NORTHFIELD -- The cross country state meet is a season-ending celebration as much as an athletic event.
The competitors from upwards of 200 high schools, their coaches, family, friends and loyal fans gather on the west edge of Northfield to close the fall running season. In no other sport do fans cheer as loud for the 175th finisher in each race as for the leaders.
Nor in any sport in the Minnesota State High School League's broad menu of state championships do waves of spectators and shuffling media burn as many calories to catch glimpses of their favorite runners on the sprawling playing fields of St. Olaf College.
It was a fast track Saturday. The course was dry. The temp stayed in the low 40s (there were a few flakes during the Class A boys' 10 a.m. race) but the air was calm and an altogether pleasant day for both runners and the thousands of spectators.
Willmar girls, the Tribune area's only qualifying team, finished 10th. Individually, Litchfield junior Savannah Ramirez had a top-10 finish. Also in Class A, Ben Burgett of Community Christian in Willmar, came in 33rd.
The highlight of the four races saw senior Maria Hauger of Shakopee break the all-time state meet record with a time of 13:42. It was her fourth straight win, which is one short of the state record held by Carrie Tollefson of Dawson, who won three Class A and two AA championships running for Dawson-Boyd/LQPV from 1990 to 1994.
Willmar's Samantha Hanson, a sophomore, led the yearling Cardinal flock with a time of 14:53, her first race under 15:00 and good for 32nd overall on the 4000 meter run (2.5 miles).
Next on the team was her sister Jessa, followed by two other eighth-graders, Grace Graves and Sophia Schmitz, and then senior Cassandra Johnson in 15:41. Eighth-graders Kayla Rudie and Savannah Anez also came in under 16 minutes
Johnson completed her sixth year in the program with 5 varsity letters and her first state trip.
"They keep me young," said Johnson at races end of the eighth-grade brood. "They're always fun. You don't have to get after them. You set the stage [workout], and they do it."
Coach Jerry Popp said he told the first Cardinals girls team to reach state in 10 years to enjoy the experience and attempt to hit their personal best.
"It's crazy, so many people," said Schmitz, who was four seconds under her section time. "The cheering is overwhelming. The race is faster than normal because you just get pushed along."
Willmar junior Tom Seifert dropped 16 seconds from his time a year ago on this course to a personal-best 16:40 but moved up only 7 spots in the standings - 81st of 176 runners.
The field in each of the four races expanded by around 20 runners using the new format in which eight individuals qualify from each section plus the 14 runners from the two qualifying teams.
Ramirez finished seventh in her third state meet, dropping her time to under 15 minutes in the 4k for the first time with a career-best 14:47.
Burgett, a sophomore, placed 33rd in a field of 175 in the boys 5k. He chopped 30 seconds off his time of a year ago.
Perham won the boys team title with plenty to spare by placing five runners in the top 12 and defeating runner-up St. Cloud Cathedral 37-72.
Three Montevideo runners in the boys race were near or below their personal bests. Zac Enevoldson placed 71st, Ryan Maroney 77th and Joseph Varpness 103rd.
It was the first state meet for all three and each agreed the competition and atmosphere made it "a lot of fun."
Esko took the girls trophy with the Annandale Cardinals in second. Blake School junior Clare Flanagan repeated as individual champion in a sizzling time of 14:04.
Alaysia Freetly of Lac qui Parle/Dawson-Boyd earned all-state honors placing 19th with a personal best in her third state meet. Senior Makenzie Smith of Morris/Chokio-Alberta finished her outstanding prep career by playing 31st.
Top 5 (1) Stillwater 46 (2) Edina 80 (3) Wayzata 90 (4) Owatonna 125 (5) Rosemount 152 ... (5) Bemidji 206 (8) Moorhead 274
TOP 3 -- (1) Wayde Hall, Stillwater, 15:21 (2) Obsa Ali, Richfield, 15:25.3 (3) Joe Kiecker, Hopkins, 15:25.8
AREA INDIVIDUAL -- (81) Tom Siefert, Willmar, 16:40
Top 3 (1) Wayzata 50 (2) Eagan 93 (3) Edina 129 .... (7) Moorhead 192 (10) Willmar 237
TOP 6-- (1) Maria Hauger, Shakopee, 13:42.0 (2) Anna French, Wayzata, 13:57 (3) Bethany Hasz, Alexandria, 14:05 (4) Danielle Anderson, Eagan, 14:06 (5) Jenna Truedson, Bemikdji 14:09 (6) Megan Hasz. Alx 14:14.
WILLMAR -- (32) Samantha Hanson 14:53 (65) Jessa Hanson 15:16 (107) Grace Graves 15:35 (109) Sophie Schmitz 15:36 (119) Cassandra Johnson 15:41 (121) Kayla Rudie 15:42 (140) Savannah Anez 15:57
Top 5 (1) -- (1) Perham 37 (2) St. Cloud Cathedral 72 (3) Waseca 164 (4) Martin County West 200 (5) Cotter, Winona 200
TOP 3 -- (1) Matt Welch, Proctor, 15:34 (2) Charlie Lawrence, Foley, 15:46 (3) Shane Streich, Waseca, 15:52
AREA INVIVIDUALS -- (33) Ben Burgett, Community Christian, Willmar, 16:44 (71) Zac Enevoldsen, Montevideo, 17:09 (77) Ryan Maroney, Monte, 17:14 (87) Caleb Kragenbring, Litchfield, 17:18 (102) Jacob Carroll, YME, 17:29.3 (103) Joseph Varpness, Monte, 17:29
Top 5 (1) Esko 115 (2) Annandale 150 (3) Minnehaha Academy 151 (4) Waseca 157 (5) Dover-Eyota 184
TOP 10 -- (1) Clare Flanagan, Blake, 14:04.1 (2) Emi Trost, Cannon Fallls, 14:16 (3) McKenzie Holt, St. Cloud Christian, 14:29 (4) Emily Mantor, United South Central, 14:39 (5) Maria Shady, Esko, 14:44 (6) Liz Schlafke, Annandale, 14:46.3 (7) Savannah Ramirez, Litchfield 14:47.3 (8) Hannah Truniger, Mayer Lutheran; Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, 14:49 (9) Madi Schandelmeier, Luverne, 14:56 (10) Kayla Woltz, Chatfield, 14:59
AREA INVIVIDUALS -- (7) Ramirez (19) Alaysia Freetly, Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, 15:19 (31) Makenzie Smith, Morris/CA, 15:32 (55) Kelly Kvaal, LQPV/DB, 15:44 (102) Clare Sulflow, Montevideo 16:20 (107) Promisie Butler, Paynesville, 16:22