LES KNUTSON

Daily Globe 

WORTHINGTON -- Both of the 2015 individual first-place finishers return and three-time girls’ team champion Fairmont is again loaded with talent and depth.

Beginning at 4:30 p.m. today (Thursday, Sept. 15), Worthington is hosting -- for the 49th time -- the annual Turkey Trot Invitational, a high school cross country meet which will feature more than 400 athletes, representing 13 teams.

“We’re ready to roll,” says first-year Trojans’ head coach Cory Smidt. “It’s exciting to host a meet like this with a lot of tradition and Kevin Black has done a great job getting the course ready for us.”

The meet will again be staged on the sloping hills of the former Prairie View Golf Links where it has been ever since 1993.

“We like the course,” noted long-time Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk. “We came years ago when the meet was at the Country Club and have been back recently when it’s been at Prairie View and we like coming. As a coach, I enjoy the camaraderie with all the great coaches from that area; it’s always good competition.”

The Cardinals have their share of Turkey Trot team titles, especially on the girls’ side, winning last year with an impressive score of 39 (1-6-9-11-12). This year, Fairmont’s girls are ranked second in the state among all Class A teams, having won all three of their meets so far.

“We have three senior tri-captains -- Jenna Pavich, Molly Hawkins and Emily Haugen -- who are tremendous leaders and have been year-round runners since they were in junior high,” he said. “Those three have certainly earned what they’ve accomplished. Plus, we have a good group of talented young runners, giving us a nice blend of runners who push each other to get better.”

Pavich won last year’s varsity race -- the first time that girls ran 5,000 meters -- in a time of 20:44.3 and is undefeated so far in 2016. Finishing close behind Pavich at the 2015 Turkey Trot were Martin County West’s Whitney Smith (20:49.5) and Worthington’s Meredith Moore (20:53.7) both who have graduated.

Joining Fairmont, MCW and Worthington for this year’s event are Adrian, Heron Lake-Okabena, Jackson County Central, Mountain Lake Area, Murray County Central/Fulda, Pipestone Area, St. James, Southwest Christian/Edgerton, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Windom Area.

The first race, the girls’ junior high (grades 7-8) starts at 4:30 p.m. and covers 1,600-meters. Twenty minutes later, the junior high boys will run the same course.

The varsity girl’s 5K is scheduled to start at 5:10 and many top-notch girls will strive to stick with Pavich. The top challengers will likely include Hawkins (ninth last year) and junior teammates Iliana Ramon (who moved back after living in Texas last year) and Lizzy Subbert (sixth), along with a pair of Pipestone runners, junior Angel Martens (fourth) and senior Livia Wallace (fifth).

MCC/Fulda eighth-grader Morgan Gehl has been very impressive so far this season and JCC junior Jessica Christoffer was the individual champion two years ago as a freshman. Four others who finished close to the front last year are Adrian freshman Moriah Bullerman (seventh), HL-O junior Rachel Salentiny (eighth), St. James junior MacKinzee Meist (10th) and Windom senior Christianna Green (12th).

WorthingTon freshman Sena Uli is another girl to watch. She has emerged on the scene with a couple of recent strong runs, clocking times of 20:10 and 20:31 in her last two meets.

“Sena is off to a great start this season,” beamed Smidt. “She has a chance to finish among the top 10 and claim a trophy.”

The first 10 varsity finishers in each race earn trophies.

Suda, Irwin, Pierson look to lead boys’ field

Pipestone Area junior Michael Suda won last year’s Turkey Trot with a stellar 5K time of 17:14.1, winning by 28 seconds. Fairmont’s Josh Sundblad and the MCC duo of Jack Erickson and Clayton Hartle, who took the next three places, have each graduated.

Two area runners with dramatic improvement since last year’s race are Windom senior John Irwin (16th in 2015) and St. James junior Lukas Pierson (11th). Both Irwin (at Mountain Lake) and Pierson (at Luverne) have won races so far this year and Irwin has twice been well under 17 minutes.

Other challengers may include HL-O senior Logan Knutson (sixth in 2015, 18:05.2), Fairmont junior Nathan Willett (ninth), Fairmont sophomore Andrew Moeller (12th), Adrian junior Brady Henning (15) and PA senior Matthew Kennedy (31).

Several schools, besides Fairmont, have multiple runners looking to challenge. Windom seniors Nickolas Green (20) and Isaac Tade (17), MCC/Fulda senior Isaiah Olsem (21) and freshman teammate Justin Clarke  (the junior high first-place finisher in 2015), MCW senior Joshua Bjerken (fifth, 18:01.2) and sophomore Carson Kahler (22), along with the Worthington trio of sophomore Andrew Huber (14th last year, 18:40), freshman Adam Koller (19) and junior Jacob Prunty (18) are all among the top returning runners from 2015.

Junior Jackson Bonnett has also run well for the Trojans this fall and St. James had three other runners finish among the first 11 at Luverne.  

“That’s probably at least 18 or 20 guys or more who will challenge to make the top 10,” summed up Smidt, who leads the defending boys’ team champions.

In a very close team chase, Worthington (9-13-16-17-22) edged MCC/Fulda (3-4-19-24-28) by a mere point, 77-78, for the 2015 boys’ title. Fairmont was close behind with 85 points.

A senior last year, Tyler Van Hove (10th overall) was lead Trojan in the 2015 Turkey Trot.

Windom has been impressive in winning the Panther Invitational at Tracy last week and finished a strong third in a high-caliber meet at Marshall Monday. St. James utilized exceptional balance and the lead run of Pierson to win a 12-team meet at Luverne last Saturday.

The varsity boys’ race is scheduled to start at 5:40 p.m. with an awards program following.

Smidt is thankful for receiving help from a “stellar support staff,” which includes former Trojan coaches Mike Traphagen and Ken Henkels, along with assistant coaches Lonnie Myrom and LeAnn Barduson. He also appreciates the efforts of griller Mark Thier who will be on hand, leading the cooking this afternoon.

“We hope it’s a great day all-around,” he said. “If the rains holds off it will be because the course is ready to run.”