Cross-Country: Winger boys first, girls second at home meet

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The goal for Red Wing cross-country is the state meet in the beginning of November. And with the section meet less than a month away, the Wingers are getting to a crucial part of their season. And what better place to start the end-of-season grind than Friday's home meet, in front of friends and family on a course that lends itself to speed.

"This course does lend itself to fast times. It's a pretty hard pack(ed ground), there's a lot of straightaways, and there's not a lot of curves, and there's a lot of fan support which gets kids to run a little faster," said Red Wing head coach Jesse Nelson. "For a variety of reasons, our course is one of the faster ones we run on, and I was happy with the efforts today."

The girls began the varsity portion with a second-place finish to Roseville, the 12th-ranked team in Class 2A.

"Roseville is a really good team. We took a lot of steps forward today. Tori (Leitner) had another solid race this week, and Grace Dube continues to look strong, as does Sammi Chandler. Some of our younger kids, like Sydnee Nelson, had one of her best races, and Jasmyn (Armstrong) keeps getting stronger and looks better every race," Nelson said.

Roseville finished with three runners in the top 10 on its way to a total of 40 points, with the Wingers coming in with 81, a good distance ahead of third-place East Ridge.

Leitner placed seventh overall for the Wingers, coming in with a time of 19 minutes, 52.02 seconds. Dube claimed 10th with a 20:05.69, followed by Grace Johnson (17th, 20:39.63), Chandler (18th, 20:40.63) and Armstrong (29th, 21:22.61). Nelson (50th, 22:23.60) and Serenna Snider (52nd, 22:25.28) rounded out the varsity roster for Red Wing on Friday.

The Wingers are improving, and there is still time to make further strides. And that's without one of their top runners still on the sidelines.

"We're making the progress we want, and we're still without Ariana (Mollgaard)," Nelson said. "When we her back, I really like where this group will be."

The boys did what Nelson had been hoping for all season. And when the finish line came into view, there was no doubt which team was going to win. Red Wing placed all five scorers in the top eight, had another finish ninth, and the last 22nd.

"We haven't really put it all together where all six or seven guys run a good race in one day. Today we did," Nelson said. "I really like where our top six guys were. I don't know what the gap was between six and Tom (Nemanich), maybe 30-35 seconds, was great. If that continues, because we know Tom is going to be in the front in every race, if we're 30 seconds off of him, I like our chances in most races."

Nemanich won with ease, covering the 5K in 16:18.39, almost eight seconds clear of second place. Tucker Wallin came in third overall with a 16:38.63, trailed by Weston Wyatt (sixth, 16:49.15), Bryan Zucker (seventh, 16:51.22) and Asa Beckner (eighth, 16:52.38). Jonah Leise (ninth, 16:53.76) and Skyler Bennyhoff (16th, 17:12.99) did not score, but were the tail end of a dominant team effort.

The schedule lightens up considerably from here on out for the Wingers, but that's by design. After a trip north next weekend, and a visit to Mantorville early the week after, the rest of the races will only increase in importance.

"True (it's light), but we have our most competitive meet of the year at Alexandria next week where we'll see Stillwater and White Bear Lake and Mounds View. So that will be a real test, it always is. We look forward to that," Nelson said.

But the details never escape Nelson, so having a week-and-a-half to prepare for the biggest meets of the year is by design.

"We like to take 10 days to get ready for conference, and 10 days (after that) to get ready for sections. And then, hopefully, 10 more days to get ready for state," Nelson said. "We like to have that time to rest and sharpen some things up as we approach our championship meets."

Tuesday

Wingers sweep New Prague invite

With Tom Nemanich placing first in 16 minutes, 17.8 seconds, the Red Wing boys' cross-country team rolled through the competition at the New Prague invitational on Tuesday afternoon.

The Winger boys were the top team with 23 points, followed by New Prague with 52 and Tri-City United with 110.

Behind Nemanich, Jonah Leise was third at 17:02.8, while Asa Beckner (fifth, 17:04.4), Bryan Zucker (sixth, 17:08.5) and Tucker Wallin (eighth, 17:16.8) all finished in the top 10. Although they didn't count toward the team score, Skyler Bennyhoff (17:38.8) and Weston Wyatt (17:41.4) were strong, placing 11th and 12th.

Cannon Falls also competed in New Prague, placing seventh with 178 points. James Watson was the Bombers' top runner (14th, 18:08.1), followed by Vinnie Davisson (39th, 20:36.4), Jacob Wulf (40th, 21:07.4), Tanner Schuttloffel (42nd, 21:43.7) and Gabe Hepola (43rd, 21:44.3).

The Red Wing girls were equally successful on Thursday, with a 1-2-3 finish helping the Wingers to 29 team points, beating New Prague's 39 and Le Sueur-Henderson's 74.

Tori Leitner was the top runner on Tuesday as the freshman crossed the finish line in 20:03.2. Grace Dube was second at 20:26.9 and Grace Johnson placed third at 20:28.5. Jasmyn Armstrong was 11th (21:09.0) and Sammi Chandler 12th (21:10.8). Carolyn Hanson (15th, 22:26.4) and Serenna Snider (23:58.8) rounded out Red Wing's squad.

Cannon Falls had two runners in the girls' race, with Casey Vagts placing 14th at 21:46.4 and Kristina Allen 22nd at 22:54.4.