The Minnesota High School cross country season gets underway in earnest Friday at Rosemount's Irish Invite.
There, the Rosemount boys -- ranked #1 in Class AA, #1 in the Heartland Region of Nike Team Nationals, and #16 in Harrier Magazine's nation-wide poll will host #6 Armstrong and #7 Lakeville North. Chaska, Mounds View, and Minnetonka, which all received votes in the coaches balloting also compete.
In girls' competition, pre-season Class AA #1 Lakeville North will clash with #2 Prior Lake and #5 Chaska. White Bear Lake, Armstrong, and Mounds View are also notable contenders.
The indivudual match-up should be exciting as well. #2 ranked Tyler King of Lakeville North and #3 ranked Jordan Carlson of Rosemount are favorites in the boys race. For the girls, #4 ranked Michelle Volz of Lakeville North -- the defending Class AA 1600m champ -- looks to get strong competition from #5 ranked Meghan Heuer of Prior Lake and #7 ranked Katie Moraczewski of White Bear Lake.
Racing gets underway on the Rosemount campus at 9:00 a.m. Varsity girls run at 10:40; varisty boys run at 11:05. All races are two miles.
Harder's Thoughts ...
To get into the spirit of the cross country season, DtB talked to Rosemount coach Chris Harder about his highly-touted boys' team and the season ahead ...
Your team is ranked #1 in Class AA, #1 in the Heartland Region, and #16 in the nation. Is that a blessing or a curse? What do you do to manage the excitement and expectations of all that?
"We prefer to be ranked first. The guys had high expectations the last few seasons and prepared this summer regardless of our pre-season ranking. No amount of outside pressure is more than what they already put on themselves. This group loves to compete, but also had the willingness to prepare to compete."
"There is certainly a buzz in the community and that can only be a good thing for our sport."
What are you looking for from your team in the meet this week and in early season competitions in general?
"We are looking from a solid effort across the board (all levels) to consolidate our last three week cycle of training. Since it is a two mile on our home course, we want the guys to get out and attack. We don't worry about running any type of pace race, just get out and compete. A two mile time on our course will give a good indication where our guys are at for their quality sessions the next few weeks."
"The competition at the meet is good, although not nearly as strong as the girls field. There are two other ranked teams in Armstrong and Lakeville North. Armstrong has steadily improved the last few years and have a good nucleus returning. LN has a low card in Tyler King and an arsenal of young talent. Plus, Mounds View is always strong despite not being ranked. They weren't ranked last year in the pre-season and nearly beat us at this meet. They should be a senior-laden team, with possibly their top seven all seniors. Minnetonka added Nick Emmans to go with Ryan Bailey. The Skippers have the numbers in the program to put something together. Chaska and Rochester Century could be dangerous as well. Chaska has a meet under their belt already and have some depth. Century has a solid 1-2 punch in Shane Steele and Brian Willie.
Tell us a little bit about the guys on your team -- their strengths, their personalities, etc. And, tell us what makes them, collectively, such a strong group?
"Our guys have multi-sports backgrounds which I feel is a strength on a number of fronts. Jordan Carlson is the hockey co-captain. They should contend for the Lake title this winter. Obai Hussein is a contender to start at point guard for basketball. Chris Massey wrestled last year. Tim Kojetin played basketball many years. Many of our top JV guys are all winter sports guys. They have been in many competitive situations. Their training for those sports provide balance physically and mentally. The traditional third sport for endurance athletes, nordic skiing, is offered at the district level for our school and we have minimal participation for Rosemount kids. One of our top runners last year, Mike Bumgarner, is the only Rosemount athlete ever to qualify for state nordic skiing."
"They also have a lot of fun together off the course. The guys have a strong bond. Cross country is an individual sport with a team concept. I don't think any of our guys would be at their current level without the team. They push each other, have fun together, and don't want to let each other down. That is why what the outside world ranks them has no bearing because they put more pressure on themselves to perform."
Photo of Rosemount boys team members by Brian Fendrich.