly split between girls and boys.”

The Wolverine girls appear to have an abundance of potential to field a strong team, returning four runners who have competed in the state meet.

Senior Whitney Klassen, a fine all-around athlete, is a two-time state individual qualifier and junior Lydia Hildebrandt has also qualified individually and ran on the Wolverines’ third-place team at the 2009 state meet.

Freshman Liana Blomgren earned an individual state-meet trip last season and junior Brianna Soutthivong –– like Hildebrandt –– ran as a seventh-grader on that outstanding 2009 team.

Senior Brooke Fast and sophomore Ashley Watkins give Nelson two more experienced varsity runners and a solid group of freshmen may also contribute.

Juniors Daniel Nelson, Levi Jahnke and Austin Suderman —– along with sophomore Ryan McCue –– have been MLA’s top four boys in early-season practices.

Jackson County Central, under the leadership of new coach Rafiel York, who guided the Huskies during last spring’s track and field season, also has good numbers this fall.

Senior Peter Nasby, who clocked a 5,000-meter time of 17:54 at last year’s Southwest Conference meet, leads the JCC boys.

Junior Jack Ringkob and the senior trio of Jordan Cushman, Jordan Ringgenberg and Jeremiah Flatgard provide the Huskies with a veteran top five.

Sophomore Jadin Bezdicek, who won the conference title in 2011 as an eighth grader, leads a strong group of JCC girls.

The freshmen duo of Annika Lilleberg and Jayni Anderson both had impressive performances at last year’s section meet and will be joined by junior Jade Holthe and seniors Samantha Swift and Oda Kristensen (foreign exchange student from Norway), giving York a solid top six.

At Adrian, senior Nicole Slater and junior Morgan Sauer return with lots of state-meet experience, having run with the Dragon girls in the state meet each year of their careers since seventh grade.

Sophomores Jada Elias and Megan Tweet, along with eighth-grader Hannah Bullerman, also ran on Adrian’s varsity last season.

Junior Taylor Recker and Collin Kemper return with varsity experience for the AHS boys, coached this year by Eric Kiers and Darrin Pater.

The top four boys’ runners for Windom Area are senior Clay Elness, junior Aaron Axford, sophomore Spencer Wolter and freshman Jae Carlson.

Former Eagle runner Melissa (Francis) Pletcher, who ran collegiately for Hamline University, returns for her third season as Windom’s coach.

Freshmen Christianna Green and Kara Thompson join senior Emily Axford as the top three girls for WHS.

Southwestern United returns a trio of experienced eighth-grade girls in Rachel Salentiny, MaKayla Edwards and Brianna Preston.

Freshman Logan Knutson, who had a fine junior high season in 2012, has been the boys’ lead runner in practices and senior Walker Crocker ran in several varsity meets last year.

A total of 18 runners –– seven girls and 11 boys –– are participating for the Wildcats, coached by Les Knutson, who guided several highly-successful teams at Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield in the 1990s.

One of those top runners on Knutson’s teams was Dominick Damm, who enters his 11th season as the head coach at Murray County Central, which also includes several runners from Fulda.

Senior Andy Garza, who was one of the Red Rock Conference’s top runners in 2012, has put in a lot of miles this summer and is “looking strong,” according to Damm.

Sophomore Jack Erickson is also running well in practices and the trio of sophomore Clayton Hartle, sophomore Nate Beech and junior Jacob Boerboom give the Rebels a solid top five.

Senior Melissa Gehl and junior Sariah Cheadle, a pair of fine all-around athletes from Fulda, are the two lead runners for the Rebel girls.

At Pipestone Area, eighth-grader Michael Suda returns after an amazing campaign as a seventh grader.

Suda won junior high races by a huge margin in September of 2012 before competing favorably as a varsity runner in October.

Senior Alex Abrahamson joins freshmen Emerson Winter and Lucas Griebel as the Arrows’ other top boys’ competitors.

Leading the PA girls is freshman Livia Wallace, who experienced varsity success last fall, while freshman Morgan Hazelton and eighth-grader Angel Martens each return with varsity experience also.

Bob Nangle and Todd Tinklenberg are coaching the Arrows.

Brian Tschetter has 19 girls competing at Southwest Christian and has a fine mix of both varsity and junior high runners.

Juniors Grace Buys, Alexis Knutson and Morgan DeRuyter join freshman Elise Ver Hey and the senior duo of Chesa Vander Top and Macey Zienstra as the Eagles’ top six, while eighth graders Emily Nerem and Kailyn Jasper may contribute later in the season.

“We have a real good group of girls,” exclaimed Tschetter, who is looking forward to getting team scores at both levels this year. “Some of the girls have played volleyball in the past, but are running full-time with us this year.”

Senior Evan Blom and freshman Cayd Den Herder will be SWC’s top two varsity boys.

The numbers are booming at Tracy-Milroy-Balaton where head coach Marie Hanson has 16 boys and 21 girls on the Panthers’ roster.

Senior Matt Lavoy, who qualified individually (ninth at the section meet) for the state meet last year in his first season of cross country, returns as T-M-B’s lead runner.

Junior Ben Alberg, a fifth-year runner, along with junior Nick Timmer and sophomore Nathanael Przybillia give the Panthers a trio of fine runners behind Lavoy.

On the girls’ side, juniors Cassie Hook and Morgan Hoffbeck –– a pair of former volleyball players who excel in track –– have joined the team and are “amazing runners with beautiful strides,” according to Hanson.

Eighth-grader Sarita Hook and freshman Alyssa Gleis, who were also part of T-M-B’s successful 4x800-meter relay team last spring, will likely be the third and fourth runners for the Panthers, who appear to have plenty of depth to find that all-important fifth finisher.