NORTHFIELD -- It's a problem few have to cope -- the burden of being No. 1 in your field.
Paynesville senior Linda Keller has been living with high expectations placed on her beginning with a third-place finish as a sophomore at the Class A meet.
Winning her second straight state cross-country title perhaps lifted a weight from her slender shoulders.
A relief? She was asked in the aftermath of her 4½-second victory over Chatfield eighth-grader Kayla Woltz in the 4,000-meter race at St. Olaf College on Saturday.
"Yes," she said. "There's pressure to meet the standards put on me, but I guess I did. It was almost a perfect season."
She hasn't lost a race the last two falls. She's also the reigning Class A champion in both the 1,600 and 3,200 runs.
The only thing that could make the season more perfect was for her Bulldogs would have been the team championship. But sixth place was a solid finish for a team with five eighth and ninth graders, including sisters Andrea and Erika Schlangen, who finished 10th and 38th, respectively.
Keller ran at the front the entire time. At 1,000 meters she matched strides with Naomi Landecker of Staples-Motley. Landecker finished one spot behind Keller each of the past two state races but this time faded to ninth.
Woltz was a surprise. She followed Keller closely up the long climb into the woods but Keller's speed was too much for her the final half mile.
Keller, whose eighth-grade sister, Jackie, also competed, is undecided about college. For now, she'll continue to maintain her fitness running near her home outside Hawick and also doing chores at her brother's nearby dairy farm.
Her two wins match former Bulldog, Jen Hess, who won back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001.
Walker moving up
Though only a freshman, Tera Walker of Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd was running in her third state meet. She finish 20th in 15:22.1 to gain all-state honors. Last year she placed 23rd in 15:37. In seventh grade, she ran 16:11 and took 57th.
Walker finished one second up on New London-Spicer freshman Spencer Erickson in 21st. Also among the top 40 were Minnewaska eighth-grader Madi Sachs (26th) and Montevideo senior Kate Eggers (33rd).
Taylor Bodin, a MACCRAY junior, had the top finish by an area individual in Class A boys. He placed 27th in 16:56, a 35 second improvement over a year ago when he took 65th.
Team Redwood Valley finished 12th. Nate Thoofte (39th) led the seven Cardinal entrants.
Jesse Mijares of Montevideo polished off a fine senior season with time of 17:14, good for 42nd place in a field of 157 runners.