Two words have endeared Mounds View distance runners Andre Hessini and Michael Hoff to their coach: competitive maturity.
Mustangs track and field coach Ross Fleming enjoys spinning the yarn. At the 2011 Class 3A, Section 6 True Team meet, the pair of then-freshmen emerged to take fourth (Hessini) and fifth (Hoff) in the 3,200-meter race and swipe points from unsuspecting Roseville. Mounds View edged the Raiders for the section title by 11 points and Fleming knew his 1-2 punch of the future had arrived.
Now seniors and co-captains, Hessini and Hoff helped Mounds View qualify for Friday’s Class 3A True Team state meet at Stillwater. The True Team format means every competitor contributes to the team score. Victorious teams are rewarded for depth. By comparison, a handful of talented athletes can win a team title at the Minnesota State High School League state meet in June.
Mounds View has missed qualifying for the True Team state meet once in the past 17 years. The Mustangs have won eight championships. Fleming conveyed his high expectations for this season on the bus ride home from the 2013 state meet.
“He talked about how we could be a special team and have a potential to win state if we worked hard,” Hessini said. “We prefer the True Team aspect and seeing where we stand.”
Hard work and a desire for greatness bond Hessini and Hoff, whose longtime friendship allows them the trust to go about their business in different ways. Away from the track, Hoff is drawn to the outdoors. The self-described “more nerdy” Hessini enjoys “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.”
Their racing styles are a study in contrasts and offer insight into their strengths.
“Andre likes to run a little more conservatively, and I get out more aggressively,” said Hoff, who has performed better in the 800 run and typically anchors relays.
Meanwhile, Hessini has held the edge as the distances increase. He took second in the 1,600 at last week’s True Team section meet, two spots ahead of Hoff. But they remain focused on bigger goals.
“In races we work off each other and have the team benefit from our overall performance,” Hessini said. “We stay together and work together.”
And have fun together. Friends since middle school, the two count sleepovers, bonfires with friends and Milwaukee Brewers games with their fathers among their favorite memories. Familiarity means also knowing what not to expect.
“Andre is always late,” Hoff said with a laugh.
“I beg to differ,” Hessini said, before adding, “Well, I’ve improved over the years.”
The same goes for Hessini’s running career. Despite the legacy of his father, Pat, a Kansas high school cross-country and 3,200 state champion, Hessini tried several sports before focusing on running. The last step was trading spring tennis for track as a freshman.
Hoff found distance running through strong mile-run times in gym class. He and Hessini decided together to try out for Mounds View’s cross- country team as eighth-graders.
They have grown together as leaders with complementary styles.
Hessini lauded Hoff for “dedication. He has a passion that is so great because you can apply it now to running and later in life to other things.”
Hoff appreciates Hessini’s “communication. He knows guys on a more personal level and not everything revolves around track.”
Friday’s True Team meet remains a priority. Fleming’s influence comes through in Hessini’s assessment that “true team is really what matters.” Once again, Hessini and Hoff will be asked to battle for key points.
“Even when he saw us this year, the Roseville coach said how thankful he that we’re graduating,” Hoff said.