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State cross country: Nelson, DeBates lead LHS girls to second, MCC/F nabs fourth

cross country

NORTHFIELD -- Getting a typical exceptional lead-run performance from sophomore ace Tenley Nelson, along with strong supporting runs from Jenna DeBates, Regan Feit, Elizabeth Wagner, Brooklyn VerSteeg, Kayla Bloemendaal and Grace Ingebretson, the well-balanced Luverne Cardinals earned second place in the team standings of the 2019 Class A girls state cross country meet Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

While defending champion Perham successfully repeated as team champion with 103 points (10-15-19-22-37), the Cardinals outran 14 of the other qualifying teams, including Section 3A champion Murray County Central/Fulda, which placed fourth.

Luverne’s score of 138 (2-11-39-42-44) was 16 points better than third-place Howard Lake-Waverly’s total of 155 (8-24-35-41-46) and bettered MCC/F’s score of 165 (1-26-27-45-66).

Staples-Motley, which was ranked second in the final Coaches Association poll, placed a close fifth with 171 points (4-29-34-50-54) followed by Lake City, which finished sixth with its score of 180 (7-20-28-57-68).

Perham was ranked first, MCC/F was third, Luverne fourth, Howard Lake-Waverly fifth and Lake City sixth in the last poll.

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For Luverne, which finished a close second to MCC/F in the sectional meet (56 to 59), getting second in the state was especially satisfying after placing fourth three times in the past four years.

“The girls were super excited when they found out, for sure, that we got second,” summed up LHS head coach Pete Janiszeski. “We’ve been so close to getting team medals (top three) several times in the past, so getting the whole team up on the stage this year was really rewarding for all of them.”

Riddled by injuries throughout the fall, the Cardinals were only at full strength in five of their 12 meets.

But, with experience and confidence as two of their allies, the Cardinals came through Saturday.

Leading the performance was Nelson, who was amazing near the front.

Running in third place most of the race (fourth for just a little while), she finished third overall (second in the team scoring) with a state-meet PR (personal record) time of 18:27.1 over the 5,000-meter distance.

“Tenley ran with a lot of confidence from start to finish,” praised Janizeski. “She ran a great race up front among the best in the state.”

Nelson’s time would have her placed her 10th in the Class AA race, meaning that she ran the 12th-fastest time among a total of 351 finishers between the two events.

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“I felt really good all the way,” said Nelson, a three-time All-State performer. “It’s such an adrenaline rush at the beginning and once I was up close to the front, I was determined to stay up there.”

DeBates, an eighth-grader, was the second Cardinal (18th overall, 11th in the team scoring) with a time of 19:31.9, earning All-State honors by placing among the top 25 finishers.

Feit, a junior, ran an amazingly progressive race as she moved up from 124th at 1,600 meters to 80th (39th in the team scoring) by race’s end with a time of 20:29.7.

“Nothing hurt today,” said an elated Feit after the race. “I’ve been hurting some most of the season, but I felt great finishing strong today.”

Moving up through the field with Feit were Wagner (a freshman) and VerSteeg (a sophomore, who also missed meets with an injury). Feit, Wagner (86, 42, 20:32.2) and VerSteeg (92, 44, 20:34.2) finished within five team places of each other and were less than five seconds apart.

“Having those three working off of each other and sticking together as they passed runners was a big factor for our team success,” declared Janiszeski. “That, along with getting those great lead runs from Tenley and Jenna.”

Bloemendaal (an eighth-grader) and Ingebretson (a freshman) were the sixth and seventh (non-scoring) Cardinals. Bloemendaal (134, 73) ran the course in 21:30.6, while Ingebretson (150, 87) was clocked at 21:57.2.

“It was the first state-meet run for Kayla and Grace,” Janiszeski said. “But between the other five, we had about 17 or 18 years of combined state-meet experience, which really helped us stay relaxed and calm before the race and confident during the race.”

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Luverne’s progression through the race is evidenced by the unofficial standings at the splits (wayzatatiming.com) which had the Cardinals in 11th place at 1,600 meters (226 points) and sixth at 3,200 (183 points).

“We worked our way forward, as a team,” concluded Janiszeski, who ran on a boys’ state championship team with Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI in 1995. “It worked to our advantage as we moved up from 11th to sixth to second.”

Warriors led by Gehl and the twins

While Luverne had two strong lead runs and tremendous balance three through five, the Warriors of MCC/F received a state championship performance from junior Morgan Gehl (first, first, 17:53.5) and typical steady runs from the rest of its young squad.

Ashley Overgaauw finished 50th overall (26th among runners from competing teams) with a time of 20:02.3 and her freshman twin sister Amanda (52, 27, 20:03.8) was close behind.

Eighth-grader Brylei Schreier (93, 45, 20:34.8) was the fourth Warrior finisher, while sophomore Ella Stapek (126, 66, 21:22.0) completed MCC/F’s scoring.

Sophomore Ryanna Schreier passed several runners in the final sprint as the sixth Warrior (141, 79, 21:47.0) and junior Josie Harms (148, 86, 21:55.9) also had a strong finishing kick.

“I like hills and I really like my teammates,” summed up Stapek about her first experience at a state-meet event. “We had a fun season together and getting fourth in the whole state is really good.”

Indeed, the Warriors capped a great season -- which included seven meet titles, including both the Red Rock Conference and Section 3A -- with a strong all-around effort at Northfield.

The MCC/F girls were steady all through Saturday’s race, holding fifth at 1,600 meters (176 points), seventh at 3,200 (185 points) and finishing fourth (165 points).

“The girls all raced well,” praised their coach Dominick Damm. “I am proud of how they competed all season. It’s been a great 12 weeks.”

Finishing behind the top six teams were Albany (190), Pequot Lakes (197), Stewartville (205), Mesabi East (243), Fairmont (258), Providence Academy (261), Hawley (279), Belle Plaine (280), Blake (312) and St. Paul Academy (321).

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