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Cross-Country: Winger runners looking for a repeat

All seven of the runners from the Red Wing boys' cross-country team return as the team looks to improve its 11th-place finish at the state meet in 2016. File photo1 / 2
Red Wing sophomore Grace Johnson will lead the Winger girls' cross-country team after placing 31st at last year's state meet. File photo2 / 2

Last fall saw a second in school history when both the Red Wing boys' and girls' cross-country teams reached the state meet.

Now, how do the Wingers plan on performing an encore?

"Hopefully we'll continue right where we left off," head cross-country coach Jesse Nelson said after a laugh.

On the boys' side, that means building on the returning core.

All seven state runners — Tom Nemanich (65th), Bryan Zucker (82nd), Asa Beckner (100th), Jonah Leise (102nd), Weston Wyatt (120th), Skyler Bennyhoff (127th) and Tucker Wallin (139th) — return, with Beckner being the only senior on the squad. And all summer, the Winger boys have had their mind set on improving last year's 11th-place finish at the state meet.

"They had a great summer and I know improving their finish in the state meet is the big goal," Nelson said. "The boys put in the work this summer so we think that's a reasonable goal."

Last year's boys team thrived thanks to a close pack. That pack mentality has maintained over the summer, and has gotten faster.

"We do track some of our times and for a few of the workouts, we know how fast they ran. We were a minute or so ahead on a couple of our workouts," Nelson said. "We know we're in a position where we're at or better than where we were at last year. There's always somebody in the group that's pushing the group, or if someone's not feeling good, we have someone who can pick them up."

Nelson continued, "There's still not much separations, so hopefully that pack will be just as tight or tighter than last year. All of our guys are getting significantly faster as well. They finished well at the state meet last year. Now it's trying to get guys to all-state, that top-25 number, at the state meet."

For the girls' team, there will be some turnover with the graduation of Elise Leise and Adelle DeSutter, who finished 114th and 119th at the state meet, respectively. State runners out of the top five, like Ari Mollgaard and Grace Dube, look to fill those spots along with potential varsity newcomers like Carolyn Hanson, Reyana Leise and Sarenna Snider figure to be in the hunt.

"Ali is as fast as she's ever been, she's pushing Grace (Johnson). And Grace Dube is running well," Nelson said. "Some of the younger kids like Carolyn, Rey and Serenna have stepped up and are training like varsity kids that can hopefully fill that varsity role."

The top of the girls' pack is set, with Johnson at the top of the pack along with Jasmyn Armstrong, who is back running after missing the track season due to tendonitis in her foot. Tori Leitner will also be in the varsity mix after the Winger girls placed 10th at state last November.

"They're training hard and they're running with confidence," Nelson said. "Gracie (Johnson) likes it because she has someone to run with and someone to pass her. Four or five girls are thriving working with each other."

The boys appear to be a favorite in the section while the girls have some tough competition for one of the two section's state spots.

"The boys were not satisfied with their state meet, so that's fueled them all summer. And the girls have had success getting to state," Nelson said. "(The girls) know their work is cut out for them. Farmington has improved, Lakeville North and Lakeville South are improving. Right now, there's four teams vying for those two spots.

"I'm excited to see what both teams can do."