GIRLS' STATE CROSS COUNTRY: ML/B-O girls claim third

NORTHFIELD -- "I am so happy," exclaimed Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin senior cross country runner Sierra Harder Saturday afternoon after looking at the official result sheet of the Minnesota State High School League's Class A girls' state cross...

Adrian's Kopplow
Michael Brauer/Daily Globe Adrian's Jordin Kopplow (right) sprints toward the finish line during Saturday's state cross country meet in Northfield.

NORTHFIELD -- "I am so happy," exclaimed Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin senior cross country runner Sierra Harder Saturday afternoon after looking at the official result sheet of the Minnesota State High School League's Class A girls' state cross country meet.

Harder and her close-knit teammates were jubilant after learning the results -- for the exceptionally well-balanced Wolverines outran 13 of the state's best teams and finished an impressive third in the team standings with 121 evenly-distributed points.

"Look at that spread," ML/B-O head coach Mike Nelson beamed as he looked over the sheet. "That's 35 seconds, 1-5, at the state meet. That's something."

Paced by the lead run performance of Nelson's daughter Petra -- along with the "pack" run finish of Harder, Karina Fast, Lydia Hildebrandt and Karen Herrig -- ML/B-O left no doubt about earning the third-place trophy and bronze medals for each member of the team.

"That was our goal coming in," Coach Nelson said. "We knew that with the balance that this squad has, we had the possibility of doing very well, teamwise, in a big meet like this."


While former Class AA powerhouse Waseca and perennial Class A juggernaut Perham claimed the top two spots, the Wolverines finished 33 points ahead of four-time defending Class A state champion Adrian and scored 69 points better than fifth-place Park Rapids Area.

Waseca's winning total was 81 points, as the Bluejays top five finished in team places 7-9-16-18-31.

Perham, led by individual champion Maddie McClellan, was 11 points back with a score of 92 (1-11-24-27-29).

McClellan, a veteran senior runner, covered the 4,000-meter course at the St. Olaf College campus in 14 minutes, 55.2 seconds.

While none of the ML/B-O girls ran close to the front, all five of the Wolverine scoring runners were positioning themselves among the top 40 percent of the huge 159-finisher field -- and they stuck close together.

"That's always our plan," Harder explained afterwards. "It's not always easy to do. We were able to stay close (Saturday) and get good runs from all five of us, which really helped our score."

ML/B-O's score of 121 came on team places 17-21-25-26-32, as each of the scoring Wolverines finished well within the top third of the 111 runners that represented the 16 competing teams.

Petra Nelson, a senior, ran the course in 15:56.0 as she finished 26th overall and 17th among all team competitors.


"Petra has been a silent, solid leader for us for years," praised Coach Nelson. "She usually sets the pace during the races and the other girls work to keep contact with her."

Harder, who had an exceptional finish Saturday, was ML/B-O's fifth runner at the mile mark. She worked her way past teammates Herrig, Hildebrandt and Fast -- passing lots of runners -- over the next 2,400 meters, however, and finished 38th overall (21st, teamwise) with a time of 16:06.5.

Fast, a junior, entered the chute less than 10 seconds later, clocked at 16:06.4 (47th overall, 25th teamwise).

Hildebrandt, just a seventh-grader, had an amazing race Saturday, as she came out of "the woods" close behind Fast as both ML/B-O runners sprinted the final 300 meters to the chute.

Hildebrandt (50th) finished three places behind Fast overall, but was just one team place (26) behind her taller teammate, as she ran the course in 16:20.9.

"We knew that Lydia had potential," exclaimed Mike Nelson. "This performance, however, was more than we expected."

Sealing the Wolverines trip to the post-race awards stage was the finish of senior veteran Karen Herrig, who also came out of "the woods" strong and headed to the uphill finish with conviction.

Herrig, who placed 62nd overall and 32nd teamwise, was clocked at 16:31.8.


The time spread between Petra Nelson and Herrig was a mere 35.8 seconds, which was bettered only by ninth-place La Crescent, which had a spread of 26.2 seconds between its first and fifth runners.

Herrig, however, entered the chute nearly four seconds before La Crescent's lead runner finished, indicating the quality of ML/B-O's top five -- as well as its exceptional balance.

