Just a month ago, Minneapolis Washburn cross-country standout Hamza Ali was torn about his team’s chances to reach the state meet.

In one moment, he boasted the Millers, ranked in the top five all season, would help ensure the identity of Class 2A, Section 6 as the state’s toughest. At the same time, he doubted his team’s chances to outrun at least two of the three other strong teams — Edina, Hopkins and Wayzata — at the section meet.

Hard to blame a young man for wavering since his program last reached the state meet in 1969. But Washburn is back. The team will race on the 5,000-meter course Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield with a shot to win.

“It was a shock to a lot of people,” Millers coach Curtis Johnson said.

Seniors Ali and Andrew Sell, state meet veterans as individual runners, played their expected parts. The emergence of sophomores Joseph Minor and Matt Cota, however, made the difference.

Washburn placed second at the Section 6 meet, a total of 22 seconds behind top-ranked Hopkins, the state runner-up last fall.

The Royals, led by Owen Hoeft, Seth Eliason, Hunter Staack, Sam Branson and Jack Henschel seek their first state title since 2002.

“We’re taking it in stride,” Hopkins coach Mike Harris said. “We’re confident yet reserved.”

On the individual side, Washburn’s Ali and Sell hope to be part of a fraternity of successful city runners.

It has been 15 years since four cross-country runners from Minneapolis or St. Paul public schools placed in the top 10 at the state meet.

Ali and Sell, along with Innocent Murwanashyaka (St. Paul Como Park) and Micah Mather (St. Paul Highland Park), could achieve that feat.

In Class 1A boys, defending champion Mora features seven runners with previous state meet experience.

First girls’ 5K title races

History will be made in both girls’ races, which will be run at the 5,000-meter distance. Minnesota increased the previous race length by 1,000 meters this fall, bringing the state into line with most of the country.

Wayzata has ruled among the large schools of late, winning the past three state championships. Coach Dave Emmans downplayed the Trojans’ chance of winning a fourth consecutive title. He deferred to the top three teams — Edina, Willmar and Marshall.

“Those three teams are so evenly matched,” Emmans said. “I’ll give the edge to Edina because of the way the top four run so well in a pack.”

Just six seconds separated the Hornets’ Emily Kompelien, Maria Rickman, Liesl Schreiner and Amanda Mosborg at the Section 6 meet.

Hornets coach Matt Gabrielson agreed with Emmans’ praise of Edina’ strong depth. But rule out Wayzata? Not a chance, Gabrielson said.

Alexandria’s Hasz twins, Bethany and Megan hope to keep the individual title for a third straight year. Bethany edged Megan for first place in 2013 and Megan won last fall.

In Class 1A girls, defending champion Trinity School at River Ridge of Eagan returns. Senior Rebecca Wilkin of Trinity took second place in the Section 4 meet as did her team, two points behind Blake.