Cross-Country: Willmar's Anez secures his first win
Cardinals sophomore takes first place at Willmar Invitational in 15:56.6; Willmar girls fourth in stacked field
WILLMAR — In Sully Anez, Willmar cross-country coach Connor Haugen sees a runner that hates to lose.
A sophomore for the Cardinals, Anez has been the team’s top runner all season and is the 12th-ranked runner in Class AA. But coming into Saturday’s Willmar Invitational, victory had eluded Anez in three races this season.
On his home course, Anez broke that drought in a big way.
Anez set a personal record with a winning time of 15 minutes, 56.6 seconds on the 5-kilometer course at Eagle Creek Golf Club.
“It feels pretty good, considering this is one of the toughest courses we’ll run,” Anez said. “It feels good to beat some really good triple-A runners and get the first win of my season.”
Through the race, Anez had Hopkins runners nipping at his heels. Through the first half, it was Ali Suhayb running with Anez. Then in the final stretch, Anez had to pull away from the Royals’ Landon Hering to secure the win. Hering was the runner-up at 16:05.0. Suhayb was third at 16:18.2.
“It really pushes me when I go around a corner and I see them,” Anez said. “I just go faster. It feels good to be able to beat them.”On that second mile, Haugen saw Anez run through some discomfort, only for the sophomore to muscle through it.
“Sully’s one of the toughest runners I’ve ever seen,” Haugen said. “He was in pain around the two-mile, but he made a move down that hill and he was able to get a gap of about 30 meters on (Hering). He is a mature racer now, and he is ready to get into the championship season.”
Haugen added, “Running under 16 on this course is very impressive.”
The young Willmar boys squad, which features no seniors, placed seventh with 170 points. Hopkins was the winner with 65, followed by Perham with 78 and Eagan with 105.
Fathi Dubet was second on the Cardinals at 18:07.6. Brandon Zepeda (43rd, 18:36.2), Eli Heinen (45th, 18:37.1) and Soren Newberg (53rd, 19:00.3) rounded out Willmar’s score.
“I was pretty excited today considering last week we didn’t have two of our top five runners,” Anez said. “I was pumped to do well, try to beat a couple teams and see where we rank in the section and the state. … We’ve been working a lot harder. Our ultimate goal is to get to state and place at state. Everyone wants to do it and get better.”
The girls race featured a stacked field with seven ranked teams running at Eagle Creek.
Marshall won with a score of 67, beating Perham’s 75 and St. Cloud Cathedral’s 93. The Tigers are second in Class AA, the Yellowjackets are second in Class A and the Crusaders are fourth in Class A. Other ranked teams included: Luverne (fifth, A); Hopkins (eighth, AAA); and Canby/Minneota (11th, A).
The Willmar girls, ranked third in Class AA, finished fourth with 102.
Leading the Cardinal girls was Erin Eilers. Ranked 11th in Class AA, Eilers overtook Marshall’s Taleigha Bigler in the final 100 feet to place eighth at 20:01.9.
“She raced very intelligently today,” Haugen said of Eilers.
In the early portion of the race, Eil34w bided her time. That was by design.
“I had a slow first mile; I was supposed to go out with our three and four,” she said. “And then my coach told me to go on the last two miles, which I did.
“When I passed Lauren (Eilers, Erin’s twin sister), I felt like I needed to go faster because we lost our spots to the Marshall girls. So I started to go faster.”
In Haugen’s view, Erin runs her best as a hunter.
“She loves to hunt people down and pass people throughout the race,” Haugen said. “It feeds into how she likes to race and how she best operates. I think we’ll probably stick with that; maybe not so conservative (in the future).”
Sophia Negen placed 14th at 20:26.9 for Willmar, followed by Hannah Quinn at 18th in 20:46.5. Lauren Eilers (26th, 21:03.5) and Jaidyn Flolo (36th, 21:39.10) rounded out the team’s efforts.
“Our chemistry’s starting to come together; we’ve had a couple injuries and we’re just getting back from that,” said Erin, who’s been dealing with a sprained ankle since racing at Cold Spring on Sept. 22. “As soon as we get back (from injuries), we’ll be good to go.”
While the Cardinals try to get healthy, Haugen is still confident in how they’ll perform later in the season at the Central Lakes Conference championship and at sections.
Willmar is back in action on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Alexandria.
“Our girls really like to show up in big moments,” Haugen said. “We did last year and we’re going to be ready to do it again. Thankfully we have several more races to go. I think we’re going to be just fine.”
Luverne’s Jenna DeBates won the race at 19:13.8, beating St. Cloud Cathedral’s Ella Voit by 14 seconds.
“We’ve had lots of hill training leading up to this, so I knew I could surge on the uphills and do everything I needed to do,” said DeBates, who is ranked sixth in Class A. “I just got up there and decided that I wanted to go, so I went with my gut.”
Hoping to lead Luverne back to state to improve on the team’s third-place finish in 2021, DeBates was anxious to see where she and her team stood against the ranked field.
“I was really excited because we almost have all of our team put together,” DeBates said. “I was excited to see our first stepping stone getting ready for the state meet. I was excited for the team to see how they were going to use the competition to push themselves.”
(1) Hopkins 65 … (2) Perham 78 … (3) Eagan 105 … (4) Luverne 119 … (5) Marshall 130 … (6) Sartell 145 … (7) Willmar 170 … (8) Canby/Minneota 173 … (9) Totino-Grace 173 … (10) St. Anthony Village 220
TOP FIVE — (1) Sully Anez, Will, 15:56.6 … (2) Landon Hering, Hop, 16:05.0 … (3) Ali Suhayb, Hop, 16:18.2 … (4) Bjorn Anderson, Per, 16:19.8 … (5) Alex Bjork, SA, 16:35.1
WILLMAR — (1) Anez … (31) Fathi Dubet 18:07.6 … (43) Brandon Zepeda 18:36.2 … (45) Eli Heinen 18:37.1 … (53) Soren Newberg 19:00.3
(1) Marshall 67 … (2) Perham 75 … (3) St. Cloud Cathedral 93 … (4) Willmar 102 … (5) Eagan 115 … (6) Hopkins 141 … (7) Canby/Minneota 177 … (8) Luverne 191 … (9) Sartell 244 … (10) Totino-Grace 301 … (11) St. Anthony Village 303 … (12) Pipestone 306
TOP FIVE — (1) Jenna DeBates, Luv, 19:13.8 … (2) Ella Voit, Cath, 19:28.7 … (3) Lilah Bartels, Eag, 19:29.9 … (4) Gracie Morris, Per, 19:31.0 … (5) Norah Sjerven, Eag, 19:34.9
WILLMAR — (8) Erin Eilers 20:01.9 … (14) Sophia Negen 20:26.9 … (18) Hannah Quinn, 20:46.5 … (26) Lauren Eilers 21:03.5 … (36) Jaidyn Flolo 21:39.1