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Cross-Country: Red Wing senior duo keeps getting stronger

Red Wing’s girls’ cross-country team has found a way to get the best from its runners until the very end.

Often times, cross-country runners peak when they’re younger and start to tail off as they near their senior year. But some of Jesse Nelson’s top girls runners have been able to buck that trend.

“With Lindsay Scribner years ago, with Kelsee Anderson years ago, those were girls that were able to run near career bests at the end,” Nelson said. “That’s my goal as a coach, that you can take kids and have them run at their best at the end.”

And for the 2016 iteration of the Wingers, seniors Adelle DeSutter and Elise Leise have been able to continue that ascent as they prepare for their final meet of their high-school career: The Class 2A state championship meet today at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

“It can be challenging for some girls, but it’s very rewarding that Elise and Adelle have been able to run as fast as they have in their senior years.”

DeSutter came back from illness as a sophomore to be a contributor for Red Wing as a junior, running a time of 20 minutes, 49.9 seconds at state a year ago.

With a year to go in her career, DeSutter has felt the urgency since the summer.

“I just focused on how everything is for the last time,” DeSutter said. “I know it sounds corny, but it really motivates you to do the best you can because it’s your last chance as a senior.”

During last week’s Section 1AA championship, DeSutter ran a time of 19:29.6, good for third on the team and 19th overall.

“I’ve just been trying to follow the process and do what coach says. And so far it’s been working,” DeSutter said. “And hopefully I’ll continue that on Saturday.”

For Leise, today is a chance to make up for lost time last year.

In 2015, injuries hampered Leise as she was unable to compete for the Wingers at the highest level. It could be tough to watch, but Leise’s attitude wasn’t dampened.

“It was tough because we had been working since June. It was five months of my life where I got up early every summer morning,” Leise said. “But it was worth it to see my best friends and teammates go (to state). I’m so glad that me getting hurt didn’t hinder that in any way.”

Now, Leise has helped in the Wingers’ depth. At the section meet, Leise ran a 33rd-place time of 20:05.4.

“Just being able to run every race and have it mean something to you was important to me this year,” Leise said.

With the team’s senior seeing improvement from a year ago, it can only help Red Wing’s standing at state after finishing in sixth place a year ago.

“We lose an All-State runner in Kianna (Stewart). How do you come back from that?” Nelson said. “You have runners like Tori (Leitner) and Grace (Dube), Adelle and Elise step up. And the front-runners in Grace (Johnson) and Jasmyn (Armstrong) help, too.”

Boys lean on past experience

Two years ago, Tom Nemanich, Asa Beckner and Weston Wyatt got their team state experience. Tom, then an eighth-grader, and Asa as a freshman were the youngest runners on the varsity team while Wyatt served as alternates for Red Wing.

While it wasn’t the most glamorous state experience, knowing the hoopla that surrounds state has been invaluable to the Winger trio as they help get the younger runners ready.

“It’s going to be a lot more exciting this time, knowing we’ll be competitors and not just a body,” Wyatt said.

Beckner, who ran a time of 17:25.6 at state in 2014, added, “It was pretty crazy. At the time, I was just an alternate so I wasn’t doing a lot there but I enjoyed being there and cheering on the guys. And now I’m back again with the team and happy to be a part of that with the young runners.”

It’s been two years since the Red Wing boys went to state as a team, but even with just one runner, George Nemanich, went last year, an entire team ran with George in the week prior and accompanied him to Northfield.

“We had a whole team-sized group with George getting ready, so they’ve been at the state meet before,” Nelson said. “Some of these kids have run on that course six or seven times. We’re familiar with the course, they’ve been exposed to the atmosphere of the day so now we’re aware of those things.”

In his experience at the state meet, Tom’s biggest key is to pull from all the big races throughout the year.

“They’ve got a lot of running experience,” said Tom, who ran the course in 17:53.7 in 2014. “At state, you just have to keep your head clear, stay calm and run your own race.”

Nelson added, “They’ve been so steady with their race performance all year long. They have a game plan they go in with: A smart start where they build throughout the first mile and get where they need to be. And the other guys key off that. When Tom and Asa and Bryan (Zucker) do their job in the front, everybody else keys off of them. And I expect the same on Saturday. Hopefully we have a 30-to-40 second gap between our first and seventh guy.”

The boys’ race will take place at 1 p.m., followed by the girls at 2 p.m.

Earlier in the day, the Class 1A championship will take place, starting with the boys at 10 a.m. and girls at 11 a.m. Lake City will have both of its cross-country teams competing in the field. Individually, Cannon Falls’ Sophie Epps will be competing in the girls’ race while Pine Island’s Jack Williams will compete in the boys’ competition.