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Cross country: Big-time runners coming to Turkey Trot

BY LES KNUTSON The Globe WORTHINGTON -- Once again, a high-caliber field of area high school cross country runners will converge on the grounds of the former Prairie View Golf Links Thursday to compete in the 50th annual Turkey Trot. The popular ...

BY LES KNUTSON

The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Once again, a high-caliber field of area high school cross country runners will converge on the grounds of the former Prairie View Golf Links Thursday to compete in the 50th annual Turkey Trot.

The popular mid-September event was started back in 1968 by Worthington High School cross country coach Rich Adel, with assistance from WHS athletic director Ken Thompson. Every year since -- with the exception of last fall’s washout when torrential rains flooded the course and made it impossible to run the meet -- the Turkey Trot has been a part of King Turkey Day Week in Worthington.

“We’re going back to the old course, mostly up on the north end,” said second-year WHS head cross country coach Cory Smidt. “They’re making some changes to the landscape on the south side, where much of the course ran the past few years.”

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While last year’s Turkey Trot was not able to be held, Prairie View did host the 13-team Big South Conference meet in mid-October.

“We hosted the Big South last year and most coaches really liked the course,” said Smidt, who is being assisted by Kevin Black and Andy Braun in planning out and marking this year’s race paths. “Kevin and Andy have been a big help. Andy ran on the old course when the race first moved out here in the early 1990s.”

Perennial power Fairmont, the defending girls’ Class A state team champion, return to defend their Turkey Trot team title which they have won numerous times, including three in a row (2013, 2014 and 2015).

Worthington’s boys are the favorite to repeat (the Trojans won the team title in 2015), but will likely be challenged by both St. James and a Mountain Lake Area squad, which has been bolstered by the addition of a pair of exceptional distance runners from Red Rock Central.

“Our boys ran a great team race two years ago,” remembered Smidt, who was an assistant coach then. “I know they wanted to run well and win the meet for Coach (Ken) Henkels, as he was retiring at the end of the season.”

While the Trojans have an abundance of balance up front, led by the trio of Andrew Huber, Christian Lietz and Adam Koller, Smidt’s crew also has great depth, and the team’s fifth finisher (which could be any one of several runners) is likely to enter the chute before most teams get as many across.

In four meets so far, Lietz has been the lead Trojan twice, while Huber and Koller -- veterans from Worthington’s 2015 Turkey Trot championship team -- have each been first once. Huber is a junior, while Koller and the ever-improving Lietz are just sophomores.

“We hope that all three of them run their best race and finish close to the front,” Smidt said. “If that happens and our next pack is close to them, we will do well as a team.”

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A pair of highly-regarded seniors -- Lukas Pierson from St. James and Nathan Runck from Red Rock Central, who runs for Mountain Lake Area -- are the favorites in the chase for the boys’ individual title.

Pierson is coming off a fantastic track season where he placed sixth in state Class A in the 3,200-meter run with a stellar time of 9:49.81. He runs lots of miles in the off-season and has been getting better and better throughout his career. Pierson recently finished first at the huge 29-team Redbird Invitational at Montgomery, leading the Saints to a second-place team finish.

Runck, who is in his first season as a cross country runner, impressed the state Coaches Association pollsters with his convincing victory at Mountain Lake’s Paul Metcalf Invitational (Aug. 30) when he ran a difficult 5,000-meter course in 16:48 and won the race by 28 seconds.

Adrian senior Brady Henning (second at Mountain Lake, 17:16), Martin County West junior Carson Kahler (seventh at Mountain Lake, third at Luverne) and Fairmont junior Andrew Moeller (ninth at Mountain Lake, 18th at Montgomery) are among the other premier runners in the area who will likely be among the frontrunners, along with Worthington’s lead trio.

Girls race features two of the area’s best After impressively winning at Montgomery, Fairmont’s girls have moved up from third to first in the latest rankings. The Cardinals feature exceptional balance and have not had the same finishing order yet -- in three meet victories -- among their top three runners. That lead trio of junior Sarah Krumholz, senior Iliana Ramon and eighth-grader Laura Thompson will look to pace Fairmont Thursday.

“Those three push each other and we never know for sure in which order they will finish,” said veteran FHS head coach Bob Bonk. “We’re looking forward to competing at Worthington, which is always a well-run meet.”

Likely running ahead of the Fairmont lead pack will be Fulda freshman Morgan Gehl, who runs for Murray County Central, and Martin County West freshman Marissa Whitehead.

Whitehead finished second in last year’s state meet, while Gehl placed eighth. At Mountain Lake, the two state-ranked runners ran side-by-side until Gehl pulled away and won by 16 seconds with a time of 19:12. Both Gehl (fifth) and Whitehead (eighth) are ranked high in Class A and have raced against each other often, both on the track and on area golf courses.

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A total of 13 teams will bring competitors to Thursday’s event, which starts at 4:30 p.m. with the girls’ junior high race (1,600 meters). The junior high boys will run the same course, starting at 4:45, followed by the 5,000-meter varsity races (girls at 5:10, boys at 5:40).

In addition to Fairmont, Worthington, St. James, MLA, MCC and MCW, runners from Windom, Jackson County Central, Adrian, Heron Lake-Okabena, Pipestone Area, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Southwest Christian will complete the 13-team field.

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