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Cross-Country: Boys team place fifth in Class AA Meet

The Red Wing boys cross-country team begins the 5,000 meter Class AA State Meet on Saturday. Martin Schlegel / RiverTowns Multimedia1 / 2
Red Wing's Grace Johnson runs the final length of the of the Class AA State Meet on Saturday. Martin Schlegel / RiverTowns Multimedia2 / 2

State Class 2A Boys

Coming off its Section championship, the Red Wing boys cross-country team finished the season strong in the Class 2A State Meet on Saturday.

Red Wing came in behind fifth place Edina, Mounds View, Wayzata and Stillwater Area.

Weston Wyatt, who won the section race, finished in 21st place and first among the team with a 16:01.5 run. Wyatt earned All-State honors for his 21st place finish.

Tom Nemanich came in 38th place (16:17.6), Bryan Zucker came in 46th (16:21.1), Jonah Leise came in 51st place (16:22.5) and Tucker Wallin finished in 60th place (16:25.3) to round out the group of runners who finished the 5,000 meter race under 16 minutes, 30 seconds.

Skyler Bennyhoff (17:13.4) finished in 139th place and Caleb Korder (18:03.0) rounded out the team with a 170th place finish.

Red Wing head coach Jesse Nelson was pleased with the team's effort.

"I'm pretty proud of our effort and what we accomplished this year and the way we can compete against anybody in the state, even in the region," Nelson said. "It's a good feeling to be able to compete with anybody in the state."

Nelson also remarked his satisfaction with the team. He said the team should feel good about the results even if it wasn't what they wanted.

"It's about the process about getting here," Nelson said. "I think if you would have told me at the beginning of the year our top-5 guys will run under 16:25 at the State Meet, I think I would have very happy with that. But I also think that that usually would put you a little higher than fifth place. Getting into the the top-3 was our team goal, but I thought the kids went out and put themselves in a great position at the mile mark to try to accomplish that goal."

On top of the solid performances, the Wingers boys and girls teams also have academic honors. Gracie Johnson, Wyatt, Nemanich, Leise, and Zucker each earned Academic All-State honors.

"We have kids who are going to Ivy-League type schools and that's probably more impressive than how they run on one day in November," Nelson said.

State Class 2A Girls

Grace Johnson capped off a season in which she rebounded from multiple setbacks to earn All-State honors.

Johnson came in 17th place, running the 5,000 meter race in 18 minutes, 29 seconds.

To even have the opportunity to race in the state meet was in question because of prior health concerns. Johnson never quit and battled through it all thanks to her perseverance.

"It was a really big relief and I was happy with my times," Johnson said. "I had some races that were a little more discouraging earlier in the year but I'm very glad I was able to get past those."

Much like the section meet, Johnson hung around the top-10 group of runners for most of the race. Johnson knew coming in, she was ready to run a good race.

"I felt really good when I woke up this morning and the adrenaline was pumping," Johnson said. "My heart felt like it had pop rocks in it because it was so bubbly."

Smiling ear-to-ear after the race was over, Johnson expressed her joy in not only running well but overcoming her health issues, which included anemia, to get to the state meet. Nelson said Johnson could have quit but is extremely proud she didn't. Nelson noted the constant improvements Johnson made once she was able to return.

"This is a girl who wasn't even All-Conference because she wasn't healthy that day," Nelson said. "but she ran 10th in the Section Meet and she was in the top-10 with about a mile to go."

The final run of the year was icing on the cake for her comeback.

"That is the exclamation point for her to be an All-State runner to go out and run the way she did and to feel as healthy and see her as happy should be what it's all about," Nelson said.

Johnson said she wasn't going to let her health end her running career and was determined to get back on the course. The final race for her was validation that all the work put in to not only returning to cross-country but to become a better runner as well was worth it.

Johnson was thankful for her support system through it all.

"I definitely had moments where it was hard and discouraging and felt like nothing was paying off," Johnson said. "I have all these people in my life; they made it so much better and they helped me through it. They have made running and mile repeats, seemingly hard things, some of my favorite memories. I love that they came out here to support us."

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