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State cross country: Area runners ready to compete at Northfield

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

NORTHFIELD — Returning four runners from its state-qualifying team of 2011, Luverne High School’s girls’ cross country team is prepared to compete in Saturday’s Class A State Meet at the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield. The girls’ 4,000-meter race begins at 1 p.m.

Joining the Cardinals in the projected 176-runner event will be five qualifying area individuals, including Adrian senior Nicole Slater, who will be running in the state meet for a sixth consecutive time — her first race without her Dragon teammates competing with her.

Later, a trio of area individual qualifiers will participate in the longer 5,000-meter boys’ race, also at St. Olaf, starting a 2 p.m.

Luverne senior Cody Hess, who finished a strong third in this year’s Section 3A race at Adrian (Oct. 24) is back for a third run at St. Olaf, having qualified individually last year (fourth in the section race) after running with the Cardinals’ qualifying team two years ago as a sophomore.

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton senior Matt Lavoy returns, advancing individually two years in a row, and Murray County Central senior Andy Garza realized his year-long goal and will also compete Saturday, after earning his qualification by finishing 10th at the high-powered Oct. 24 sectional race.

“It’s been Andy’s goal since last year’s section meet,” exclaimed MCC head coach Dominick Damm, who ran in two state meets (1992 and 1993), helping Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield earn back-to-back second-place team finishes two decades ago.

“Andy’s had a successful year with lots of top-five finishes, including winning the conference (Red Rock) meet. He’s had a good week of practice and we are hoping for a personal best time from him on Saturday.”

Having competed in the state meet twice previously, Hess is aiming for a good performance in his final high school cross country race.

“He’s had a awesome career,” said his coach, Pete Janiszeski, a key member of Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI’s 1995 state championship team. “Cody’s goal is to run the course under 17 minutes and shoot for all-state honors (top 25). One thing’s for sure, he will give it his best effort, he wants to finish his senior campaign on a high note.”

Hess finished 54th overall (29th in the team scoring) as Luverne’s lead runner two years ago, running the course in 17:22.2. Last year, he placed 135th (72nd team), clocked at 17:52.7.

Lavoy capped off a remarkable rookie season of cross country last fall with his state-meet qualification (ninth in the section race) and improved a couple of places this year, finishing seventh Oct. 24.

He entered the chute a few places before Hess at St. Olaf last year (129th, 17:48.2) and is optimistic of improving upon that Saturday.

“Matt has had high expectations for himself this week and has worked hard to achieve them,” declared T-M-B head coach Marie Hanson. “He has had eight straight top-10 finishes and ran his personal best time at the section meet, but will strive to improve that with a great effort Saturday.”

Slater and Hohn both have lots of state-meet experience, Schandelmeier Returns to lead Cardinals

Slater, who helped Adrian win a pair of team championships — as a seventh-grader in 2008 and as a freshman in 2010 — has the most state meet experience of any of the 15 area runners competing Saturday.

Coming off an impressive victory on her home course in the Section 3A meet, Slater has moved up to No. 6 in the latest Class A girls’ ratings by the State Coaches Association poll.

Running at St. Olaf without six teammates for the first time, has made the talented and determined competitor realize how fortunate she was to have been part of such great teams for so many years.

“I appreciate those opportunities that I enjoyed each of the past years, running with my teammates,” said Slater about her five previous races at Northfield. “Those were memorable experiences. It’s different, this time, running by myself. I’m just going to run my race and try my best.”

Slater has run the course under 16 minutes four times, including her best time of 15:34.5 as a seventh-grader in 2008 when she finished 30th overall (16th team scoring) behind senior leader Leslie Stover (12, 7, 15:16.6) and eighth-grader Megan Sauer (18, 11, 15:20.4) as Adrian’s third runner on the Dragons’ fourth consecutive state title team.

Slater’s best overall state individual finish was as an eighth-grader in 2009 when she placed 18th with a time of 15:49.4. She was 35th overall last year (15th team) with a fine time of 15:36.9.

“Nicole has the talent, determination and the training to run up near the front,” declared first-year AHS head coach Eric Kiers. “She has won five races this year and ran her best at the section meet, which may the toughest in the state. I expect her do very well Saturday. She is incredibly intelligent and totally determined.”

Luverne senior Makayla Hohn, who has been nursing a calf injury all season, qualified for her fourth run at St. Olaf with a blazing finishing kick (seventh place overall), helping the Cardinals return as a team to state competition.

Hohn has improved each year at Northfield, placing 37th as a freshman in 2010 (15:51.7), 31st (18th team) as a sophomore in 2011 with a time of 15:35.6, and then finishing an incredible 17th last year as a junior, clocked at 15:17.6.

“Makayla ran extremely well last year, as did Madison Schandelmeier,” summed up Janiszeski, who is hoping for a tight finish Saturday from his second through fourth runners, along with good runs from his fifth through seventh girls.”

Schandelmeier will likely give the Cardinals an exceptional lead-run performance.

The tiny freshman earned a state-meet medal last year with a blistering time of 14:56.6, which placed her ninth in the entire race. She placed 28th overall (16th team) in 2011 with a time of 15:33.3 as a seventh-grader.

Schandelmeier has finished second two years in a row at the section meet and is currently ranked seventh in the state among Class A girls’ runners.

Joining Schandelmeier and Hohn on Luverne’s team Saturday will be seventh-grader Gabrielle Ferrell, freshman Mariah Aukes, freshman Zayna Hustoft, freshman Bergin Flom and seventh-grader Madison Reisdorfer. Senior Hailey Sommers and freshman Carly Serie are the Cardinals’ two alternates.

Aukes and Hustoft joined Schandlemeier and Hohn on Luverne’s 2011 squad, which placed 14th with 297 points.

Both Ferrell (ninth) and Aukes (14th) ran great races for the Cardinals in this year’s Section 3A meet and Janiseski is hoping to move up in this year’s standings, as Luverne competes in the team chase for the seventh time in the past 12 years.

The Cardinals best three team finishes came in three consecutive years, sixth in 2004, fifth in 2005 and seventh in 2007.

Hildebrandt is back for third time, Salentiny, Green, Edwards are each first-timers

Mountain Lake Area junior Lydia Hildebrandt will run at St. Olaf for the third time Saturday, after just missing the last two years.

Running with an outstanding Wolverine squad, which placed third as a team in 2009, Hildebrandt finished 50th (26th team) with a time of 16:20.9 as her team’s fourth runner, capping an incredible rookie season as a seventh-grader.

She qualified individually the next year, placing 54th as an eighth-grader, running the course 20 seconds faster (16:00.3).

A top-notch quarter-miler in track, Hildebrandt utilizes a strong finishing kick to move up late in her races and she likes the course at St. Olaf.

Southwestern United eighth-graders Rachel Salentiny and MaKayla Edwards have each emerged on the scene with stellar varsity seasons after running mostly in junior high meets a year ago as seventh-graders.

After finishing an impressive 1-2 at the St. James Invitational (Sept. 24), the two young Wildcats continued their success in October and capped off their climbs up the ladder — earning state-meet qualification — by placing eighth and 13th, respectively at the section meet, helping SWU earn fifth in the team standings.

Windom freshman Christianna Green is also running for the first time at St. Olaf, after her 12th-place finish in the section.

“Christianna has had a great season,” summed up Eagles’ head coach Melissa Pletcher. “She put in the miles last summer and it’s paying off now. She’s mentally tough and was able to sustain the fast pace of the section race, running a tough course under 16 minutes. It’s exciting to see her get this chance to run at the state meet.”