PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Trojans open XC season at ML today

WORTHINGTON -- After more than two weeks of organized practice, the Worthington High School cross country squads are ready to compete for real, "testing the waters" in today's season-opening meet at the Mountain Lake Golf Course.

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe The Worthington cross country teams returns 10 letterwinners this season. They are: (front l-r) Kinzie Myrom, Kari Suby, Jamie Johnson, Stephanie Jaycox, (back) Ian Stewart, Matt Jirele, Nathan Landwehr, Gordy Moore, O.J. Ojullu, Mubarik Musa and Ian Fleace. Missing is Sarah Cham.

WORTHINGTON -- After more than two weeks of organized practice, the Worthington High School cross country squads are ready to compete for real, "testing the waters" in today's season-opening meet at the Mountain Lake Golf Course.

The huge meet -- known as the Wolverine Invitational -- is the first meet of the season for most area teams, including perennial power Adrian, which has sent both its girls' and boys' team to the state meet the past five seasons.

Worthington and Adrian will be among approximately 15 teams who will participate in the meet, which begins with the girls' junior high race at 3:45 p.m.

Following the boys' junior high event, the varsity girls' 4,000-meter race will be start at approximately 4:15 p.m. The varsity boys' 5,000-meter run concludes the day, scheduled for an approximate 5 p.m. start time.

"We have had some good practices," declared second-year WHS head coach Ken Henkels. "I have been impressed with how hard the kids are working."


With adequate numbers and a strong nucleus of experienced runners, the Trojan boys should compete favorably team-wise in varsity competition and would appear to have two runners with the potential to frequently lead the pack individually.

The Worthington girls' team, however, was reduced in strength by graduation and other factors, leaving the Trojans a bit inexperienced at the varsity level.

State champion Musa, state meet medalist Ojullu return for boys

On the first Saturday of November in 2009, Worthington runners Mubarik Musa and O.J. Ojullu each ran impressive races at the Class A state cross country meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Musa, a junior this season, ran at the front of the huge field of 144 state-meet qualifying runners and pulled away at the finish, claiming the individual state championship.

Ojullu also ran a great race and utilized a strong kick to move into sixth place and earn All-State honors and a trip to the awards podium, along with Musa.

Ojullu is a senior this fall and has shown steady improvement in his stellar distance-running career, while Musa -- who won the Class A state title in the 1,600-meter run on the track at Hamline University in St. Paul in June -- continues to be one of the premier distance runners in Minnesota.

"Having those two guys on the same team together is a great boost to our program," exclaimed Henkels. "Each of them ran well all season last year and they both 'peaked' at the end with remarkable performances at the state meet."


While Musa and Ojullu may go 1-2 at many meets this fall, it takes five good scores to win team competitions, and the Trojans graduated a trio of top runners -- Aaron Grafing, Kreguto Okello and Michael Patten -- who usually scored for WHS last season.

"Those three were a big part of our team success last year and will be hard to replace," noted Henkels. "But, we do have a real good group of hard-working sophomores, an outstanding young eighth-grader and a couple of seniors who are excellent quarter-milers in track and have potential to become good cross country runners."

Eighth-grader Matt Jirele is a returning letterman, who finished as a scoring (top five on the team) several times last fall and is coming off a strong summer of running, which included a first-place finish in the Worthington YMCA's annual "Fun Run" in early August.

"He's a tough nut," praised Henkels about his young prospect. "He has grown quite a bit and is stronger this season. Matt is running really well."

While Jirele could become the third runner for WHS this season, Henkels is counting on four other returning lettermen -- senior Ian Fleace and the sophomore trio of Nathan Landwehr, Gordy Moore and Ian Stewart -- to push each other, creating some quality competition within the squad.

Additionally, sophomores Thomas Burns, Peter Scholtes and Caleb Wede will be pushing the veterans, as will seniors Jeremy Clark and Will Collin.

"We have at least 10 boys, maybe 12, that will be competing to make our top seven," Henkels said. "That will be the key for us -- getting our fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh runners to stick together as a 'pack' and really keep each other going.

"To do well as a team, you don't want too big of a numbers spread between your top guys and your fifth finisher. We need to have at least two guys who can finish close to Matt and, of course, not have too many other runners between him and our top two -- Mubarik and O.J. -- who we expect to each finish with a low number."


Clark and Collin are both fast, as evidenced by their speed on the track as sprinters. Clark, Ojullu and Collin were all members of WHS's 4x400-meter relay team, which earned fourth-place medals at the state meet in June.

"Jeremy ran cross country last fall and is back out again, which is good," stressed Henkels. "He has the potential to become a good distance runner, too, and so does Will, who is running cross country for the first time after playing football in previous years."

Senior Brett Spartz, freshman Desalegn Zemenfes and eighth-grader Zach Clark are also contending for a top seven spot on the Trojan varsity, while providing important depth to the roster.

"Mubarik and O.J. are already established premier cross country runners," summed up Henkels. "We look for those two guys to push each other in practices and meets, helping them both become better. The rest of the boys are working hard and the competition among them is going to be interesting -- we will see how things shake out as the season progresses."

Helping Henkels again this season is long-time assistant coach Lonnie Myrom, who also works with the girls' program and all of the junior high runners.

Graduation, other sports, moving all have impact on Worthington girls

The Worthington girls will be competing this fall without five of their top runners from last season.

Kaitlin Gerber, who had a stellar career for the Trojans -- including an individual state-meet qualification in 2007 as a sophomore, graduated last spring, as did steady performer Allison Jaycox.


Henkels knew those two would not be running for WHS this fall, but then freshman Tori Knudtson -- who had a fine junior high season last year -- moved away and the coach was missing a promising varsity prospect.

Three other top varsity performers from the last couple of seasons are not back either, as senior leader Stephanie Behrens has not been able to join the Trojans yet, sophomore Kirsten Aljets opted to play tennis and sophomore Lydia Kemper -- who likely would have been the Trojans' top runner -- is playing soccer.

"We are missing five of our top seven from last season," Henkels said. "But, we have some talented runners who are working hard and I am really happy with how the girls are approaching practice and pushing each other."

Senior Sarah Cham, an outstanding triple jumper and hurdler in track and field, returns for a second season as a cross country runner and will likely experience success as a distance runner this fall, too.

"Sarah worked hard over the summer, running and lifting weights," praised Henkels. "She has become stronger and now she 'thinks' she is a cross country runner -- which she really didn't think she was last season."

Joining the improving Cham as a likely front runner for the Trojans will be sophomore Stephanie Jaycox, who has had success in both cross country and as a distance runner in track.

Backing up that duo, will be a trio of girls who all lettered last season -- senior Jamie Johnson and juniors Kari Suby and Kinzie Myrom -- and could give WHS five potential low scorers.

Junior Jennifer Majerus and sophomore Mariah Hatfield each ran in some varsity races last season and competed well at the junior varsity level, which will give the Trojans a solid top seven.


Junior Whitney Prins, freshmen Tyree Murray, Ariana Lopez and Sade Potter along with eighth-graders Alicia Darling, Hope Reeves, Jessica Arnt, Nicole Prins, Olivia Ebbers and Maer Abella join seventh-graders Lauren Martin and Meredith Moore in making up a 19-girl roster.

"We like the work ethic of our girls," stressed Henkels. "We know that all of them will compete well and give it their best. We'll see how things shake out at Mountain Lake (Wednesday)."

The Trojans will compete at Tracy Sept. 9 and at Marshall Sept. 13 before hosting the annual Turkey Trot Invitational at Prairie View Golf Links Sept. 16.

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