Cross-Country: Winger boys ride high at home; girls finish second
By Joe Brown
Something about staying home seems to work wonders for the runners on the Red Wing boys’ cross-country team.
Coming into Friday’s Winger Invitational at Red Wing High School, the boys had won the team title for three straight years.
And after three of the Wingers’ runners finished in the top 10, Red Wing won its home meet for the fourth consecutive time with a team score of 45 points, holding off Woodbury (66), Northfield (91), Winona (95) and Hastings (142).
“The boys really enjoy running at home and get fired up before with the mohawks and stuff,” said Wingers’ head coach Jesse Nelson. “And we’re coming off of a couple of weeks of really good training, so I’m not surprised the boys ran really well.”
Leading the Red Wing pack was Tom Nemanich, who placed third with a time of 16 minutes, 47.1 seconds.
“I was hoping I’d get (Winona’s Carter Briggs) at the end there,” Nemanich said. “But the team did well. That’s all that matters.”
He was followed closely by Asa Beckner in fifth (16:55.2) and Bryan Zucker in ninth (17:12.0). Tucker Wallin (13th, 17:25.8) and Weston Wyatt (15th, 17:31.5) rounded out the team score while Jonah Leise (17th, 17:33.15) and Skyler Bennyhoff (18th, 17:37.4) also competed for the Wingers.
“Our pack of seven was really, really tight again,” Nelson said. “The nice thing was it wasn’t a perfect race and there’s some things that they can do better and we’ll talk about it.”
While the team score was good enough to win on Friday, there was plenty that stood out for Nelson and the rest of the Wingers to work on as they make the final push of the regular season before the Big Nine Conference meet, the Section 1AA championship and, hopefully, the state meet.
“I think we’re a lot better this year,” Nemanich said. “We can definitely win the conference if we have good races, and I’d say we can even win sections.”
Woodbury’s Joseph Romain was the individual champion with a time of 16:25.7, beating out Winona’s Carter Briggs’ second-place time of 16:45.3.
Red Wing’s top-end talent couldn’t be matched on Friday, with Grace Johnson, Jasmyn Armstrong and Tori Leitner all finishing in the top four. Another thing that couldn’t be matched, and what ultimately sealed the girls’ team title, was Roseville’s depth.
With all five of its top runners finishing in the top 10, Roseville eked by the Wingers for the top team spot with 33 points, compared to Red Wing’s 40. Northfield (109), Woodbury (131) and Winona (145) completed the top five.
“Roseville ran great, so we got beat by a pretty good team. A very deep team,” Nelson said. “Grace and Jasmyn ran awesome, and Tori Leitner coming on, that’s what is going to help this team later. She fought through and beat Roseville’s number two girl at the end.”
Johnson ran away with the individual championship with a first-place time of 19:22.9, which was 27 seconds better than second-place Naomi Boehm of Roseville (19:49.8).
“It’s always great to see hard work pay off,” Johnson said. “I think that’s my fastest time.”
Armstrong took third at 19:59.0.
“Time-wise, that was probably my best race this year,” Armstrong said. “But there’s other races I’m more happy with how I felt after. I think it was a good day. Home meet always goes well.”
In a dead heat with Roseville’s Samantha Kurkowski in the last 20 yards, Leitner sprinted to the finish line at 20:09.7, just edging Kurkowski at 20:10.1.
Adelle DeSutter was (12th, 20:49.5) and Grace Dube (22nd, 21:24.4) contributed to the team score while Elle Bryant (29th, 22:00.6) and Ariana Mollgaard (31st, 22:08.3) rounded out the Wingers’ performance.
“The girls are stacking up well in the conference again but the section’s going to be a whole different story,” Nelson said. “With the Lakevilles and Farmington, we’re going to have some work to do to get better than as we did as a team.”
Behind Boehm and Kurkowski, Roseville had Carly Dahms (seventh, 20:34.5), Bergen Haag (ninth, 20:40.7) and Petra Bibeau (10th, 20:40.7) all finish in the top 10.
In looking to return to state for a second straight year, the hope is the loss to Roseville can act as some motivation for the tail end of the year.
“Everyone’s been working so hard,” Johnson said. “The entire team is so great and they’re working so hard. They’re amazing, all of them.