Redwood Valley nips JCC on sixth-runner tie-breaker

MARSHALL --When the final scores were tallied at Independence Park Tuesday, both Jackson County Central and Redwood Valley had 42 points and were deadlocked for the Southwest Conference boys' cross country team championship.

Les Knutson/Daily Globe A group of runners start the Southwest Conference boys' cross country meet at Independence Park in Marshall.

MARSHALL --When the final scores were tallied at Independence Park Tuesday, both Jackson County Central and Redwood Valley had 42 points and were deadlocked for the Southwest Conference boys' cross country team championship.

But ties in cross country are broken by the higher finish of each team's sixth runner.

By five places, the tie-breaker edge went to the Cardinals, as Redwood senior Michael Hillger finished 20th, while JCC freshman Ben Kocak entered the chute in 25th place.

"It was disappointing," said JCC co-head coach Kerri Kocak. "But we are not going to roll over. We will get ready for the Section 2A meet at Montgomery next week."

The Huskies have had a great season and were considered the favorite to end Marshall's eight-year hold on the conference title.


But an always-strong Redwood Valley squad was most often mentioned as a serious challenger.

Paced by the individual victory by senior Nate Thooft -- who covered the 5,000-meter distance in 16 minutes, 15.5 seconds -- the Cardinals had three of the top seven finishers and five of the first 15.

Redwood's 42 points came on scoring places 1-5-7-14-15.

JCC, meanwhile, had three boys among the top eight and all five scorers finished in the top 16.

The Huskies' 42 points came on scoring places 3-4-8-11-16.

Redwood finished just ahead of JCC at the first, third and fifth runner positions, while the Huskies had a two-place edge at the second runner spot and a three-place advantage from its fourth runner.

"That was as close as you get," said Kocak. "Our boys ran well, but so did Redwood -- you have to give them lots of credit."

Worthington, paced by fine lead run performances by O.J. Ojullu (second, 16:33.5) and Aaron Grafing (ninth, 17:16) -- along with a breakthrough race by Michael Patten (17th, 17:55) -- finished third with 78 points.


Marshall (87), Luverne (115), Windom/Southwestern United (164) and Pipestone Area (188) completed the seven-team field.

Ojullu, Kocak, Cook lead area runners

While Ojullu continued his spectacular rookie season with his best time ever, JCC runners Matt Kocak and Justin Cook also earned all-conference honors.

Kocak, a junior, repeated his third-place finish from last year, clocking a time of 16:35.4, as he raced Ojullu to the finish.

"I have raced against him before," said Ojullu about Kocak. "He is a very good runner and it's a lot of work to stay with him."

Cook, who placed 13th last year, improved nine spots this year, as the sophomore ran the course in 16:48 and claimed the fourth-place medal.

Redwood's Michael Felt (16:50), Marshall's Ian Wyffels (16:59) and Redwood's Brian Riley (17:00) finished fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively, earning the final three all-conference medals.

JCC sophomore Marc Strom topped the honorable mention list (8-14), finishing eighth with a time of 17:03.


Grafing was next, clocking a time of 17:16 and placing ninth.

"The pace was so fast," said Grafing about the runners ahead of him. "I caught quite a few, but the guys up front were moving."

After Marshall freshman Grant Vankeulen (17:19) entered the chute in 10th place, JCC junior Sam Hendrickson (17:28) captured 11th.

W/SWU sophomore John Curley (17:31) earned repeat honorable mention honors, as he finished 12th.

Luverne junior Davontae Maine (17:35) led the Cardinals with his 13th-place finish and then a pair of Redwood runners -- junior Nick Hastreiter (17:41) and sophomore Jesse Leith (17:49) completed the top 15.

JCC junior Jon Troe (17:52) finished 16th, and then Patten (17:55) outkicked Luverne freshman Nathan Stensland-Bos (17:56) in the sprint to the finish for 17th.

"What a race by Patten," declared Worthington head coach Mike Traphagen. "You talk about a breakthrough. Michael just skipped the 18-minute range, improving his personal best time from the low 19s to the high 17s."

Completing the scoring for the Trojans were junior Kreguto Okello (23rd, 18:23) and sophomore Ian Fleace (27th, 18:36), while junior Michael Harberts (36th, 19:32) and sophomore Zach VonHoldt (39th, 19:52) were the team's sixth and seventh runners.


"I was really pleased with all seven boys," said Traphagen. "We thought that we had a chance to beat Marshall, but everybody would need a good race for that to happen -- and it did."

Luverne seventh-grader Cody Hess (18:05) finished an impressive 19th, while sophomore Justin Ilse (18:19) was PA's top runner, placing 22nd in the 69-finisher field.

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