Cross country: Great expectationsBlahnik strives for top five, Anderson shoots for all-state honor
By: Carolyn Bray, The Republican Eagle
Kelsee Anderson is where Bryant Blahnik was a year ago — excited to have qualified for the state cross country meet and with no real expectations on her plate.
But Blahnik is in a completely different place this year with plenty of expectations riding on his shoulders.
The two runners will represent Red Wing at the Class AA state championships Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The boys race starts at 10 a.m., while the girls will run at 11 a.m.
Shooting for top five
Blahnik, a junior, took 37th last year in his first trip to the state meet.
A lot has happened since then, including five medalist honors this season and a second-place finish at the Section 1AA meet last week in Owatonna. His goal this season is nothing less than a top-five finish Saturday.
“There’s a lot more pressure this year,” Blahnik said. “Last year I just wanted to get there. This year I’m looking to really run well.”
“A top-five finish is well within his reach,” Red Wing coach Jesse Nelson said. “Unlike the past few years, there is no standout in the boys race. Bryant will be in a group of seven to 10 guys who all have a chance to win.”
Blahnik was ranked seventh in the state in the final poll, released Monday. Others in the top 10 were: Aaron Bartnik of Eden Prairie, Jakek Sandry of Bloomington Jefferson, Marty Joyce of Woodbury, Jon-Michael Brandt of Winona, Adam Zutz of St. Francis, Trent Lusignan of Shakopee, Lukas Gemar of Moorheard, Oliver Haugland of Wayzata and Cole O’Brien of Burnsville.
Joyce, Brandt and Lusignan have all beaten Blahnik this season.
“Saturday I’ll be trying to stay with the elite pack,” Blahnik said. “I’ll be trying to stay with the Eden Prairie guy and the defending state champ (Gemar) from Moorhead.
“I don’t think there will be as much pressure on me as if the state meet was a few weeks ago back when I was ranked No. 1.”
Nelson said the strategy he’s discussed with Blahnik is simple: “We’ll look to hang around the front of the race from the start and hopefully have enough left at the end to out sprint who’s left.”
Taking it all in
After Blahnik’s run, Winger fans will have another race to watch this year.
“I’m really excited to be the first girl in eight years to go to state,” Anderson said. “I’m just really excited to be there and I’ll be happy however I do.”
Red Wing’s Angie Bergeson finished 68th at state in 2001.
Nelson also is happy that Anderson qualified, but isn’t willing to leave it at that.
“Hopefully she won’t just be satisfied to be there,” Nelson said. “She has nothing to lose — no real expectations. She can go into the race as an unknown and hopefully come out with an all-state finish.”
For that to happen, Anderson will have to finish among the top 25 runners. Besides earning all-state honors, the freshman hopes to set a personal best time.
Anderson’s best finish this year was fourth place in the Missota Conference meet, where she ran her best time of 15 minutes, 8 seconds.
“I’m really excited,” Anderson said. “I love the competition. I love the feeling you get after doing good in a race.”
“Big meets bring out the best in Kelsee,” Nelson said.
And they don’t get any bigger than Saturday’s meet.