NORTHFIELD Paced by the stellar repeat All-State performances of Tenley Nelson and Regan Feit, the very young Luverne High School girls’ cross country squad placed fourth among 16 qualifying teams at the Class A State Meet Saturday at St. Olaf College.
The Cardinals, who ran one sophomore, two freshmen, two eighth-graders and two seventh-graders on their varsity during the season’s stretch run, tallied 147 points on team places 5-13-31-47-51 among the 112 finishers, who represented the 16 teams. There were a total of 175 overall finishers.
It was Luverne’s third fourth-place team performance in the past four years, as they just missed the third-place team medals by a mere seven points.
“Your first reaction is a bit of disappointment,” said LHS head coach Pete Janiszeski after realizing how close the Cardinals came to be able to climb the post-race awards podium as a group. “But after you think it through, you realize how fortunate we are and how well the kids raced. We actually had five girls run faster times today than our third runner did last year, so we indeed did pretty well.
“Fourth in the whole state and coming close to third is a nice way to finish a great season, and we have nothing to hang our heads about.”
Perham (10-11-15-26-32) edged out Howard Lake-Waverly (7-19-22-23-28), 94-99, for the team championship. Winona Cotter put three girls among the top four in the team scoring and --- despite the Cardinals having all seven of their runners in the chute before the Ramblers’ fifth runner finished --- had enough punch up front to finish third with 140 points (1-2-4-36-97).
Staples-Motley (12-16-20-42-86) was fifth with 176 points, followed by Lake City (198), Mesabi East (219), Lac qui Parle Valley / Dawson-Boyd (221), West Central Area (229), Providence Academy (255), Jordan (267), Belle Plaine (277), Glencoe-Silver Lake (281), East Grand Forks (290), North Shore (291) and The Blake School (310).
Nelson, who was running in fourth place overall during much of the 5,000-meter race, finished seventh (fifth in the team scoring) with an extraordinary time of 18:34.9, bettering her fifth-place 2017 time of 18:50.9 by exactly 16 seconds.
Feit had a strong finish Saturday and placed 20th overall (13th in the team competition, ahead of 99 others) with a time of 19:27.8 as she earned her third consecutive All-State (Top 25) honor.
“Regan finished 22nd two years ago as an eighth-grader, was 15th overall last year and earned her third straight All-State certificate by placing 20th this year,” praised Janiszeski about Feit’s consistency on the challenging Northfield course.
Freshman Brooklynn VerSteeg (67th overall, 31 points) was Luverne’s third finisher, clocking a time of 20:12.5. Seventh-grader Jenna DeBates (97th, 47 points, 20:45.0) and eighth-grader Elizabeth Wagner (102, 51, 20:47.5) completed the scoring for the Cardinals, finishing close to each other and both moving up significantly as the race progressed.
“Jenna and Elizabeth, and our sixth runner Tiana Lais, each ran strong last miles, passing more runners than they were passed by,” said Janiszeski. “They did a nice job of moving up.”
Lais, an eighth-grader, ran the course in 21:01.1 and finished 110th overall and was 56th --- right in the middle of the pack --- among team competitors. Seventh-grader MaKena Nelson (156, 93, 22:18.5) also finished ahead of scoring runners on several teams, including Winona Cotter.
Luverne finished sixth last year with 208 points after back-to-back fourth-place team finishes in 2016 (148 points) and 2015 (168).
While Nelson and Feit were Luverne’s lead two runners at last year’s state meet and Feit was the first Cardinal the year before, it was also a third run on the St. Olaf course for VerSteeg, who ran 28 seconds faster this year than her time of 20:40.5 last year. Lais sliced 57 seconds off her 2017 state-meet time of 21:58.4, and Wagner had a dramatic improvement of nearly 72 seconds from her race (21:59.2) at Northfield last year.
“The kids continue striving to get better,” summed up Janiszeski. “That’s all you can ask for as they each race with a lot of heart and desire.”