The report of the starter’s gun sets about 175 cross-country runners in motion, a colorful wave of determination and grit flowing across the state championship course at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The scene will play out four times Saturday as the boys’ and girls’ races in Class 1A and 2A decide team and individual champions. Most intriguing are the large-school individual races, where about a half-dozen competitors of each gender have a legitimate shot.
On the girls’ side, a runner not named Hauger or Hasz will win for the first time since 2008. The final coaches ranking featured a top six of eighth-grader Anna Fenske (Farmington), seniors Anastasia Korzenowski (Chanhassen), Amanda Mosborg (Edina), Jaycie Thomsen (Wayzata), ninth-grader Morgan Richter (Edina) and senior Sophie Schmitz (Willmar).
Fenske, Korzenowski, Mosborg and Schmitz each won their respective section finals last week.
“I think this year is wide-open for the first time in a long time,” Wayzata girls’ coach Dave Emmans said. “Because most of the girls have beat up on each other at different times this year, this is going to come down to that day and who feels the best.”
The team competition appears less dramatic. Defending team champion Edina is favored to repeat with Mosborg, Richter and junior Emily Kompelien all ranked in the top seven.
On the boys’ side, a mere six seconds separated a quartet of juniors in spots five through eight at the state meet last fall. And they’re all back: Patrick Roos, Edina; Seth Eliason, Hopkins; Alex Miley, Maple Grove; and Innocent Murwanashyaka, St. Paul Como Park.
Miley took top honors in the final coaches poll, followed by Eliason, Wayzata junior Khalid Hussein, Ross, Minnetonka senior Matt Wilkinson and Murwanashyaka.
As a team, Wayzata endured a rare year out of the state meet field in 2015. This time, the Trojans are favored to win a ninth state title and the program’s third in four seasons. Hussein leads the way while Grant Price and Gemechu Meskele will lead a pack of talented runners who other teams will have a tough time beating.
“We have the potential to put runners 2-7 across the line within about 10 seconds of one another,” Wayzata boys’ coach Mark Popp said. “If we can do that, we will be tough to beat.”
In boys’ Class 1A, Mounds Park Academy junior Declan Dahlberg holds the top spot in the coaches poll. Blake senior Michael Mitchel is seventh. Second-ranked Mora returns in search of its third consecutive state title.
Among Class 1A girls, eighth-grader Tierney Wolfgram of Math and Science Academy in Woodbury holds top honors in the coaches poll. She placed 10th at state last year. Defending champion Perham is favored to repeat in the team competition.