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Worthington's Koller, MCC/F's Gehl still going strong; section cross country meets up ahead

cross country

MADISON -- For the fourth time in the past six years, the high-powered 24-team Section 3A high school cross country meet will be held at the Madison Golf Course.

This year’s state-meet-qualifying event begins Thursday with the girls’ 5,000-meter race at 4 p.m. The boys will run the same relatively flat course, starting at 4:40 p.m.

As has been the case through most of the past decade, the top two teams, plus the first eight individual finishers -- who are not on one of the two qualifying teams -- will earn advancement to next week’s (Saturday, Nov. 2) Class A state meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

While all of the area Class A teams make the long trip northwest to Madison, the Worthington Trojans will travel a 163-mile distance to the Gale Woods Farm at Minnetrista, west of Lake Minnetonka, near St. Bonafacius, home of Crown College.

The Trojans join Marshall as the only two schools from the southwest corner of the state participating in the Section 2AA event, which has a 4 p.m. start time for the girls followed by the boys’ race at 4:45 p.m.

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Worthington senior Adam Koller is a two-time individual qualifier, having finished 13th overall (seventh among runners from non-advancing teams) two years ago as a sophomore in 2017, clocked at 16:47.8. Last year, Koller ran an impressive overall seventh-place time of 16:24.8 and led a strong fourth-place Worthington team performance (114 points on team places 7-17-18-22-50), improving significantly from a 12th-place team finish (280 points) the previous year.

Ranked third in all of Minnesota Class AA, Chanhassen senior Nicholas Scheller finished second in last year’s section race (15:50.6) and is regarded as Thursday’s individual favorite.

Worthington’s Christian Lietz just missed state-meet qualification by four places and eight seconds last year, finishing 18th with a time of 16:53.7. He has had a great senior season and came within eight seconds of Oachs at the I-90.

Backing up the expected strong lead-run performances of Koller and Lietz will likely be junior Jordan Meledez, freshman Mikele Walu and sophomore Alec Langerud.

“I know that our boys will give it all they have and run another great team race,” summed up WHS head cross country coach Cory Smidt. “The competition is Class AA is just tremendous.”

Gehl favored in Section 3A

Two likely first-place finishes in Section 3A are a three-peat girls’ individual championship by Murray County Central/Fulda junior Morgan Gehl and a repeat team championship by the Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd boys.

After finishing 11th as a seventh-grader in 2015 and fourth the next year as an eighth-grader, Gehl -- the state’s second-ranked Class A girl -- impressively won the section race each of the last seasons. She is a clear favorite, while state-ranked runners Tenley Nelson of Luverne (third) and Grace Drietz of Canby/Minneota (13th), both sophomores, are also very good, having finished second and third, respectively, in the section meet in 2017 and 2018.

The LQPV/D-B boys cruised to a 52-point victory (31-83) over Redwood Valley for last year’s section team championship. The exceptionally deep and well-balanced Eagles are ranked fourth in the state among nearly 200 Class A teams.

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Pipestone Area, led by junior Seth Lingen and freshman Caden Strasser, may challenge RV for second this year, while both Luverne -- paced by senior Brayden Tofteland -- and Canby/Minneota are also well-balanced.

The most interesting team title may be the race for the girls’ team championship with three state-ranked teams competing. MCC/Fulda is ranked third, Luverne is fourth and Canby/Minneota is rated 13th.

The Warriors of MCC/F have won seven meet titles this fall, finishing second to Class AA Marshall twice. Four-time defending sectional champion Luverne has won six team championships in 2019, but has been edged twice by the Warriors (41-46 at Worthington’s Turkey Trot on Sept. 12 and 67-81 at Adrian’s Dragon Invite on Oct. 8).

“We will just try to focus on the kids in the red and white uniforms,” said LHS coach Pete Janiszeski. “They are the only runners who we have control over. We have no control over how everyone else performs. We will give it everything we have and the goal is to always walk away knowing that we did our very best for that day.”

While the Cardinals have been to four straight state meets as sectional team champions, the Warriors have been steadily climbing the ladder. In 2015, they were ninth with 263 points, they improved to sixth in 2016 (203 points), finished fifth in 2017 (164) and came close last year, placing third with 111 points (1-23-25-29-33), just 12 points behind second-place LQPV/-D-B’s score of 99.

Luverne won convincingly last year with 51 points (2-4-10-17-18) before finishing fourth at the state meet, led by Nelson’s seventh-place individual performance.

There are no senior girls running for either squad. The Warriors will likely run two juniors, two sophomores, two freshmen and an eighth-grader, while the Cardinals may put one junior, two sophomores, two freshmen and two eighth-graders on the course Thursday.

Windom junior Gracie Bucher and Adrian senior Moriah Bullerman are among the leading area girls who have performed consistently over their careers and have the capability to challenge for individual state-meet berths, along with Jackson County Central sophomore Olivia Anderson, Southwest Minnesota Christian/Edgerton eighth-grader Taylor Post, and a trio of Pipestone Area runners -- eighth-grader Naomi Wallace, freshman Avarie Brecher and junior Jori Strasser.

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What To Read Next
Thursday night high school sports roundup:
The Worthington Trojans girls’ and boy’s hockey teams both played home games on Thursday night. The girls’ team celebrated Senior Night and played the non-conference Austin Packers. Austin beat Worthington 6-1.
Trailing at halftime, the Worthington High School girls basketball team outscored Albert Lea 49-27 in the second half Thursday night in Worthington
The Minnesota West men's basketball team was defeated by conference opponent Rochester Wednesday night. Bie Ruei had a big night with 26 points and four assists.