Sunday, November 08, 2015

Performances as Good as the Weather at MSHSL XC Champs

On a picture post card day, the performances matched the weather at the MSHSL Cross Country Championships on St. Olaf's campus in Northfield.  The Class AA girl's race led off with a familiar result, the Hasz twins went one, two as they have done the last three years.
Bethany Hasz(1st), Megan Hasz(2nd), and Claire Boersma(3rd)
Photo by Gene Niemi

Alexandria's Bethany Hasz won her second State Title in 17:32.2  with sister Megan(the champion in 2013) the runner up in 17:38.9.  It was a bittersweet experience, the twins said, as it was their last MSHSL XC championship.  But they're not leaving the State as both will be running for the University of Minnesota next Fall, both intending to pursue degrees in kinesiology and physical therapy.

Megan has had more experience with physical therapy as she has spent more time cross training than running since last spring.  She had a stress reaction in her leg during the 2014 track season and wasn't able to compete in the MSHSL track meet.  She had one race early in the cross country season and the leg injury flared up again, causing her to do rehab/cross training through Sectionals where she was second to her twin sister and qualified for State.

This year's MSHSL championships was the first time the girls ran 5K, but the added distance didn't alter the twins strategy.  They broke away early from the rest of the field and were never threatened. By virtue of the new course for the new distance, Bethany's time becomes the new State AA course record.
The sisters open a gap on Farmington's Lauren Peterson,
who would finish sixth, early in the race. Behind the front
three is Forest lake's Emma Benner, who got caught in the
crowd at the start, but managed to work her way back
up to fourth by the finish. Photo by Gene Niemi

The boy's Class AA individual race was more crowded up front.  Wayzata's Jaret Carpenter, who has been ranked number one in the coach's poll all year, was attempting to duplicate Wayzata grad Connor Olson's feat of winning the individual race. Both are front runners.  Carpenter was in or near the lead as a pack of six early before stepping on the gas coming up a hill near the two mile mark which shattered the pack and left Highland Park's Micah Mather and Eli Krahn as the only runners who could maintain contact.
The lead pack early in the race: Jaret Carpenter(15), Como Park's Innocent
Murwanashyaka(6), Eli Krahn(311),  Owen Hoeft(green head band),
Micah Mather(435) and Andrew Sell(361). Photo by Gene Niemi
Stillwater senior, Krahn, who lost his last two cross country seasons to stress reaction(sophomore) and a fracture(junior year), and Mather, who started running in junior high when he figured out he was a better runner than a baseball player, had come into the race with the same strategy:  Cling to Carpenter until the finish was in sight and try and outkick him.  Carpenter didn't give them the chance.  He broke away for good on a downhill about a half mile from the finish and started his long drive for the finish line.

Krahn felt "burnt" coming up the final, steep hill about a quarter from the finish and Mather passed him. The trio maintained that order to the finish.  In the AA team races, Hopkins' senior foursome, who have been running together since the seventh grade(Owen Hoeft, Jack Henschel, Hunter Staack and Sam Branson)  ended their high school careers on top scoring a meager 34 points to runner up Minneapolis Washburn's 67.  It was the same order of finish the two teams had at the 6AA section meet. Stillwater, led by Krahn, took third place with 87 points.

The girl's AA team race had a similar dynamic with Section 6AA winner Edina moving up a notch from last year to take the title with 68 points, while the "underdog," Marshall wasn't far behind with 76 points.  Last year's runner up Willmar was third with 119 points, and defending champion Wayzata took fourth with 152 points. The top four teams have no seniors, which could make for another interesting battle next year.

Class A
On the topic of underclassmen, the runner who most dominated any race on Saturday is the first seventh grader to win a Minnesota State XC championship, Grace Ping.  Small in stature, but huge in talent, Ping prompted one spectator to say: "She's hard to see because she's tiny and fast."  Ping also handles post race interviews like a pro.  Telling the assembled media that she would like to have run faster, but that she did the best she could. Ping will get a chance to go even faster next weekend when she runs the NXN Heartland Sectional in Sioux Falls.
Nobody in sight as Ping crosses the finish line. Photo by Gene Niemi
Reinforcing the youth movement, Breck's Morgan Richter, who was impressive during track season, is an eighth grader.  She won the 3200 on the track as a seventh grader.  When asked after her track victory if she thought she had a future in the sport she said she didn't know, she'd have to see if she was good at it.  She said after finishing second to Ping that she would like to have run faster.  She, Ping, and third place finisher Hannah Truniger, herself a prodigy who also has had success since an early age, all agreed that they liked the 5K distance. One reason being that it put them on equal footing with the boys.  They all may also buy into the slogan that was on the back of one girl's T-shirt: "We don't run to chase boys. We run to beat them."
The Ping family shows their support. Photo by Gene Niemi
In the boy's Class A individual race the top three are juniors, each of whom exceeded their expectations.  Two of them ended up in the medical tent after the race.  Third place finisher Carl Kozlowski had to be treated for a cut lip.  Race winner Zack Emery collapsed after he finished, the strain of the effort making him light headed and dizzy as he sprinted the final quarter.  

Emery had cut his foot in the summer while frolicking in the water. Rocks and tree branches below the surface.  He had to cross train as the wounds healed, but he didn't mind as he'd just got a new bike that he was more than happy to ride to maintain fitness.  He came back slowly and wasn't back to running until September.  The lack of running training was one reason he'd gone into the race just trying to finish near his number two ranking.

Zack Emery(751) leads the pack. Connor Schank, Michael Schwinghamer(834),
and Carl Kozlowski(76)

Kozlowski had the same objective of matching his sixth place ranking, but as the race progressed he found himself moving past people putting him in striking distance of a top three finish.  Schwinghamer's goal was to help Mora win the team title by finishing with as low a score as possible. He'd been ranked fourth going into the meet so he also was an overachiever as he led Mora to the Class A boy's team title.Mora scored 43 points to runner up Perham's 94.

Mora's coach Chris Goebel told the team he wanted them to go out fast, to pack up front.  His rationale being that his top runners had been able to stay close to the number one ranked Class A runner in the State, Connor Schank.  If they could get close to the best meant that they could achieve what he was asking.  It wasn't going to be easy. "I told them this would be the hardest thing they could do," Goebel said.  But the reward was worth the effort.

Perham coach Jeff Morris had his team on the opposite strategy.  Go out conservatively and get faster as the race progressed. The strategy worked for the Perham girls achieving an objective Morris had set as a major goal for the Perham program.  While Perham had won many boy's titles, the girls had not.  Until now. It wasn't a lonely celebration as Morris' phone was filled with text and voice messages from Perham alumni, he said, calling to congratulate the team on their achievement.

A fitting way to end a beautiful day.

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