State Cross-Country: Throwback Wingers finish seventh
NORTHFIELD — Look good, run good.
That was the idea when the Red Wing boys' cross-country team rummaged through storage and found some old-school tops.
"They've been there forever," junior Tucker Wallin said, looking down at the old shirt. "I always liked wearing them. I used it once and hung onto it."
There was some apprehension at first, but for state, the Wingers went with the throwback white-and-purple mesh jerseys.
"We've been wanting to do those for a while now and (head coach Jesse) Nelson was always kind of unsure about it," junior Tom Nemanich said. "He finally let us do it."
While looking like a blast from the past, the Red Wing boys put forth one of the best showings in school history in the Class AA state championship meet Saturday at St. Olaf College.
With 270 team points, the Winger boys placed seventh, which is the highest showing for Red Wing since finishing third in 1987.
"No question this was a better performance than last year," Nelson said. "It was a significant improvement over last year."
After a less-than-satisfactory, 11th-place showing last year, the team left the course in higher spirits.
"Last year we weren't even close to where we wanted to be. We were thinking about that going into this run," Wallin said.
Nemanich added, "This year, we fell much improved."
Wallin continued his late-season success, finishing as the top Winger with a 38th-place time of 16 minutes, 17.8 seconds.
"Getting toward the end of the season wakes you up a little bit," Wallin said. "At the two-mile mark, they had a clock set up and I saw the time. I almost beat my two-mile PR (personal record) from track last year. After I saw that, I thought, all right, I can have a great race here if I finish the last mile. So I just went at it."
Over the final three meets — the Big Nine Conference championship, the Section 1AA championship and the state championship — Wallin exceeded expectations.
"What can you say about Tucker? Third in the section and then our top guy at state," Nelson said. "Traditionally, he's been a little more inconsistent and I'm very happy with how his consistency has improved at the end of the year."
Behind Wallin was Tom Nemanich, who placed 65th (16:31.4).
"Normally I like these conditions," Nemanich said of the mid-40-degree weather and soft course. "Today the legs weren't feeling it too much and there's just some days like that. But that doesn't matter since the team placed well."
Closing out the team score for the Winger boys were Bryan Zucker (84th, 16:45.0), Weston Wyatt (90th, 16:47.7) and Asa Beckner (113th, 15:57.2). Also in the race were Jonah Leise (137th, 17:16.6) and Skyler Bennyhoff (144th, 17:22.9).
"It makes us excited for next year," said Nelson, who will have six of his seven runners back next fall. "We're going to enjoy this but now with all these guys back except for Asa, we need to set our goals high and use this as a springboard to help us prepare for next season."
Wayzata was the team champion with 37 points, followed by Stillwater (79), Edina (107), White Bear Lake (136) and Mounds View (193).
The Class AA individual champion was Wayzata's Khalid Hussein with a time of 15:22.6, beating Roseville Area's Acer Iverson's 15:31.1.
The lone runner for Red Wing in a crowded field, Ariana Mollgaard was able to drop time from her previous state experience.
On Saturday, Mollgaard crosses the finish line in 139th place with a time of 20:27.2
That was a 14-place jump up for the Red Wing junior, who also dropped 54 seconds from her time last season.
"Ari had fun today, and that's what you want kids to do," Nelson said. "Work hard and have fun and have an enjoyable experience. There's a lot of kids who wish their season could end at the state meet. But I'm very pleased she got to finish her season at the state meet and had a good time doing it.
In the AA girls' race, Minneapolis Washburn's Emily Covert beat last year's state champion, Farmington's Anna Fenske, to win the state title with a time of 17:30.1. Fenske was second at 17:34.8.
Wayzata also left with the girls' team championship with 51 points, beating Edina (72), St. Michael-Albertville (102), Willmar (144) and Forest Lake (150).