LUVERNE - Armed with a stellar lead run and supported by a balanced - but young - supporting cast, the Luverne Cardinals are a clear favorite to win a fourth consecutive Section 3A girls cross country team championship on their home course Thursday.
Ranked third in the latest Class A poll by the state coaches’ association, the Cardinals have been superb all fall, including a recent dominating victory in the small-school division of the Big South Conference Meet (Oct. 16). That’s when all five of Luverne’s scoring runners placed among the first nine finishers, giving the team a winning total of 23 - 38 points better than Pipestone Area’s runner-up score of 61.
The boys’ team favorite is Lac qui Parle Valley / Dawson-Boyd, the state’s fourth-ranked team and the defending Section 3A champion. The Eagles have qualified as a team to the past three state meets, having won the sectional title in both 2015 and 2017, while finishing second - to Windom - in 2016.
As always, the top two teams Thursday will advance to next week’s (Nov. 3) Class A State Meet on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield. Additionally, the first eight individual finishers who are not members of one of the two qualifying teams will also earn the chance to run at St. Olaf.
A total of 21 teams, involving up to a possibility of 147 runners in each race, will compete for those elite honors Thursday at the unique cross country course west of the Luverne Elementary School. The scenic route - that includes one big hill which is conquered twice over the 5,000-meter or 3.1-mile distance - includes a couple of trips down a path between a cornfield and a row of trees.
In reverse order of most regular-season meets, the boys will run first Thursday, beginning at 4 p.m. The girls follow at 4:40 p.m. There will only be the two varsity races, involving just a team’s top seven runners. The season is over for junior high and junior varsity (JV) competitors.
While all of the other area teams are competing at Luverne, the Worthington Trojans will be making the long trip Waconia for the high-powered Section 2AA Meet. Marshall is ranked eighth among the state’s large-school teams, while Buffalo is the ninth-ranked Class AA boys’ team and the defending sectional champion.
Worthington junior Adam Koller earned a state-meet qualification last year and should certainly be in the hunt for a repeat trip this year, as he has continued to improve and has been a front runner for the Trojans in every meet.
The Trojan boys have experienced lots of team success this year, including winning the large-school division of the Big South Conference, and will strive to improve upon last year’s 12th-place team finish. Mankato East, which finished ahead of Worthington at Fairmont’s I-90 Invitational (Oct. 4) is among the teams the Trojans will be competing against.
At Luverne, three of Minnesota’s best girls will be racing as Murray County Central/Fulda sophomore Morgan Gehl (fourth), Luverne freshman Tenley Nelson (eighth) and Canby/Minneota freshman Grace Drietz (ninth) are each state ranked after finishing 1-2-3 (in that order) at last year’s section meet.
La qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, which has finished second to the Cardinals at each of the last three section meets, is ranked ninth in Class A and will likely be among the team contenders again. With fine balance to back up Gehl, MCC / F also has a very strong squad.
LQPV/D-B junior Mike Kvaal is a favorite to run at the front of the boys’ race, along with Mountain Lake Area senior Dalton Piotter, Redwood Valley junior Jayson Peyerl and Springfield/Cedar Mountain senior Mitchell Buerkle.
Among the teams expected to challenge LQPV/D-B for the boys’ team title are Luverne, (led by senior Dalton DeSollar), Redwood Valley, MCC/Fulda, Montevideo and defending runner-up Mountain Lake Area, which also includes Red Rock Central and Comfrey.
After finishing third as a team three consecutive times, including missing second by just one point in 2015, the Rebels of MCC/F slipped to sixth last year. Junior Justin Clarke, a two-time individual state-meet qualifier, leads a very balanced senior group with plenty of experience competing in section meets.