Cross-Country: Wingers remain top contenders
With the move to the Big Nine Conference, both the Red Wing boys and girls cross-country teams have solid shots at winning conference titles.
While the boys were normally near the top of the now-defunct Missota Conference, including a second-place finish last year, the Winger girls have been stuck behind some of the state’s best teams.
“We struggled to compete with the Shakopees, the Chanhassens and the Chaskas,” said Red Wing head coach Jesse Nelson. “Now, Austin will be good in the Big Nine, but we’re right there. Our girls are going to be in the mix for that Big Nine title, and it’s going to be fun because it’s been a long time. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had a legitimate shot to win a conference title.”
As for the boys, “The Big Nine is much of the same,” Nelson said. “Both Owatonna and (Rochester) Century are going to be really good. We beat both of those teams last year, and I think that puts us in the hunt this year for that.
“We’re really optimistic about where our teams will finish in the Big Nine.”
While conference title aspirations are high for both the boys and girls, the two teams have different makeups as far as the lineup goes when the season starts Monday in Wabasha-Kellogg.
For the boys, they will try and replace the loss of four of its varsity runners – Aiden Winn, Darrick Jackson, Joe Partington and Ryan Schnaith – from last year’s team that took second in the Section 1AA meet and placed 12th at the Class 2A state meet.
Leading the boys’ pack this fall will be junior George Nemanich, who was Red Wing’s No. 2 runner in 2013 behind Winn. Last fall as a sophomore, Nemanich ran a season-best time of 16 minutes, 40 seconds in the section meet.
“George had a great summer and even from last cross-country season, he’s had a great winter, spring and summer of training,” Nelson said. “George is very, very fit. He’ll fill that role that Aiden filled last year of being always in the top five, no matter what race we go to.”
The rest of the lineup is what Nelson is trying to figure out.
“We have guys like Marcus Warrington, who had a great year last year. There’s also Philip Mitchell, Meyer Beckner and some new guys that didn’t have varsity roles like Forest Evanson and Garrett Welsch as well,” Nelson said. “Even our really young guys, like Asa Beckner and Weston Wyatt, you’ll see them in the top seven, or maybe in the top five.”
But can the boys make it back to state?
“Absolutely,” Nelson said. “Century’s going to be good, Lakeville North’s going to be good, Owatonna’s always good. I’d put us right in the mix (in Section 1AA). All we can hope for is by the section meet, we can give ourselves a chance to be one of those top two teams.”
The girls return most of its varsity runners from a year ago, starting with state qualifier Jasmyn Armstrong. Just an eighth-grader, Armstrong was the lone Wingers girl at St. Olaf College last November, finishing in 80th place with a time of 15:29.7.
“Jasmyn had a great summer; she’s really fit right now and she has really high goals set for herself as well,” Nelson said.
Although the team lost its No. 2 runner from a year ago in Lindsay Scribner, the Wingers picked up a strong runner in junior Kianna Stewart, who is out for her first year of varsity cross-country.
“(Kianna) had a great track season for us last year. She’s going to be filling in right behind Jasmyn, if not really close to Jasmyn,” Nelson said. “We’re real happy to have Kianna with us and she’ll be key to our success this year.”
The Wingers return a great deal of depth at varsity with Adelle DeSutter, Tori Gorman, Elise Leise, Emily Hart, Elle Bryant and Hannah Rosenow.
“Every one of those girls is ahead of where they were last year at this point. Significantly for some of them,” Nelson said. “I am again pretty optimistic about where our girls’ team is at as well.”
Giving both teams a strong barometer on the year is the move to the Big Nine. Including Red Wing, nine Big Nine teams are also in Section 1AA.
“It also gives us a chance to run on the section course (in Owatonna) one more time before sections,” Nelson said of the Big Nine move. “The Big Nine schools have had that advantage of running there before the section meet, and now we’ll get that same opportunity.”