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Prep cross country: Runck, Piotter getting first look in new MLA co-op

Les Knutson The Globe MOUNTAIN LAKE -- Red Rock Central senior Nathan Runck has never run in a high school cross country meet, and neither has RRC junior Dalton Piotter. Friday, the pair of ace distance runners will get their first chance when th...

Les Knutson

The Globe

MOUNTAIN LAKE -- Red Rock Central senior Nathan Runck has never run in a high school cross country meet, and neither has RRC junior Dalton Piotter. Friday, the pair of ace distance runners will get their first chance when the recently-formed cooperative of Mountain Lake, Mountain Lake Christian and RRC -- known as Mountain Lake Area -- takes to the course at Fairmont’s 13-team Early Bird Invitational.

Runck was running sizzling times on the track last spring before a midseason neck injury, incurred while high jumping, put the brakes on two weeks of training and limited his late-season success. Piotter, who ran both the 1,600 and 3,200 in nearly every meet, blossomed at season’s end and was getting closer to Runck as they both performed well.

Now for the first time, Runck and Piotter will experience the thrill of cross country competition by joining with an established program at Mountain Lake. The RRC school district has not offered cross country for several seasons since being paired with Westbrook-Walnut Grove for a few years a decade ago. Mountain Lake has created a rich tradition since its program was started by Paul Metcalf in 1971.

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“Nathan and Dalton bring incredible racing toughness as distance runners in track,” wrote MLA head coach Kyle Blomgren in his pre-season preview information. “We are blessed to have 50 kids-plus this year, spread about equally between boys and girls. Many of our runners  put in a lot of miles this summer. I am excited to see the progress the 2017 Wolverine cross country teams will make this year.”

Juniors Ryan Blomgren (the coach’s son) and Josiah Gardiner, along with sophomore Emilio Garcia dela Cruz, are three returning MLA runners who have experienced previous success. Blomgren was an all-conference (Red Rock) performer last season and was the first Wolverine finisher at the Section 3A meet. That trio, along with Runck and Piotter, could make MLA a strong contender in both the conference and section this year.

The combination of Murray County Central and Fulda has won six consecutive Red Rock Conference boys team titles and the Rebels, guided by veteran coach Dominick Damm, are loaded again to repeat, led by sophomore Justin Clarke (the conference individual runner-up and a state meet qualifier), along with a solid group of juniors.

On the girls’ side, the Rebels return the area’s premier runner in freshman Morgan Gehl, who has run twice in the state cross country meet and placed high in the 3,200-meter race at the state track meet last June as an eighth-grader.

Luverne returns a solid nucleus of young girls and the Cardinals will strive to return as a team to the state meet with eighth-graders Brooklyn VerSteeg and Tenley Nelson, along with freshman Regan Feit, running up front. Junior veteran Gabrielle Ferrell and freshmen Cassie Flanagan and Autumn Nath also ran on LHS’s team which placed fourth at last year’s state meet.

“The girls have set some great goals and are eager to get back on the course (and race),” summed up LHS head coach Pete Janiszeski. “We have our top seven boys coming back. They are anxious and motivated to improve and grow as a team and see what they accomplish this season.”

Dalton DeSollar, a junior, was Luverne’s top runner in most meets last season and really put in the mileage this summer.

North along Highway 75, Pipestone Area has a number of quality returning runners, including senior Angel Martens (two-time state qualifier), the Strasser sisters (Jori  and Jonna), along with Zoe Velde on the girls’ side.

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Senior Michael Suda, a two-time state wrestling champion, had hip surgery last spring and will likely miss all of September, but could return to lead the Arrow boys in October. Suda ran in the state cross country as both a freshman (2014) and sophomore (2015) before injuries sidelined him last fall. With a total of 26 boys participating, the Arrows -- paced by senior Carter Colemer, junior Matthew Dulas and freshman Seth Lingen -- may develop into a solid team by season’s end.

Windom Area was loaded last season on the boys’ side, winning numerous meets, including the Section 3A team championship before placing fourth at the state meet. The Eagles graduated their top four runners, including ace John Irwin who finished ninth individually at state. Sophomore Patrick Green, freshman Cameron Alm and senior Daniel Green return off the state meet team.

Two talented freshmen -- Gracie Bucher and Jadyn Wormstadt -- look to lead Windom’s girls, along with senior leader Jordyn Alm.

Southwest Christian/Edgerton has 22 girls and 11 boys on its continually expanding roster. Among the top girls returning for Coach Brian Tschetter are senior Annika Brands and freshman Mikayla Johnson, while sophomore Denver Decker leads the Eagle boys.

Jackson County Central senior Jessica Christoffer, Heron Lake-Okabena seniors Rachel Salentiny and Cheyenne Schaffer, Adrian sophomore Moriah Bullerman and MLA eighth-grader Mercedes Saengosoth are among the other premier girl runners returning in the area this season.

Adrian senior Brady Henning, a two-time all-conference runner, four juniors from MCC -- Nathan Everson, Spencer Wajer, Cameron Kresko and Jack Pierson -- and HL-O junior twin brothers Carlos and Christian Juarez are some of the other boys to keep a watch on. MCC freshman Maverick Beckmann,  Windom freshman Hunter Walklin, HL-O freshman Paul  Salentiny and MLA eighth-grader Caden Swoboda are a few of the area’s best future prospects.

Most area teams open Friday at either Canby or Fairmont, while the season begins for several other schools at Mountain Lake Aug. 30 in the annual early-season meet, now being named the Paul Metcalf Invitational with the former coaching icon likely driving the lead cart.

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