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Killing it: Trojan boys have high hopes as section cross country meet looms

All eyes will be on the Worthington Trojans boys cross country team on Tuesday, when one of the least kept secrets in the state competes in the Section 2AA meet at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista. The Trojans have been winning regular season meets with amazing regularity, and because of their consistent successes they’ve achieved the No. 4 spot in the state rankings.

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The Worthington Trojans boys cross country team, decked out in red, leads the pack at the start of the 2021 Turkey Trot in Worthington. (file photo)

WORTHINGTON -- All eyes will be on the Worthington Trojans boys cross country team on Tuesday, when one of the least kept secrets in the state competes in the Section 2AA meet at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista. The Trojans have been winning regular season meets with amazing regularity, and because of their consistent successes they’ve achieved the No. 4 spot in the state rankings.

It was three years ago -- or was it four? -- said head coach Cory Smidt, that the WHS boys very nearly qualified for state. This year, it will surprise no one if they actually get there.

“We’ve had a great regular season. Hopefully we can build on that,” said Smidt this week as his team prepared for an after-school practice.

“More like outstanding,” he thought again. “We’ve been on a roll the last couple of years for the boys. It’s great to see.”

The Trojans are led by a freshman, Fanuel Wolday, who turned in his personal best time Tuesday in the Big South Conference meet in Pipestone, winning it in 16:29.29.

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Mikele Walu, a junior, was Worthington’s best runner a year ago but he’s struggled this year due to an ankle injury. Nevertheless, he placed eighth overall at the conference meet.

Junior Ofbeka Morke, senior Alec Langerud, junior Filmon Wolday and senior Mason Bobb also run with the leaders. The Trojans are very talented runners, and the team is deep.

“I’m not surprised (with their success) because they train so hard,” said Smidt. “And I’m not really surprised by things in high school sports. You just never know.”

Fanuel’s older brother, Filmon, said Fanuel is the type of kid who, when he could otherwise walk, he runs.

“We’ve always played soccer. He was in soccer in the eighth grade. After he went out for track he became interested in cross country. It was the same for me,” Filmon remarked.

“I’ve been training this summer,” Fanuel said. “I was running in the morning and at nights. I started running. I was in track my first time last year, and I did good. And my friends said I should do cross country, and so I did.”

He actually surprised himself at how he performed.

“I didn’t know I was going to do that good. I was nervous,” he said smiling.

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With the Trojan boys, it’s not just that they work hard at getting better, it’s also that they enjoy each other and support each other.

“We practice together. We hang out together a lot,” said Morke. “We’re all close friends. That makes it better for the team.”

Walu was a force of nature last season, and the obvious leader of the Trojan boys team. He could win a race by setting the pace early; he could win a race by sprinting near the end. It seemed effortless for him.

This year he’s had to be content at not finishing in first place, due to an ankle injury that’s taken a lot of time to heal. He says it’s close to 100 percent now, but the injury is still aggravated when he competes.

“It’s getting better. Now I just need to get in shape. I’m trying my best,” he said.

By putting in slower times than last year, Walu continues to fight through the frustration.

“It’s a lot of mental stuff going on, knowing I can do better than I am right now,” he explained. “I’m not going to improve it this year like it used to be, ‘cuz there’s not many meets left. I’m just trying to get it ready for track.”

Even so, Walu is able to focus on the team, and the team’s goal of making state. Everybody has to be a team player, he said.

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“We’ve got a great team right now. We got a lot of fast guys, and everybody’s doing their part. And Fanuel is just killing it right now,” he said.

Things are just coming together for the Trojan boys -- the dedicated workouts, the camaraderie. And they’ve been very consistent, too.

“It’s consistently good. The kids motivate each other, and we’ve got good senior leadership,” said Smidt, who’s sure to do his part to have his runners ready for sections.

“At sections, I hate losing. So I always want to win,” he said. “We have a great opportunity. Everybody has to run good.”

Judging by the team’s example during the regular season, they will.

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