Petra Nelson, Fast and Herrig had all run with the Wolverines three seasons ago when ML/B-O finished ninth in 2006 with 232 points.

"Being here before and having run the course definitely helped," said Herrig, who expressed pleasure with the support from her whole her team, including the alternates and other girls who came along to the meet.

Harder, who qualified individually last season, echoed those sentiments, saying:

"It helped to have run this course before -- and it was more fun being here with the whole team this year."

Completing the ML/B-O roster Saturday were seventh-grader Brianna Southirong (140, 92, 17:51.4) and senior Nadya Bucklin (148, 100, 18:13.5).

"We are just so pleased with all seven of our runners," concluded Coach Nelson. "On average, we ran 11 seconds faster per runner at the state meet than we did in the section meet.


"Saturday was a great day for our girls. We ran the best race that we could have and we finished right where we should have."

Adrian finishes fourth

Adrian, paced by the young and amazing lead trio of freshman Jordin Kopplow, freshman Megan Sauer and eighth-grader Nicole Slater, finished a solid fourth in the team standings Saturday with 154 points on team places 6-10-12-43-83.

Park Rapids Area (190) was fifth, followed by Fairmont (206), Annandale (218), Esko (219), La Crescent (239), Holy Family Catholic (252), St. Cloud Cathedral (253), Albany (256), Blake (258), Rochester Lourdes (297), Cook County/Two Harbors (299) and New London-Spicer (313).

"Getting fourth in the whole state is pretty good," summarized Adrian first-year head coach John Olson.

"Nobody really expected us to even get to the state meet this year," said Kopplow, who raced to a medalist eighth-place (overall) individual finish. "We are already looking forward to next year."

"We don't lose anybody," added Slater, who improved 12 places this year and finished an impressive 18th overall Saturday. "We will gain people and have a really strong team next season."

After graduating veteran runners Leslie Stover and Erica Thier off of last year's state championship team (Stover had run on all four of AHS's title teams, while Thier missed the 2007 championship with an injury, but ran on the other three), the Dragons were not expected to be quite as good in 2009.


But that lead trio of Kopplow, Sauer and Slater were as good as anyone else's top three.

"If we counted just the top three, we would have won it again," noted Olson. "But, the great thing is -- we will have each of them back for three more seasons and the kids behind them will continue to get better, so things are still looking good for us."

The combined team places of Kopplow (six), Sauer (10) and Slater (12) add up to 28, which was better than Waseca's top three total of 32 (7-9-16) and Perham's 36 (1-11-24).

ML/B-O's top three (17-21-25) added up to a fourth-place total of 63,

"You have to give ML/B-O a lot of credit," praised Olson about the Wolverines. "They really earned their third-place finish by getting real good runs from five girls."

Kopplow, who finished 12th overall as a seventh-grader in 2007 and 62nd last year -- after overcoming a heel injury that kept her out of action much of the season -- ran a progressive race Saturday and stood on the post-race awards stage after completing the course in 15:30.2.

Sauer, who always seems to have a strong finish, ran to a second consecutive All-State performance as she covered the distance in 15:44.7 and placed 15th overall.

Sauer was 18th as an eighth-grader in 2008.


Slater clocked a time of 15:49.4 and finished 18th Saturday, after placing 30th overall as a seventh-grader a year ago.

"Getting three girls as All-State (top 25) runners is pretty amazing," praised Olson. "Each of them ran great races, like always, Saturday."

Completing the Adrian roster at the state meet were seventh-grader Morgan Sauer (83rd overall, 43rd team, 16:48.1), junior Alissa Sauer (131, 83, 17:38.6), freshman Elissa Thier (156, 108, 18:48.2) and freshman Nicole Knips (157, 109, 19:20.3).

The combined three-four placing of ML/B-O and Adrian gave Sections 2, 3 and 8 a three-way tie for the overall team-placing championship.

Waseca (1) and Fairmont (6) are from Section 2; ML/B-O (3) and Adrian (4) are from Section 3 and Perham (2) and Park Rapids (5) are from Section 8 -- which all add up to seven.

"The top six teams at the state meet, were all from those three sections," noted Nelson. "That indicates that our section is certainly one of the strongest in the whole state."

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