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Prep cross country: After Central Lakes wins, Willmar aims for state

Right: Willmar's Central Lakes Conference champion boys team that will be running for a return trip to state today at Bemidji. Kneeling, Jack Erickson; middle row, from left, Jay Coquyt, Zach Leuders, Tom Seifert, Austin Miley, Ian Thompson; back row, from left, Ryan Sawyer, Connor Haugen, Sam Anez.1 / 2
Tribune photos by Rand Middleton Above: This is the Cardinal varsity line-up that won the Central Lakes Conference championship on Oct. 16 and will be running today at the Section 8AA meet in Bemidji. Front row, from left, Kayla Rudie, Jessa Hanson, Grace Graves, Alexis Miley; back row, from left, Samantha Hanson, Sophie Schmitz, Cassandra Johnson, Tara Rudie, Savannah Anez.2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Section Cross-Country is all or nothing.

It is one day, one try.

There's no second half, no comeback bracket, no last at bat, no overtime.

The top two teams qualify for the state meet. Eight individuals, exclusive of the teams, also will advance.

At Bemidji today, 15 schools will compete in the Section 8AA meet on the rolling hills of the Greenwood Golf Course. The goal is the state meet at Northfield on Nov. 3.

In the 4,000-meter girls division, Monticello is considered the favorite. The Magic won the Class AA crown last year on the St. Olaf campus and are said to have 4 of their top 5 returning.

In the final Coaches Poll, Monticello ranks eighth, Willmar ninth and Moorhead tenth. Willmar coach Jerry Popp notes that the Spuds and Cards have split in four meets where both competed. Neither has a measure against the Magic.

Alexandria is also a concern. The Douglas County Cardinals advanced from this region last fall. Incredibly, Alex runners placed 2, 3 and 4 individually at the state meet. Jamie Piepenburg, the runner-up, now runs for the Gophers but the Hasz twins are back after their top 4 finish as only eighth-graders.

Willmar nosed out Alexandria for the conference title last week.

"We are a very young team but we are not rookies," notes Popp. "We think we are a year ahead of schedule, but the girls are excited about the opportunity to compete for a state spot. The key for our team will be how close our pack can run to our leader, Samantha Hanson."

In the boys 5,000 meter, No. 8-ranked Bemidji is the clear-cut favorite. Popp sees Moorhead as a slight favorite for the No. 2 qualifying spot, though he points out that the Cards did edge the Spuds at the St. Cloud Tech meet this month.

Monticello, Alexandria and Sartell are also in the running. The Magic have a one-point win over Willmar while Alexandria and Sartell each have finished ahead, though Willmar got them back by winning the Central Lakes meet,

"If we run average, we will be sixth," stated Popp. "If we run quite well we should be third or fourth. A great race by our guys and we'll be making our eighth state trip in nine years."

Last year the Willmar boys placed 15th at the state meet.

Both Willmar squads conquer with depth and tactics, so here is the key, according to their coach: "Each of our top 7 has to know where they are in the race at all times and be ready to compete at key moments."

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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