JCC boys claim team title; Ojullu races to individual victory
LOON LAKE -- Jackson County Central took three of the top four places, four of the first nine and five of the top 18 Thursday, as the Huskies dominated the team segment (by 42 points) of their own meet -- the KKOJ/KRAQ/Subway Invitational at the Loon Lake Golf Course with 36 points.
While the Huskies were impressively winning their second consecutive meet title (JCC had won last week's Worthington Turkey Trot), the race for individual honors narrowed from a three-person battle to a duel between JCC's Matt Kocak and Worthington's O.J. Ojullu for much of the 5,000-meter distance.
But over the final 1,500 meters, the smooth-running Ojullu -- a sophomore rookie -- pulled away and won his first-ever cross country race with a fine time of 17:07.
"I felt bad midway through," said Ojullu afterward. "My stomach was hurting, but I just tried to keep going and stay with him (Kocak) and was able to run faster and faster late in the race."
The victory was sweet for Ojullu, who had run to a pair of fourth-place finishes in his last two meets (Marshall, Sept. 8, and Worthington, Sept. 11).
"O.J. has natural talent, he works hard and he is very competitive," said Trojan head coach Mike Traphagen. "That's a good combination to have -- and today he ran a smart race and looked relaxed the whole way."
Kocak finished second, clocked at 17:19, and again led his team to victory.
"Ojullu pulled away from me over the last mile," said Kocak, who has turned in several stellar races in the early part of his junior year. "I was not able to catch him -- he has good speed."
JCC sophomore Marc Strom, who had run with Kocak and Ojullu over most of the first mile, finished third (17:42) and classmate Justin Cook (17:47) claimed fourth, giving the Huskies three of the first four runners to enter the chute.
"Cook has really been coming on for us," JCC co-head coach Brad Strom said. "We had another strong team performance today."
Sam Hendrickson (18:23) and Jon Troe (19:02) completed the victory for JCC, finishing ninth and 18th, respectively.
Trojans finish second
Worthington, paced by Ojullu and Aaron Grafing (fifth, 18:07), edged Blue Earth Area for second in the team standings, 78-80.
Martin County West was a distant fourth with 110 points, followed by Luverne (117), Springfield/Cedar Mountain (164), Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin (183), St. Peter (186) and Windom/Southwestern United (189). Martin Luther was incomplete, but did have two runners in the 71-finisher field.
Grafing ran a remarkably progressive race Thursday, as he passed at least a dozen runners, working his way into the top 10.
"I did not feel the best before the race and started slow today," explained Grafing. "But as we got going, I was able to move up, passing people one-by-one -- getting one guy and then closing the gap on the next guy. It ended up being a lot of fun and I felt great at the end."
Traphagen was pleased with Grafing's strategy and with his effort.
"Aaron passed so many guys and that really helped our team score," the coach said. "Ian Fleace started a bit faster today and ran close to Grafing for a longer time and had a real fine run."
Fleace finished third for the Trojans, placing 21st with a time of 19:17.
Kreguto Okello also moved up during the race and clocked a time of 19:23, finishing 23rd.
Michael Patten caught two runners in the final sprint to the chute and placed 28th (19:59), clinching Worthington's second-place performance.
"Patten passed two runners right before the finish and that ended up being the difference between second and third as a team," said Traphagen, who noted that one of the runners that Patten passed was from BEA.
"In cross country every single place counts and I was impressed with how our guys competed as a team today. I like the way that we are pushing each other."
Luverne was led by Davonne Maine, who finished 10th (18:25), while John Curley's 11th-place effort (18:30) paced W/SWU.
The Cardinals also received top-25 finishes from Nathan Stensland-Bos (17th, 18:56) and Matt Christensen (22nd, 19:20).
ML/B-O's top runner, Michael Bulla, finished 26th, clocked at 19:43.