Oh, so close
NORTHFIELD -- Arguably the best season in program history ended with the best-ever state meet finish for the Willmar Girls Cross Country team Saturday.
NORTHFIELD - Arguably the best season in program history ended with the best-ever state meet finish for the Willmar Girls Cross Country team Saturday.
Four runners earned All-State honors and the Cardinals placed second in the Class AA race with a score of 58 at St. Olaf College.
Edina, the reigning AA champion, made it a repeat with a score of 45.
Farmington, which didn't qualify as a team, had the top-two individual finishers in Anna Fenske (17:41.5) and Lauren Peterson (18:17.1).
The Cardinals, who had yet to lose coming into Saturday, placed five runners in the top 40.
Jessa Hanson had Willmar's best performance, placing seventh in 18:35.2. Kayla Rudie (12th, 18:51.9), Sophie Schmitz (14th, 18:57.9) and Leah Hansen, who finished 18th in 19:03.6, also earned All-State honors, which go to the top-25 individual finishers.
Also scoring for Willmar was Heidi Schmidts, who ran a 19:27.9 to place 36th.
The runner-up finish was the best the Cardinal girls have ever had at the state meet. They finished third in both 2014 and 2015.
"We had a really good plan before the race and I think we executed it really well," Sophie Schmitz said. "Much better than we had in past (state) races."
But while Willmar head coach Jerry Popp and his runners thought the team ran well, there was some dissatisfaction in failing to come out on top.
"We lost to one of the best teams in the country," Popp said. "But a lot of our kids had tears in their eyes at the end of the race because they have really big goals."
Rudie said those big goals didn't include a second-place finish, regardless of competition.
"We came in as the underdog and I think we had a good race as a team, but we're disappointed with today," she said. "Luckily, it's not our last race, which is good."
Next on the agenda for Willmar is the NXR Heartland Regional on Sunday in Sioux Falls. The race features teams from seven states. The top two finishers from each state qualify for December's national race in Portland, Oregon.
The Cardinals have qualified for nationals each of the last two years. They won the Heartland a year ago, earning a 147-149 win over an Edina team that had outscored them by 62 points at the previous week's state race.
A confident Willmar group is hoping history will repeat itself.
"We haven't really been exposed to heavy competition up until today," Schmidts said. "We are going to use this as a tool to stay hungry and keep going after it."
Class AA boys
Willmar's Mason Wendt, the only local in the race, ran a 17:28.4 to finish 119th.
With five runners in the top 22, Wayzata, coached by Jerry Popp's son Mark, won easily with 38 points.
Edina, which took second with 91, got a winning time of 15:36.4 out of Patrick Rose.
Class A boys
Central Minnesota Christian School's Matthew Van Eps earned All-State honors, while Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd took sixth in the team race.
Mora took first with a score of 93, while Declan Dahlberg of Mounds Park Academy ran a15:56.9 to win a boys race where the top-three finishers were separated by just 0.4 seconds.
Van Eps, a senior who ran cross country for the first time this year, placed 11th with a time of 16:16.2. He passed Alec Sanbeck of Mora just before the finish line, beating him by 0.4 seconds.
The Eagles, who finished with a score of 190, were led by Keiser Freetly, who placed 17th in 16:28.2
Freshman Mike Kvaal also had a top-50 finish for LQPV/D-B, placing 42nd in 17:01.4.
It was a rough day for the other qualifying local team, as New London-Spicer placed 16th with 360 points.
Max Maher was the only Wildcat runner to finish in the top 100, running a 17:37.5 to place 91st.
Other local individual finishers were Montevideo's Kurt Tebeest (49th, 17:08.3) and Joshua Tastad (66th, 17:19.5) and Benson/KMS' Josh Bailey (71st, 17:24.1).
Class A girls
Leading the way for seventh-place LQPV/D-B, the only local team to qualify, was All-State qualifier Sadie Thompson, who ran a 19:31.5 to take 14th.
The Eagles scored 193 points.
Fairmont edged Perham 84-86 for the team title, while Math and Science Academy eighth grader Tierney Wolfgram took first by 45 seconds with a time of 18:23.6.
Maddie Carrington of Morris, who qualified as an individual, had the area's second-best finish, running a 20:25.1 to place 59th.