BY LES KNUTSON
FAIRMONT -- Running in the wind and mud at Fairmont’s Cedar Creek Park Thursday, the Worthington High School varsity boys cross country team raced to a strong second-place team finish in the I-90 Invitational.
A well-balanced Mankato East squad, paced by individual winner Jeff Oaches (16:21.4), had all seven of its varsity runners finish among the first 22 and claimed the team title with a low score of 63 points (1-7-16-19-20), while Worthington (3-9-12-25-26) tallied 75 points to earn runner-up honors.
Worthington junior Adam Koller placed an impressive third among the huge field of 168 finishers with a personal-best 5,000-meter time of 16:32.5 as he overcame a slow start and passed numerous runners on his first trip around the bean field on the west end of the soggy course.
“Adam had to work his way around a lot of guys on that first lap, but he was able to run in third place most of the race,” declared WHS head coach Cory Smidt. “He ran his fastest time ever on a very muddy and slippery course. The rest of our varsity boys also had great races as we ran another fine team race.”
Finishing between Oaches (who led from start to finish) was Belle Plaine’s Drew Hastings (16:29.1).
Completing the scoring for the Trojans were junior Christian Lietz (ninth, 17:02.9), senior Andrew Huber (12th, 17:09.6), sophomore Jordan Melendez (25th, 17:41.4) and eighth-grader Mikele Walu (26th, 17:42.9).
Seniors Tad Stewart (33rd, 18:18.2) and Blaine Doeden (37th, 18:31.1) also ran well for the Trojans as their sixth and seventh runners.
St. James (10-14-15-17-28) was a solid third in the team standings with 84 points, followed by Belle Plaine (122), Martin County West (130), St. Peter (133), Fairmont (139), Blue Earth Area (242), Jackson County Central (245) and Heron Lake-Okabena (300). Madelia and North Union, Iowa, were each incomplete.
BEA’s Grant Strukel (16:52.6) finished fourth and MCW’s Carson Kahler (16:53.9) placed fifth.
JCC was led by freshman Clayton Cavness (35th, 18:20.3) and sophomore Clay Cranston (47th, 19:01.2), while HL-O’s first two finishers were sophomore Paul Salentiny (44th, 18:57.2) and senior Carlos Juarez (50th, 19:05.1).
Belle Plaine won the girls team title with a low score of 59 points, while Mankato East edged Fairmont, 59-60, for second.
MCW was fourth with 85 points, followed by St. Peter (120), Worthington (162), St. James (182) and BEA (228). JCC, HL-O, Madelia and North Union were all incomplete.
Leading the sixth-place Trojans was a fine effort by junior Sena Uli, who placed 18th in the team scoring among 110 total finishers with a time of 21:32.0 over the same 5,000-meter course, which wasn’t chewed up nearly as much as the girls ran first.
Following Uli for WHS were sophomore Madison Schaeffer (32nd, 22:55.0), freshman Jenna Hoffman (34th, 23:07.6), sophomore Maranda Thier (37th, 23:13.4) and sophomore Nedoh Gyi (41st, 24:12.9).
Eighth-graders Cassidy Madison (43rd, 24:35.3) and Erkinisk Bonnett (45th, 24:49.8) were Worthington’s sixth and seventh varsity runners at Fairmont.
Leading JCC was freshman Olivia Anderson, who earned a 13th-place medal with her time of 20:51.4. HL-O’s first varsity girl was freshman Skylar Fisher (42nd overall, 23:01.5).
Mankato East eighth-grader Olivia Beschomer clocked a first-place time of 19:08.7.Thier, Salentiny place high in junior high
In the 1,600-meter junior high races, run exclusively through the woods on the Parks’ east side, Worthington seventh-grade Marissa Thier placed eighth among 36 girl finishers with a time of 7:05.1, while eighth-grade teammate Root Gebremariam came in 12th with her time of 7:14.8.
HL-O seventh-grader Tim Salentiny utilized a strong finish to place fourth among 87 boys with his time of 5:40.5 Three JCC runners -- eighth-graders Carter Johnson (10th, 5:52.2), and Caleb Thurmer (14th, 5:57.7), along with seventh-grader Evan Paplow (15th, 5:58.5) -- also ran near the front and completed the course under six minutes.