NORTHFIELD – Minneapolis Washburn junior Emily Covert smiles during cross-country races because she’s doing what she loves.
On Saturday she did something no other Minneapolis public school female has: She won a state title. Covert crossed the finish in a time of 17 minutes, 30.1 seconds to beat defending Class 2A state champion Anna Fenske of Farmington.
“That’s a great accomplishment for her,” Millers coach Curtis Johnson said. “She’s always been a talent, but I have really admired the way she’s approached distance running with tenacity.”
Covert donned an orange bracelet on her right wrist reading “Smile #1,” a gift from the mother of teammate Grace Dickel.
Covert said she “had to really dig deep on this course knowing Minnesota’s best is here.” She passed Fenske for good toward the end of the 5,000-meter course at St. Olaf College, though she remained wary of Fenske’s potent finishing kick.
“She’s an amazing runner and I’m happy for her,” Fenske said.
Class 2A: Wayzata sweeps titles
Emma Atkinson trailed Covert and Fenske yet led Wayzata’s team triumph. The Trojans, who failed to qualify for state last season, rebounded to win their first championship since 2014.
Atkinson and fellow sophomore Caroline Sasson led the charge, with Rhynn Paulsen, Brooke Young and Lauren McCollor combining to score 51 points. Second-place Edina, state champions the past two seasons, tallied 72 points.
Coach Dave Emmans said Sasson, a cross-country newcomer, pushed Atkinson. The speedy tandem allowed teammates to relax and run their best.
“Everyone is getting way better times this year, and it shows how much she’s done for the team,” Atkinson said.
The boys’ race ended with Wayzata senior Khalid Hussein redeeming last year’s runner-up finish with a state title.
Outkicked in the last 100 meters last fall, Hussein said he “was trying avoid that this race.” Roseville’s Acer Iverson surged to a lead with about 800 meters remaining but Hussein retook the top spot and stayed in front. He won in 15:22.6, more than 9 seconds ahead of Iverson.
As a team, the Trojans defended their state championship. Hussein, Blake Buysse, Grant Matthews, Anders Sonnesyn and Andrew Brandt scored 37 points, well ahead of second-place Stillwater (79). Wayzata’s scoring quintet completed their races before nine of the remaining 15 teams saw their first runner finish.
Friendly but fierce internal competition fueled Wayzata’s success.
“We want to beat the other teams but we also want to beat each other just as bad,” Buysse said.
Class 1A girls: Wolfgram wins showdown
A defending state champion as the underdog? That’s how Tierney Wolfgram of Math and Science Academy in Woodbury saw herself.
That’s because the 2015-2016 champion, Winona Cotter’s Grace Ping, returned to Minnesota this year and was projected to pick up where she left off. Ping beat Woflgram in their first meeting at the beginning of the season.
But Wolfgram dominated the rematch, winning in a time of 17:31.6 – a whopping 48.7 seconds ahead of second place Lauren Ping, Grace’s older sister.
“I thought my senior year I’d be this fast but with [Grace] coming back, I really had to kick it into gear to stay good,” Wolfgram said.
Perham won the team title with 86 points, one ahead of Winona Cotter.
Class 1A boys: Another close finish
Matt Steiger of La Crescent edged Declan Dahlberg of Mounds Park Academy by eight-tenths of a second, their second sizzling finish in as many seasons. This time, Steiger overtook defending champion Dahlberg with a gutsy sprint in the final moments.
Steiger said his thought process consisted of “just one thing — sprint as hard as you can.”
If anybody was to keep him from repeating, Dahlberg said he can live with it being Steiger.
“I’m not disappointed in that at all,” Dahlberg said. “I gave it absolutely everything I had and to get beat by somebody who could match it, it’s all right.”
Perham won the team title.
One for coach
Ross Fleming, Mounds View’s longtime successful cross-country and track and field coach, endured open heart surgery on Oct. 20. Doctors performed a triple bypass on Fleming, 58, who thought the burning feeling beneath his breastbone was a lung infection.
He felt lightheaded Saturday and tracked results on his phone while sitting on a chair inside the fieldhouse.
Fleming reiterated the message from a video he made for his team before the section race: “Don’t dedicate your race to me. Do it for the guy next to you.’”
Sorry, coach. The Mustangs took fifth place in a state race they ran to honor Fleming.
“It’s really good to see how strong he is,” junior Austin Streit said. “That helps us be stronger as a team. ”