Thursday, December 12, 2013

East Ridge Rising

East Ridge's girls cross country team has not risen to Wayzata's level yet, but the school, started in 2009, has steadily moved from a beginning eighth place finish at the MSHSL XC Championships to seventh, fifth, and now second in 2013.  Add to that a 19th place finish last weekend at Nike Cross Nationals(NXN) and you have an impressive progression in a short time.

It's not surprising from a demographics perspective as East Ridge was created to deal with the population expansion in Woodbury, who already has two schools--Woodbury and Park-- that have produced signficant athletic talent over the years. East Ridge is adding to that legacy.

"We just wanted to get on the podium," was how Lloyd Ness, one of the co-coaches of the East Ridge combined girls and boys teams, described the goal of the girls team going into this year's State Meet.  Ness knew that the team had the talent for a top three finish, but talent alone doesn't produce results.  Wayzata, Edina, and East Ridge all ranked high throughout the season, but Ness had learned two years ago that rankings are nice to talk about, but have no impact on results.

Emily Betz coming down the homestretch at the
MSHSL Championships. Photo by Gene Niemi
The team had been ranked as high as third two years ago, but finished fifth, Ness noted  This year, Edina had a bad race at Sectionals and didn't qualify for the State Meet.  For East Ridge, Ness said, the formula for success was simple.  First, his two top runners, Emily Betz and his daughter Bailey Ness, "had to run well for us to run well," said Lloyd Ness.  And, about 30 seconds back of the lead two, East Ridge's pack of four--Brenley Goertze, Sandra Gramer, Olivia Hummel, and Megan Schiferl had to do their part in minimizing the team score.

"We have a very motivated group," said Ness.  "They worked hard in practices.  Some of them, if they thought they weren't doing enough went out and ran more. mileage.  They never missed a Saturday workout.  They were all 'mean as snakes,' hanging on to each other for dear life. Over the season our third runner was pretty consistently our third finisher, but the four, five, and six runners would move around from race to race."

If one had a bad race, another stepped up to fill the gap. "We never looked ahead," said Ness.  "I tried not to race my girls too much...The season now is so long.  We start earlier and it can go on two or three weeks later(for the various national meets), so I had to make sure we didn't burn the girls out."

The meet before their conference meet, Ness gave  instructions to everyone that nobody would run faster than their seventh runner.  They would all run with her.  The only impact running less than their capabilities would be on their rankings, Ness said, and he already knew that the ranking didn' t mean anything regarding how you'd place from there on out. "My obligation is to get us to run well at the end of the season," Ness said.  "70% of success comes from blood(genetics), 25% from the work put in, and 5% is us(the coaches) not screwing them up."

They got the forumla right this year as they rose to second in the State, and finished runner up in the NXN Heartland Region meet to qualify for NXN Nationals.  Like the other schools, East Ridge's team members were already into their second sports--four were on the cross country ski team and one plays hockey--but they kept as sharp at they could for the national meet.

Athletes lockers at NXN
"Wisconsin's coach said: 'don't think that's the way it is,'" Ness said about the NXN experience.  "'No one else does it (like Nike).'"  Each team had it's own locker complete with uniforms.  The girls got to tour the Nike campus, meet Nike athletes.  "It was a very unique experience," the girls told Ness.  Many parents went with their kids to the meet, but stayed in different lodgings, rarely seeing their children during the weekend.

Baily Ness(52) early in the NXN race.
Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
Like Wayzata in 2012, the East Ridge girls have now done their first NXN experience. Five of the seven team members return in 2014.  They know what it took to get there this year.  Is this an experience they want again?  Can they top what they did this year?  We'll know about this time next year.

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