Shakopee junior Maria Hauger started her day with bed bugs. At least 20 of them. And every one made her smile.
Hauger -- her nickname is Bug -- came back from the shower to find ladybug-shaped sticky notes on her bed. Written on each were words of praise and encouragement, courtesy of her mother.
Hauger admits she might be getting too old for her nickname. But she remains in her prime when it comes to distance running. She became the first runner to win three consecutive Class 2A cross-country titles, surging from behind in the final moments to win on Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The great Carrie Tollefson of Dawson-Boyd scored only two of her five consecutive titles from 1990 to '94 in the big-school class.
Hauger's winning time of 14 minutes, 4.1 seconds put her 0.7 ahead of Alexandria senior Jamie Piepenburg, whom she passed for good with just 10 meters remaining.
"That is by far the most kick I've ever had at the end," Hauger said. "I did not want to lose."
Shoulder to shoulder with Hauger through much of the race, Piepenburg pulled ahead with about 800 meters to go. But the runners were in different places. As Piepenburg's legs tired, Hauger went to the well and found strength.
"I just said, 'In my mind I am so much stronger, and I'm going to kill myself if I don't finish first here,'" Hauger said.
Hauger's victory last season also came at Piepenburg's expense. Through the years, they have traded victories in track and field distance events and national cross-country meets. But Northfield remains Hauger's domain.
"I gave it everything I had, and she just had that little bit more the last 10 meters," Piepenburg said.Magic make history
Expectations were high for Monticello's girls' team, which earned a No. 1 ranking in Class 2A from coaches in the state and a No. 6 ranking from coaches nationwide. In addition, the Magic finished second last season.
So as the team huddled to celebrate the school's first state title in any sport, senior Erica Seidenkranz felt tension turn to tears. The Magic placed four runners among the top 16 in the team scoring and won with 93 points.
"It's a huge weight off all our shoulders," Seidenkranz said. "All week, you could tell we were all bogged down from thinking about it so much."
Lakeville South placed second. Wayzata, Shakopee and Roseville completed the top five.Stillwater runs deep
Senior Tom Linner admitted Saturday was not Stillwater's finest hour. But a Class 2A team victory by 23 points on an average day proved the Ponies deserved their yearlong No. 1 ranking.
Stillwater scored 92 points and won its first title since three consecutive championships from 1995 to '97. Juniors Wayde Hall and Eric Colvin placed fourth and fifth among runners from competing teams.
Linner said the team wanted to score fewer than 60 points.
"We didn't have a great day, but we still won," he said.
Burnsville placed second ahead of Edina, Rosemount and Eden Prairie.
Also in Class 2A, top-ranked Wayzata senior Josh Thorson won the individual title by almost 10 seconds. He gained unexpected but welcomed momentum on a downhill stretch with 800 meters remaining. He never looked back, though he did notice a growing amount of time between cheers for competing runners.
Thorson's teammate Connor Olson took 11th as a freshman, joining Chaska's Joey Duerr as the only ninth-graders to gain all-state (top 25) honors.Class 1A highlights
Not long after battling on the course, sophomores Clare Flanagan of Blake and Emi Trost of Cannon Falls embraced.
"You're a great athlete to run against," Trost said.
The two were together much of the race before Trost made a late push, but Flanagan pushed back and won the individual title by 13 seconds.
"I thought it was over," Flanagan said. "But then I just said, 'You know what, I have one chance. This is it. I'm not going to mail it in.'"
On the boys' side, Nevis senior Bryon Schuldt won, working a patient, pace-minded approach to perfection. Blake senior Brandon Clark finished second by 4.1 seconds.
"At the first mile I was probably 50th or 60th and I just worked up from there," said Schuldt, crediting the strategy to his coach, Tom Stambaugh.
St. Cloud Cathedral swept the boys' and girls' team titles. The boys' team edged defending champion Perham by one point. Blake took fourth in each race.