ATWATER — With the Minnesota State High School League season over, the Willmar girls cross-country team — as well as two Cardinal boys — is going to get one last meet in 2020.
Though it won’t be representing the Willmar Cardinals, members of the girls’ squad that took second in the Section 8AA championship will run Friday at Island Pine Golf Club.
Invitations to all teams and individuals who would have qualified for a state meet across the state were sent out to coaches. Most accepted the invitation to run as club teams and/or as individuals not affiliated with their high schools.
Class AA athletes run Friday. Class A athletes run Saturday. The Saturday meet will include athletes from the Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd boys team that took first in Section 3A as well as New London-Spicer’s Ty Bisek.
“This is a big deal because, like you said, most of the best runners in the state will be there,” said Jerry Popp, Willmar’s head coach. “It’ll be a safe environment and it won’t exactly be like a state meet, but it should be fun.”
Popp stressed that the meet is not affiliated with the Minnesota State High School League in any way. The coaches association is behind it. Popp confirmed he helped secure the site.
“It’s a nice, small-town venue with very friendly people and plenty of room,” Popp said.
Popp said Island Pine is ideal because there are four separate areas for teams, enabling them to follow state protocols for social-distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 and its spread is why the high school league declined to sponsor a state meet this year.
There will be warm-up and cool-down areas separate from the course that will keep athletes away from each other. The meet will be conducted like the section meets were, with four teams or the equivalent number of individuals running in waves. Once your wave has run, you’re expected to leave the course immediately, Popp said.
Times from all the waves will be compiled and posted at the end of the day, when individual and team champions will be announced.
Willmar will be running as the Winged Foot Running Club, which will supply the uniforms. Popp said he isn’t allowed to coach but will attend the meet. He was careful to point out that this race is totally separate from a high-school meet.
“What we want to do is have our own Nike Heartland (race in Sioux Falls),” Popp said of the annual team event that traditionally takes place after Minnesota’s state meet, which has been run in Northfield. Neither is happening this year.
“Minnesota is a hot-bed for nationally ranked teams,” Popp said. “What will be fun is that our athletes will be able to run the same course as some of them (Friday).”
Two Willmar boys who qualified for invitations are competing at 12:50 p.m. Friday: Colin O’Farrell and Sully Anez.
The Willmar girls, led by twin sisters Erin and Lauren Eilers, compete at 2:10 p.m.
Each athlete is limited to two tickets for family for the event. Those fans will be asked to leave after their athlete competes. That’s meant to keep the crowds down. No public tickets are available.
Teams and individuals were charged entry fees for the event. Popp estimated the event will cost between $10,000 to $15,000. It will be run much like the state true-team track and field championships are in Stillwater each May before the high school league state meet in June at Hamline University in St. Paul.