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Section XC preview: State at stake in Buffalo, Adrian

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

ADRIAN — For the 12th consecutive year, the annual Section 3A high school cross country meet will be run at the wide-open Adrian Golf Course —- and, as always, the state-meet qualifying event appears to be loaded with quality individuals and competitive teams.

The 20-team meet is Thursday, starting with the girls’ 4,000-meter race at 4 p.m.

The longer 5,000-meter boys’ race is at 4:45 p.m. Unlike regular-season meets, the section event has only varsity competition with just seven runners allowed per team.

While the host Dragons have been dominant in the girls’ team title chase over most of the past decade, this year’s race has a trio of favorites, including defending champion Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI. The Lancers edged Adrian by six points, ending the Dragons’ seven-year run as section team champions.

AHS, however, advanced to its eighth consecutive Class A girls’ state meet with its second-place team performance.

As usual, the first two teams —- along with the top-eight individuals from the other 18 competing squads —- will earn advancement to state-meet competition at St. Olaf College in Northfield Nov. 2.

While most area squads will be competing at Adrian Thursday, the Worthington Trojans will be traveling north and east to participate in the larger-school Section 2AA Meet at Buffalo.

A total of 15 teams will be involved in that meet, which has the same time schedule —- 4 p.m. for girls and 4:45 p.m. for boys —- at the Buffalo Heights Golf Course on the south edge of town.

For the Trojans, who placed ninth as a team in the boys’ meet last year and 14th in the girls’ race, the challenge is again large.

“It’s a very tough section,” says WHS head coach Ken Henkels. “There are a lot of big schools west and south of the Twin Cities that have very strong cross country programs.”

Marshall, the Southwest Conference champion in both girls and boys events, also competes at Buffalo.

Last year, the Tigers were fourth in the girls’ standings and eighth in the boys’ meet, indicating just how strong Section 2AA is.

Marshall senior Andrew Bell placed fifth individually last year in the boys’ race and Tiger freshman Claire Boersma was 12th in the girls’ meet, both qualifying for state.

Worthington sophomore Amanual Fissiha also qualified for St. Olaf last fall, finishing 14th as a freshman, clocking a 5K time of 17:01.6, just nipping senior teammate Ethan Spittle (17:01.7) for the final advancing place.

Fissiha is joined on this year’s WHS lineup by junior Matt Jirele, sophomore Anthony Luft, eighth-grader Jacob Prunty, junior Troy Feller, sophomore Tyler VanHove and junior Oliver Wolyniec. Junior Jonah McDonald and sophomore Cameron Jensen are the squad’s alternates.

Jirele (17:47.1), Luft (17:51.7) and Wolyniec (20:44.4) all ran the Buffalo course last year as the Trojans scored 210 points and finished in the middle of the pack.

Orono, which placed four runners in a row in places 9-12, won last year’s team title with 71 points. Chaska (83), Buffalo (96) and Hutchinson (116) completed the top four teams.

New Prague replaces Holy Family Catholic in this year’s Section 2AA competition, while Chanhassen, Shakopee, Mankato East, Mankato West, Dassel-Cokato, Delano, Waconia and Mound Westonka are the other participating squads.

Chanhassen (46), Chaska (68), Shakopee (83) and Marshall (98) were the first four girls’ teams in 2012.

Worthington, which returns five runners from last year’s race, will seek to improve on its score of 338 and move up in place or two in the standings.

Junior Alicia Darling and sophomore Meredith Moore finished 37th and 38th last year with identical times of 16:20.3.

Eighth-grader Jessica Darling, junior Olivia Ebbers, eighth-grader Brianna Newman, junior Kacey Contreras and sophomore Rachel Koller complete Worthington’s top seven, while sophomore Maria Contreras and senior Ariana Lopez are ready as alternates.

Jessica Darling (17:56.5), Kacey Contreras (18:42.8) and Koller (18:44.2) all ran good times at Buffalo in 2012.

