MARSHALL — Smooth-striding Worthington High star Mikele Walu usually displays excellent running form, but a mile from the finish line here Thursday afternoon he was wincing and holding one arm to his midsection.
“It was hurting,” Walu said of the side ache that produced significant pain. “I just tried to push it through and finish as hard as I could.”
No pain, no gain.
Walu maintained his unbeaten record with a victory to lead the Trojans to victory in a Big South Conference cross country meet at Independence Park.
“I don’t think about losing,” said the sophomore standout. “I don’t want to let my teammates down. I really want to help my team as much as I can.”
Walu finished the 3.1-mile race in 17:03.5, leading the Trojan boys to a team title. Worthington’s Alec Langerud (3rd, 17:28.4), Filmon Wolday (5th, 17:56.9) and Ofbeka Morke (8th, 18:06.2) had top-10 finishes as the Trojans finished with 32 points.
The Trojan boys, despite no seniors among the squad’s top seven runners, are one of the top cross country squads in the region.
“It’s a perfect team,” Walu said. “And we’re pretty young, too. I think we’ll definitely start winning more and more.”
Marshall, led by runner-up Owen Holmberg (17:05.9) finished second in the team race with 36 points. Windom, led by Chance Elness (6th, 18:01.4) and Cameron Alm (9th, 18:16.8), had 56 points.
Meanwhile, young runners rose to the top in the girls race.
Marshall freshman Allyson Sample won the 3.1-mile competition in 20:06.5.
Windom eighth-grader Kaylee Walklin, running on the varsity for just the second time in her career, was third in 20:23.6. That was close behind second-place finisher Gracie Bucher of Windom (20:18.5).
If Walklin was nervous about competing with the older runners, she didn’t show it.
“Coaches just put me up on varsity (last week) and I was like, OK,” she smiled. “I was so surprised I made it up the big hill. This was a tough course. It’s my best race. And most tiring, too.”
The conditions were challenging, with temperatures in the high 70s and a course that featured a few hills.
“To run when it’s hot you have to show mental toughness,” said Bucher, a senior and fine all-around athlete for the Eagles. “Our Windom team has some young girls, but they’ve been stepping up tremendously.”
“They always act like ‘Oh my gosh, we did so bad,’ but I tell them ‘Dude, you don’t know what you’re capable of,’ ” Bucher said. “They’re good.”
Marshall won the girls race with 23 points. Windom
scored 40 and Worthington had 77. The Trojans’ top runners were junior Madison Schaefer (12th, 23:18.6) and senior Maranda Their (13th, 23:44.5).
The performance of Walu and Co. gave WHS fans plenty to cheer about.
“They do an awesome job,” WHS coach Cory Smidt said when asked about his boys team. “Whatever is asked of them, they’re going to do a great job.”
The Trojan girls?
“Maddie and Maranda did a great job and so did some of the younger ones,” Smidt said. “The girls are improving every meet.”
In the junior varsity races, Worthington was led by Olivia Barber (29.40.9), Mary Ramos (30.03.4), Mason Bobb (17:31.9) and Ian Barber (19:29.0).
In the junior high competition, the top Worthington times were turned in by Morgan Becker (9:09.2), Kendie Thiner (9:12.4), Austin Kinser (8:27.3) and Holden Meyer (9:23.2).