Cross Country: Red Wing boys win section, Armstrong earns state bid for girls
OWATONNA, Minn. – For the first time since 1999, the Red Wing boys cross-country team will head to the state tournament. And, for the first time since 1998, the Wingers will do so as section champions.
Led by senior Aiden Winn, the Wingers captured the Section 1AA title by beating the field at Brooktree Golf Course. Red Wing’s 90 total points were just enough to claim the championship as Lakeville North came in with 91 points. Winn took ninth place in a time of 16 minutes, 21.5 seconds, which was about 45 seconds behind individual champion Zach Benning of Hastings.
Red Wing also placed three other runners in the top 20, including George Nemanich (16th, 16:40.4), Marcus Warrington (18th, 16:43.5) and Darrick Jackson (20th,16:46.3). Those four runners were key to the Wingers’ victory, but so was Red Wing’s fifth runner, Ryan Schnaith, who placed 27th in a time of 16:54.5.
Schnaith beat North’s Kyle Binder by less than four seconds, but also by two places, providing the difference between a second-place showing, or even a tie. It was, according to Winn, evidence of a deep squad.
“It has really been awesome to have good depth,” said Winn, who returns to state after qualifying as an individual last year. “We have a nice pack, and we can pack-up in races and run together, you don’t feel so lonely. And you can use that pack to kind of break the wind. It’s nice to be a good, deep team. It doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the top guys, and we know that it can come down to that fifth guy and we can still win the race.”
Not only will the trip to state be the first since any of the current Wingers were enrolled in school, it is also the first for head coach Jesse Nelson, who has been part of the program since 2000.
“This is the first time for me, so that’s obviously very special,” Nelson said. “We’ve been third three of the last four years, and ran well every time but just got beat by better teams. (It was) a little bittersweet there that you run well and not qualify, but 364 days ago, the day after the section meet, we were all on a run … these boys set a goal that, ‘You know what, we’re going to do everything we can over the next 364 days to see what it takes to become section champs.’ And hats off to the kids, they deserve everything they got today.”
With one, significant goal now in their pockets, what does the future hold for the Wingers?
“For our team, I haven’t really looked at the other teams in state so far because we’ve been so focused on this section championship. Really, I think it would be nice if we can be in the top five (at state),” Winn said. “That would be awesome.”
The Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo boys placed 15th with 393 points, led by Eric Hokanson’s 65th-place finish of 17:43.9.
With a seventh-place finish at the Section 1AA meet, Jasmyn Armstrong will get a chance to run in the girls state cross-country meet next weekend. Armstrong was the top finisher among the Red Wing girls, completing her race in 14:53.7.
The Wingers finished fourth as a team with 145 points. Lakeville South won the team section title with 44 points while Lakeville North will also head to state with a second-place showing of 85 points. Austin finished third with 114 points.
Nelson credited Armstrong, a seventh-grader, with running a great race and taking advantage of her natural ability. But Nelson, and Armstrong, also gave credit to a group of upperclassmen that took the high road in helping a young teammate.
“I know Jasmine ran well today, but Lindsay (Scribner) has been with us for six years, and she means so much to us,” Nelson said. “And Hailee Johnson, in that same breath, Hailee didn’t run as well as she would have liked last week, and some of our new, younger runners did beat her so they earned their spot on the section team. So hats off to Hailee and Lindsay for being the leaders. Jasmyn would not be where where is today without the leadership of Hailee and Lindsay, and you can throw Emily Dech in the mix, too.”
Said Armstrong, “Even though they’re older than me, they don’t get mad and they don’t (dislike) me because I get ahead of them. They’re really supportive. It’s really great.”
And even though Nelson said he knew Armstrong was something special after the first meet of the year – when, as Nelson noted, Armstrong passed “about 60 runners after the first mile” – the young runner did not envision herself as state-meet caliber.
“I really didn’t think I would make state when I started cross-country. I mean, I never thought I would be as good as I am,” Armstrong said. “My teammates really helped, and they’ve been really encouraging. I think that’s one of the main reasons I’ve been able to get to where I am. It feels really, really good.”
The Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo girls placed 14th with 398 points, led by Skyler Jacobson’s 42nd place finish of 16:05.8.
The boys and girls state meet is Saturday, Nov. 2 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The Class AA girls race will kick off the championship meet at 10 a.m., followed by the boys Class AA race at 11 a.m.