WILLMAR — From the starting gun to the finish line, Willmar’s Colin O’Farrell and Rocori’s Vincent Kaluza were in stride with one another. That was a microcosm of Saturday’s Willmar Invite: the Cardinals and Spartans were neck-and-neck all day.

“It’s nice to have that competition and to improve, especially on a hard course,” O’Farrell said. “It’s really big when we only have a certain amount of meets left.”

O’Farrell ended up winning the boys race with a time of 17 minutes, 2.94 seconds, besting Kaluza by 0.99 seconds. Likewise, Willmar’s 30 team points were enough to edge the Spartans’ 32. St. Cloud Tech took third with 69 points.

“The boys had a very nice team race,” said Cardinals head coach Jerry Popp. “I think we had some boys who had season PRs (personal records). I know with our younger kids, they had lifetime PRs here (on Saturday).”

Popp added, “It was a perfect day to run out here. I think the kids were a little more focused, too.”

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O’Farrell’s winning time was 46 seconds better than the time he posted in Willmar’s first home meet on Sept. 22.

“I’m a lot more happy,” said O’Farrell, a junior. “The conditions (on Saturday) were perfect compared to last time.”

Along with O’Farrell’s win, four Cardinal boys finished in the top 10: Sully Anez (third, 17:13.16); Kory Behm (seventh, 18:44.55); and Ryan Kuhlman (eighth, 18:57.63).

Willmar's Lauren Eilers (591) leads a pack of runners during the early portion of Saturday's Willmar Invite at Eagle Creek Golf Club. Eilers won with a time of 19:19.44. 

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
Willmar's Lauren Eilers (591) leads a pack of runners during the early portion of Saturday's Willmar Invite at Eagle Creek Golf Club. Eilers won with a time of 19:19.44. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

The Willmar girls took the top two spots on the podium, as Lauren Eilers’ time of 19:19.44 was enough for the win, beating twin sister Erin’s second-place time of 19:21.02.

At the previous home meet, Erin came away with the top time. Lauren wasn’t about to let that happen again.

“We both try to work our hardest in every race,” Erin said. “In the middle of the race, I heard one of my teammates say ‘Who’s going to win this time?’” In my head, I was like, I got to win this time. I have to.”

Both Willmar and Rocori had all five of its top runners get in the top 10. But the Spartans were able to lock up the team win with 26 points, compared to the Cardinals’ 29. Tech took the third spot with 82 points.

Nina Dawson placed seventh for Willmar with a time of 20:33.83. Lndi Koosman placed ninth at 21:10.28, and Kendall Hanson rounded out the team score with a 10th-place time of 21:15.60.

“The varsity girls struggled,” Popp said. “The last three weeks, we’ve been trying to figure some things out and we’re not running as smart as we would like. We've got to be a little bit tougher. They put in the miles this summer, so it’s just a matter of figuring it out.”

The Cardinals have their final regular-season meet against Rocori and Sartell on Thursday at River Oaks Golf Course in Cold Spring. After that will be the Section 8AA championship, which will be the final competition of the season after the Minnesota State High School League voted down any fall state tournaments during its board of directors meeting last week.

So in the final weeks of the season, Popp will have the kids pushing harder in practice.

“We’ve been backing off the last two weeks and I think this next week, we’ll have a more focused week that’ll continue into the week of sections,” Popp said. “Then we’ll back off those last three days (before sections). And hopefully we’ll put it together.”

Willmar Invite

Boys

Team scoring

(1) Willmar 30 (2) Rocori 32 (3) St. Cloud Tech 69

Individual

TOP FIVE — (1) Colin O’Farrell, W, 17:02.94 (2) Vincent Kaluza, R, 17:03.93 (3) Sully Anez, W, 17:13.16 (4) Kallen Murphy, SCT, 17:52.27 (5) Clark Nelson, R, 17:59.08
WILLMAR — (1) O’Farrell (3) Anez (7) Kory Behm 18:44.55 (8) Ryan Kuhlman 18:57.63 (11) Brandon Zepeda 19:04.55

Girls

Team scoring

(1) Rocori 26 (2) Willmar 29 (3) St. Cloud Tech 82

Individual

TOP FIVE — (1) Lauren Eilers, W, 19:19.44 (2) Erin Eilers, W, 19:21.02 (3) Ava Larsen, R, 19:46.05 (4) Laina Viere, R, 20:25.36 (5) Elise Hofer, R, 20:28.95

WILLMAR — (1) L. Eilers (2) E. Eilers (7) Nina Dawson 20:33.83 (9) Lyndi Koosman 21:10.28 (10) Kendall Hanson 21:15.60