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Red Wing senior Darrick Jackson and the rest of the Red Wing boys cross-country team hope to reach the top five in Saturday’s Minnesota State Cross-Country championship meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield. (RE file photo)

Cross-Country: Wingers poised for strong finish

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Led by top-ranked Wayzata, second-ranked Edina, as well as perennial contender and third-ranked Stillwater, all but three of the state’s top 10 teams will be in attendance at the Class AA state cross-country meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

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And while those teams harbor championship aspirations, the difference in expectations between last week’s Section 1AA meet, and Saturday’s state meet is like night and day for the Red Wing boys cross-country team. Instead of focusing on a championship, the Wingers will be looking for a possible top-5 ending to 2013.

“We want to go into it with a chance to run our best meet of the year,” said Red Wing head coach Jesse Nelson. “Being over there with individuals for quite a few years, and Aiden (Winn) being there last year, we kind of know and expect how the emotion of the day and how the kids can kind of get caught up in the whole spectacle and excitement of the day. And that leads them to go out a little bit too fast and kind of fizzle out in the end. We’ll just talk to the boys this week about keeping their emotions in check and staying focused and not letting things get away from them in the first mile, but to just stay reserved and keep things under control and stay calm and then really focus on running the last half of the race strong.”

After last week’s section-championship performance, Winn said he was aiming for a fifth-place finish in Northfield. Nelson would not go so far as to put a specific place as his goal, nor does he look much at the numbers from various section meets.

But the coach knows that his team is built to be in that range.

 “I don’t put a ton of stock in (section times), because of (different courses). But if we run really well, is fifth or sixth out of the question? No, it’s not,” Nelson said. “And I do think that we’ll get more from Aiden and George (Nemanich). I know they were happy with the team win, but I know both Aiden and George would have liked to have their section meets go better. I guess what I’m saying is that there’s more in there. I know Aiden and George can run better and I think they well. Darrick Jackson is coming on so strong, and Marcus Warrington is really figuring it out at the right time of the year. And Ryan Schnaith and Joe Partington and Meyer  Beckner, they all are primed and ready to have another break-out kind of meet.”

How tall of a task would it be, then, for the Wingers to have a shot at a team like Wayzata? Well, the Trojans are so far up the mountain that the Wingers, and most of the field, would do well to stay with the back of Wayzata’s pack.

“The only thing maybe we do, is for some individuals like Aiden or George, if you can get yourself with Wayzata’s fifth, sixth or seventh guy, you’ll probably be in a good spot. That’s actually about it. We’re realistic about where Wayzata is at this time, and where we are at this time,” Nelson said. “It’s really hard with 16 teams, it’s really hard to gauge things with all the individuals thrown in there. The state meet is one of the most challenging meets to figure out how things are going and to find kids because there’s a lot going on and a lot of spectators all around.”

But that doesn’t mean the Wingers won’t be looking for certain team colors or familiar faces or rival logos.

“We’ll have the kids focus on a couple key teams we’d like to get again, and that’d be Lakeville North again, Chanhassen is in our conference, we’d like to get them again. But we’ve also beat them already this year, so we need to set our goals a little bit higher,” Nelson said. “I haven’t looked too close at it, but a team like Centennial is ranked pretty high, but we beat them this year. We ran against Bemidji and Mounds View in Alexandria without Aiden, so we think when we get him in the mix with kids running well, going after teams like that. And if we do that, it does put us in fifth, sixth, seventh place.”

And if the Wingers can get to that fifth- or sixth- or seventh-place spot, that would put a nice exclamation point on their final five kilometers of the season.

“We don’t want to be happy to be there, we want to get out and run the best race of the year,” Nelson said. “And I’m really confident that the boys aren’t just looking to just go in and have fun at the state meet. They want to run well and they want to finish off this great season with a great performance at the state meet.”

The boys Class AA meet will begin at 11 a.m.

Armstrong set for first state meet

Before the boys race gets under way, another Winger will have already completed her state meet.

At 10 a.m., Jasmyn Armstrong will toe the starting line with the rest of the Class AA girls field. When Armstrong crosses the finish line is almost beside the point. Really, this is about the first step in what could become a stellar career.

“I know she’s only a seventh-grader, but she’s run in a lot of big races in her career, and she’s already  been on this course so course familiarity is not an issue for her,” Nelson said. “We looked at (when she) ran at the Alexandria meet, and that will be the one we kind of focus on with her, that was almost a state-type-caliber meet.”

That race, the Alexandria Lions Invitational, took place Oct. 5, and Armstrong finished 25th out of 134 runners. It also included two of the top-three ranked girls in the state in winner Megan Hasz, and runner-up Bethany Hasz, both of Alexandria.

The key to that race is how Nelson would like Armstrong to approach Saturday’s meet as well.

“We talked to Jasmyn about maybe being in 50th place at the mile mark, and we also talked about not being caught up in the moment like a lot of kids are going to do,” Nelson said. “If she’s in 50th at the mile mark, I think that’s a good spot for her because a lot of kids are going to come back, a lot of kids are going to go out too hard because it’s the state meet and the emotions that go along with that. So our goal is to be conservative through the first mile and keep herself under control, and then after that mile mark, if she feels good, then go out and get after some people and run the last half of the meet strong.”

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Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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