Cross-Country: Winger packs perform strong at Hastings
HASTINGS – The legs put everything in motion, but the eyes may be the most important thing on the course for the Red Wing girls' cross-country team.
Taking first place at the Dewey Minnaert Invite with a score of 36 and holding off East Ridge (43) and Northfield (89), the Wingers got a 1-2 finish from Grace Johnson (19 minutes, 47.1 seconds) and Jasmyn Armstrong (20:05.8).
But it was the rest of the team's ability to see their top two runners, and the rest of the purple-and-white jerseys, that vaulted the Wingers to the top.
“The thing is our girls key off each other so much and if they can't see each other, that's tough,” said Red Wing head coach Jesse Nelson. “Today was a more realistic-type of race situation like a conference or section race where they can see each other. That was probably the key today, just having a smaller race.”
From the start, Johnson and Armstrong pulled away from the pack and never really gave up any room around St. Croix Regional Park. The third-place runner, East Ridge's Abby Witte, was 21 seconds behind Armstrong.
“From the starting line, we started out a little faster,” Johnson said. “The further we got, the further we broke away.”
It was Red Wing's next four runners that offered the most promise for the team. Tori Leitner took 10th place in 21:16.9, followed immediately by Elle Bryant in 11th at 21:19.2 and Adelle DeSutter in 12th at 21:19.6. Grace Dube came across the line in 14th in 21:27.8, and Elise Leise finished 34th in 22:47.6.
“To see Grace and Jasmyn up there was encouraging, and then I think our next three packed things up well and that's going to be the key to our success,” Nelson said. “If we can keep our third, fourth and fifth runners together and limit that gap between them and either Jasmyn or Grace, we're going to be pretty successful this year.”
Three races into the year, the Wingers have a pair of wins in Hastings and Wabasha-Kellogg.
“I feel like we can keep progressing and getting better,” Johnson said, “but I'm still happy with where we are now. I'm just so proud of everyone.”
The Winger boys' pack stayed tight as well in a second-place showing as Red Wing finished with 73 points, holding off St. Paul Central (96) for the runner-up spot. Eagan won the boys' team title with 57.
Asa Beckner had the Wingers' top time, finishing eighth in 16:58.3. From there, Red Wing's next five runners – Tom Nemanich (11th, 17:13.9), Weston Wyatt (15th, 17:22.5), Tucker Wallin (17th, 17:27.2), Skyler Bennyhoff (22nd, 17:36.6) and Bryan Zucker (23rd, 17:38.9) – finished within 40 seconds of Beckner. Jonah Leise rounded out the Wingers' day with a 56th-place time of 18:40.7.
“We're looking good as a team,” Beckner said. “We're young but we're strong. … I think we're going to do well as a team. We just have to keep everyone close and I think that's what our success is going to depend on keeping our pack close to each other.”
And, it helps matters for Red Wing when its runners are healthy.
“Having Tom and Bryan back was big,” Nelson said. “It's a step forward from last week at St. Olaf, but there's a lot more in there.
“Both teams got off to a good start today. You could tell both packers were right where they wanted.”
Taking the top spot in the boys' race was Eagan's Trenton Allen at 16:30.7, beating St. Paul Central's Amanuel Roba's 16:40.3.
The Red Wing runners will hit the course again on Sept. 15 at Eastwood Golf Course in the Rochester Mayo invitational.
“We're happy with where we're at right now and we'll keep things moving forward,” Nelson said. “We look forward to going to Mayo to run against some of the other conference and some section schools. Then we take a week off and train and will already be at the Red Wing invitational (on Sept. 30).”