BY LES KNUTSON
WINDOM -- Paced by the winning performance of Dalton Piotter and a strong third-place finish by teammate Ryan Blomgren, the Mountain Lake Area Wolverines claimed an impressive victory in the 10-team Eagle Invitational high school cross country meet Monday on a cool afternoon at the Windom Country Club.
Piotter took the lead early over the relatively-flat 5,000-meter course and increased the distance over Springfield’s Mitchell Buerkle. Meanwhile, Blomgren was holding onto third, stretching the gap between himself and Springfield’s Elijah Kirschstein, who was followed -- for much of the race -- by a pack of four Windom Area runners.
Earlier, Lake-Crystal-Wellcome Memorial senior MaKenna Thurston, Minnesota’s sixth-ranked Class A girls’ cross country runner, cruised to a first-place finish in the girls’ race -- more than a minute ahead of teammate Olivia Flack.
Those lead runs by Thurston (19:17.4) and Flack (20:25.7) were a big reason that the Knights were able to overcome the exceptional balance of Southwest Christian and claim the girls’ team title by a mere four points, 51-55.
Southwest Christian sophomore Mikayla Johnson, who has been fighting off illness for more than a week, bounced back in slick fashion Monday as she progressively moved up through the second pack of competitors and eventually earned third place with a time of 20:34.9.
“I was really impressed with how well Mikayla was able to run today,” declared Eagles’ head coach Brian Tschetter. “She just seemed to get stronger and stronger as the race continued.”
Supporting Johnson’s up-front effort were teammates Ella Veldkamp (10th, 22:05.5), Audra Homandberg (12th, 22:12.8) and Taylor Post (15th, 22:20.9) as the Eagles earned four of the 15 individual medals. Sydney Van Essen (20th, 22:48.6) and Mara Fick (21st, 23:03.8) also ran for Southwest, which had six runners finish before Lake Crystal’s fourth.
The Knights, however, had just 10 points among their top three and tallied 51 points on team places 1-2-7-20-21, compared to the Eagles score of 55 on team places 3-9-11-14-18.
MLA finished a strong third in the varsity girls’ team standings with 73 points (8-12-13-17-23), followed by Springfield (111), Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s (115), Adrian (127) and Heron Lake-Okabena (166). Windom, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Ellsworth were incomplete.
Adrian junior Moriah Bullerman (fourth, 20:57.3), Windom sophomore Gracie Bucher (fifth, 20:57.5) and the MLA trio of Anika Fast (ninth, 21:57.6), Haily Green (13th, 22:17.7) and Riley Schroeder (14th, 22:19.3) were other area girls who finished among the medalists, while HL-O freshman Skylar Fisher (16th, 22:25.5) just missed.
Piotter, who ran 350 miles this summer, has been running strong and smooth all season. He looked really fluid Monday as he clocked a winning time of 17:06.7 -- nearly 29 seconds ahead of Buerkle’s time of 17:35.6. Blomgren ran the course in 18:02.0
The next seven runners finished closer to each other with Kirschstein (18:29.2) holding off a strong challenge from Windom’s Gil Parent (fifth, 18:32.6) and Patrick Green (sixth, 18:36.1).
MLA’s Emilio Garcia da la Cruz (seventh, 18:41.7) broke up Windom’s pack and teammates Josiah Gardiner (11th, 19:20.7) and Kaden Swoboda (12th, 19:26.8) also ran very well, clinching the team victory for the Wolverines with a low score of 34 on team places 1-3-7-11-12.
Windom, which stayed close to MLA through four runners, finished a solid second with a score of 52 (5-6-8-10-23), while Springfield (2-4-26-29-31) was a distant third with 92 points.
Southwest Christian, paced by Denver Decker (18th, 20:02), was fourth in the team standings with 109 points, followed by SESM (124), Lake Crystal (148), HL-O (166) and Ellsworth (178). T-M-B and Adrian were both incomplete.
Other area runners finishing among the medalists (top 15) were Windom’s Hunter Walklin (eighth, 18:46.10) and Cameron Alm (10th, 18:52.5), along with HL-O sophomore Paul Salentiny (14th, 19:30.4) and T-M-B’s Sawyer Schwartz (15th, 19:42.9).
There were 76 finishers in the varsity girls’ event and 80 varsity boys completed the same course.
Windom’s Emma Holtz (second, 7:00.9), Southwest’s Alexia Vander Pol (third, 7:04.9), HL-O’s Ellie Sheldahl (fourth, 7:10.0) and MLA’s Tiegan Meyer (fifth, 7:11.0) all finished among the top five in the junior high girls’ 1,600-meter race, which was won by Katelyn Ojeda-Callejas of St. James with her time of 6:53.8.
MLA seventh-grader Sam Pidde continued his impressive string of victories in the junior high boys’ race, clocking a winning time of 5:52.6, while classmate Kody Wassman (second, 5:58.2) held off HL-O seventh-grader Tim Salentiny (third, 5:58.3), giving the Wolverines a 1-2 up front finish.
St. James (3-5-6-7-9) won the junior high boys’ team title with 30 points, while Southwest Christian was the only complete girls’ team -- winning the meet with a perfect score of 15 (1-2-3-4-5 in the team scoring).
Thirty-four girls and 39 boys completed the junior high races.