NORTHFIELD – The last 800 meters had been problematic for Carl Kozlowski as of late.
“I've been getting beat in the final 800 the last couple weeks,” the Lake City senior runner said. “It takes absolutely everything you got. It's a 16-minute race and you got your heart rate up at 200 for 14 of it, so you hit that last 800 and you got five minutes left, you just have to put your nose down and go.”
But, the last half-mile was not about to dictate how his final high-school cross-country career would end. So down the final hill and in the straightaway to the finish line of the Class 1A state cross-country championship, Kozlowski charged hard, hoping to sneak into the top spot.
With three runners finishing within a half-second of each other, Kozlowski finished in third place with a time of 15 minutes, 57.6 seconds. Mounds Park Academy's Declan Dahlberg was the state champion at 15;57.1, followed by La Crescent's Matt Steiger in 15:57.3 and Kozlowski.
On Saturday, the final 800 was not about to sink Kozlowski in his final high school race.
“This last 800, I was sitting back and on that downhill, I saw (Howie Cook, Lake City's head coach) at the 800 mark and he said you got to push,” said Kozlowski, who finished third for the second straight year and earned All-State honors for the third time. “That's kind of where it starts. Once you hit that last hill, everybody's going as hard as they can. You just have to put a little more down.”
“You got the two guys who beat him last year behind him (La Crescent's Zack Emery and Mora's Michael Schwinghamer). I was excited. I wish I could be at two places at once,” said Cook, frustrated he couldn't outrun the pack and catch the end of the boys' race.
And for the second straight year, Kozlowski wasn't the only All-State runner for the Tigers, who finished in ninth place as a team with 209 points. Mitch Mund came in at 14th place with a time of 16:23.4.
“At the beginning, I had a lot of adrenaline going and I got out really fast,” said Mund, an All-State runner for the second year in a row. “I just wanted to keep going with it, racing hard and see what happens.”
After the top two, scoring for Lake City was Hunter Grimm (105th, 17:45.7), Cole Willers (106th, 17:47.0) and Reese Anderson (157th, 18:32.0). Ben Johnson (18:41.3) and Zach Scharpen (18:45.0) also ran for the Tiger boys.
“We are very, very, very, very pleased with those front boys. We talked about how they were the ones that had to do something,” Cook said, “and all of them ran great races today.”
For the second straight year, Mora came away with the team championship with 93 points, followed by Perham with 99 and La Crescent, the Section 1A champion, with 123.
Jack Williams, of Pine Island, placed 99th at 17:41.2.
In a squad with one junior in Liv Kozlowski, followed by a slew of ninth- and seventh-graders, the Lake City girls was a stunner. So with nothing to lose, the Tigers took to the St. Olaf College field hard and gained some valuable experience along the way.
Led by Kozlowski's 45th-place time of 20:14.4, the Tiger girls finished 12th with 273 points.
“The biggest difference for us is the majority of our team is ninth-graders and it was their first time at state,” Kozlowski said. “It became less about losing the seniors because none of us were seniors to enjoying the moment and getting back here next year.”
For the team title, Fairmont scored 84 points, holding off Perham's 86 points for first place. Annandale finished third with 127 points.
In her fourth trip to state, Kozlowski knew all the shortcomings that come with being a younger runner. The deer-in-the-headlight look, the panic, the confusion. And in the buildup to state, when she saw some of her younger teammates traveling that road, Kozlowski made sure to slow things down.
“When the younger girls got nervous, I could pat them on the back and talk them through it, which helped,” Kozlowski said. “We all got closer. I could totally relate. I'm really glad, though, they all had fun.”
Behind Kozlowski, McKenna Beltz placed 71st (20:31.2), Johannah Clementon 85th (20:39.4), Julia Koplin 84th (21:42.9) and Brenna Nelson 88th (21:49.2). Also running for the Tigers were Hailey Reckmann (158th, 22:16.6) and Phebe Nelson (163rd, 22:49.9).
“Top three ran really, really well. There's just that many kids,” Cook said. “That was a PR for Liv. That was probably Johannah's PR, too.
“Our goal this year was to be a total program (for boys and girls) and I think we're there again from our junior high all the way to our varsity.”
Cannon Falls' Sophie Epps also ran the course on Saturday, placing 70th in 20:29.7.
Math and Science Academy (of Woodbury) eighth-grader Tierney Wolfgram was the state champion with a first-place time of 18:23.6. Martin County West/Martin Luther's Marissa Whitehead was runner-up in 19:08.6.