“We have five girls back who ran there last year,” summed up Henkels. “Hopefully, that helps us and we compete well.”

Phillips leads Redwood, Montevideo boys and Canby are also strong

Ryan Phillips, a Redwood Valley senior who combines great endurance with exceptional speed, is a strong favorite to win the boys’ individual title at Adrian. He leads the defending team champion Cardinals, who may be challenged by both Montevideo and Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI Thursday.

“With his top-end speed, Phillips is the favorite,” says Luverne head coach Pete Janiszeski. “If it’s close at the finish, Phillips is a good bet to win the kick.”

Phillips, who recently won the Southwest Conference individual race, finished third in last year’s section meet.

Luverne senior Cody Hess placed fourth in the 2012 section race and is a top candidate to return to Northfield, as are several runners from both Canby and Montevideo, along with Yellow Medicine East senior Jacob Carroll (eighth in 2012) and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton senior Matt Lavoy (ninth).

“Redwood, Canby, Montevideo, Murray County Central and Luverne each have a chance to have two or three runners finish among the top 15, which could qualify,” noted Janiszeski. “It’s going to be a dogfight, I think. It’s going to come down to who runs the smarter races, who can finish the strongest and who has the biggest ‘heart’ on that day.”

MCC’s lead trio of senior Andy Garza and the sophomore duo of Clayton Hartle and Jack Erickson are among the section’s best, as are Adrian junior Taylor Recker, Pipestone Area eighth-grader Michael Suda and Luverne juniors Drew Weis and Ethan Marshall.

“Luverne and MCC are similar with three strong runners,” Janiszeski said. “If either can get their fourth and fifth runners to step up, they could figure in the mix. The beauty of cross country is that anyone can pop off a great race, which could help propel their team to a bid for the state meet.”

Huhnerkoch, Schandelmeier, Slater, Freetly among the state’s best girl runners

Individually, the section features four of Minnesota’s best Class A girls’ cross country runners.

Defending section champion Kayla Huhnerkoch, a junior from Redwood Valley, is undefeated this season, including wins at the Milaca Mega-Meet (Sept 21) and the Southwest Conference Meet (Oct. 16).

Luverne freshman Madison Schandelmeier, last year’s Section 3A runner-up, has been ranked as high as second in the state and Adrian senior Nicole Slater finished a close second to Huhnerkoch at Milaca and recently (Oct. 14) won the Red Rock Conference Meet by nearly a full minute.

Lac qui Parle Valley junior Alaysia Freetly, who placed eighth last year and finished a solid fourth in this year’s huge Dragon Invitational (Oct. 8) on the same course is also highly-regarded.

“Those are likely the top four,” said Janiszeski. “But there’s a lot of quality runners after that, too, including Canby’s Leah Jessen, Southwestern United’s Rachel Salentiny, Montevideo’s Claire Sulflow, Kelly Kvaal from Lac qui Parle Valley, a couple of Mountain Lake girls and three more of ours.”

Jessen, a senior veteran is a past section champion (2010), while Salentiny has emerged with a fine season as an eighth-grader for the Wildcats. Both Sulflow and Kvaal are sophomores.

The Mountain Lake Area front runners are junior Lydia Hildebrandt and senior Whitney Klassen who have each qualified for past state meets.

Luverne’s trio of senior Makayla Hohn, freshman Mariah Aukes and seventh-grader Gabrielle Ferrell give the Cardinals a very solid top four and them a definite team favorite.

“We have the potential to win,” concluded Janiszeski. “But both Canby and Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd are balanced teams. It could be a three-way battle, with only two teams advancing. There are no guarantees, you have to go out and earn your trip. You need a solid performance up and down the line up if you are going to win our section. If anyone has an off day, you can find yourself sitting home for the state meet.”

In addition to the teams already mentioned, BOLD, Jackson County Central, Springfield/Cedar Mountain, Hendricks, Windom, MACCRAY, Southwest Christian/Edgerton and Lakeview complete the large field which will have more than 100 runners in each race.