The Red Wing boys cross country team made it three years in a row as Missota Conference champions and advanced two runners to the state meet. Bryant Blahnik won the Section 1AA meet in 16 minutes, 3.2 seconds and Christian Leitner took eighth with a time of 16:25.6 as both made the state meet. The Wingers finished third as a team, behind section champion Owatonna and runner-up Lakeville North. Blahnik went on to finish 19th at the state meet and Leitner 107th.
The story lines
Life without Blahnik:
With Blahnik now running at Missouri, the Wingers must adjust to life without the standout. Leitner, a senior, who helped give Red Wing a dynamic 1-2 punch, will emerge as the team's new leader.
"It's going to be nice for Christian to get out of Bryant's shadow," Wingers cross country head coach Jesse Nelson said. "This will be good for him to be the leader."
Leitner made his first trip to the state meet last season and finished fifth at the conference meet. He had the highest finish among juniors and underclassmen at the conference meet and Nelson expects him to take another step forward.
Pack mentality: Just three of Red Wing's top seven boys runners return, but don't get too wrapped up in that detail.
"We just had a deep team last year," Nelson said.
But with just three runners back and without Blahnik at the top, the Wingers will have to mold a strong pack of runners to remain among the top teams in the conference.
"There's a big gap between our No. 1 and No. 2," Nelson said. "If we can get five runners within a minute of Christian we'll do well."
Red Wing does have senior Jordan Hassemer back, who ran fifth on the team at the conference meet and fourth at the section meet for the team, but the Wingers will need to turn to its younger runners right away.
"We're going to take some lumps, but by October we're going to be going good," Nelson said.
Three's company: The Wingers have finished third the past two seasons at the Section 1AA meet behind Lakeville North and Owatonna. Both teams compete almost annually at the state meet and have made it difficult for Red Wing to get past at the section meet. Last year the Wingers had 79 points and finished behind Owatonna, which won the meet with 54 points, and Lakeville North, which had 61 points.
Runners to watch: Sophomore Aiden Winn won the conference junior varsity race last season as a freshman and is among a crop of runners who will have an opportunity to make an impact on the varsity squad. Winn also placed ninth at the junior varsity section meet.
Along with Winn, there is senior Tyler Grove, who placed 12th at the junior varsity section meet. Ryan Schnaith, a sophomore, and Marcus Warrington, a freshman, are others to watch.