1. ‘Breathtaking talent’
Already enamored with the metro area’s strong class of 2015, Wayzata boys’ cross-country coach Bill Miles said a few breakout performances last season created a pool of “breathtaking talent.” Richfield senior Obsa Ali, ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ preseason poll, took runner-up at state as a first-time distance runner while still moonlighting as a soccer player. He gave up soccer and worked this summer on improving his finishing speed. Stillwater’s Eli Krahn helped the Ponies win the state cross-country meet and then elevated his profile with a freshman national record (4 minutes, 9.38 seconds) in the 1,600-meter run at the track and field state meet in June. They each will face tough competition from the junior class. Joe Klecker of Hopkins took third at state last fall, with Wayzata’s Connor Olson (fifth) and Chaska’s Joey Duerr (sixth) fewer than nine seconds behind.
2. Flanagan moves to 2A
Blake senior Clare Flanagan, the two-time defending Class 1A girls’ cross-country state champ, moves up to Class 2A this fall. Her winning time of 14 minutes, 4.1 seconds was more than 12 seconds ahead of second place. However, the mark would have been good for third against the 2A field. The second-place 2A runner was Anna French of Wayzata. That foreshadows a tantalizing pair of year-end meets because Blake and Wayzata are both in Section 6. Coaches voted Flanagan No. 1 in the preseason poll, one spot ahead of French.
3. Wayzata sets the pace
Coaches voted Wayzata atop both the boys’ and girls’ preseason polls. Led by French, the girls return their top nine finishers. The Trojans also placed seventh at the Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon. French, Michaela Keller-Miller and Annika Lerdall were the Trojans’ top three runners at both events. The girls were voted No. 1 because they are proven. The boys, who placed third at state, got the top spot for potential. Olson, Josh Nielsen and Ian Eklin, the Trojans’ three fastest runners, return. Stillwater, second in the poll by only two points, won the past two state titles but its two best finishers graduated.