Prep Cross Country Review and Preview - 2022 season underway

One common thread for all the Tri-County Area's prep cross country teams is both youth, replacing talented runners who have graduated but also having one or two experienced runners who will make a difference in the team's success this fall.

Eleva-Strum's squad is a good example of this as the Cardinals, which began their season at Thursday's Jesse Brone Invitational at Cochrane-Fountain City, is led by senior Anabell Howie, who was second team All-Dairyland Conference a year ago.

E-S also lost three experienced runners in Garrett Zimpel, Charlie Dyar and Emily Gehrke.

"I am expecting her to make first team all-conference this year with a finish in the top five," E-S head coach Martin Walter said. "Our biggest challenge this year is that we have several new runners who do not have any race experience. In addition to having our experienced runners push themselves to significantly improve their times from last year, it will be a successful season if the new runners show steady improvement and work hard towards being competitive in races throughout the season."

Augusta, the defending Dairyland Conference girls' champions return six letter winners in Ava Peterson, Beth Boone, Roella Weiss, CC Hanson, Kendra Olson and Autumn Randall. But the Beavers' top runner from a year ago, all-conference and state qualifier Bailey Peterson, has graduated and there's plenty of young runners in the line-up this season.

AHS started its season last weekend competing in the Eau Claire North Invitational as the smallest school in the field. The girls placed 12 out of 15 schools competing. Senior Ava Peterson dropped a huge :44 second lifetime personal best as her time was 21:29 officially. She took 30th out of 168 girls. Senior Beth Boone running 24:16 for 89th out of 168 runners followed by Roella Weiss at 25:56 for 118th; Cecelia Hanson at 26:01 for 119th; Jerri Mackey at 26:44 for 128th out of 168; Kendra Olson at 28:32 for 152nd out of 168; Autumn Randall at 29:02 for 156th out of 168 and Abby Boone at 31:07 for 163rd out of 168.

Augusta returns four letter winners on the boys' team: Drew Jacobs, Devin Molinaro, Gavin Wiese, Preston Schafer but also lost their top runner from a year ago in Kyle Shult. Senior Justin Frank is in his first ever year of cross country and he led the team with an amazing time of 18:17 good enough for 29th place out of 181 runners in the North Invite. Not far behind in a :52 second lifetime personal best was Devin Molinaro at 18:22 for 35th Place followed by Drew Jacobs at 22:08 for 113 out of 181, Preston Schafer, a personal best of 22:10 for 115th out of 181, Gavin Wiese, personal best of 24:14 for 157th out of 181 and Garrett Larson in his first ever race at 27:08 for 176th out of 181.

"Our team cohesiveness and support of one another is still a continuous strength of our program," AHS head coach Zach Lee said. "Consistency at practice, nutrition, self motivation, and mindset will continue the success we've had the past few years. Going a little deeper on both teams, we could use some more depth on the boys side, I feel as though one more runner could round us out better for the conference meet. For the girls, Ava showed she is ready to step up big time to try and take over where her sister left off. Bailey set the pace for us for so long we have to get used to running without her and we took that first step in a very competitive meet."

Augusta competed in another big, multi-school meet, the Marshfield Columbus Invitational, this Saturday, Sept. 3.

Fall Creek started its season on Tuesday, Aug. 30 at the Loyal/Greenwood Invitational. The girls placed second and the boys sixth out of 13 teams participating, mostly Cloverbelt squads. Senior Jenna Anders started off the 2022 season with a second finish in 21:03 on the 5000-meter course (Thorp/Gilman's Shaylie Zarza won the girls' race in 20:34). Anders' teammate senior Megan Johnston was seventh in 22:50 followed by junior Eveleyn Bergeron, 15th in 24:53; sophomore Brynn Clemons, 23rd in 25:51; freshman Paige Aldrich, 32nd in 26:36; junior Rebekah Krenz, 52nd in 28:31; sophomore Sophia Schultz, 55th in 28:52; and freshman Ellie Coach, 78th in 33:10. Defending conference champ Colby edged out FC 58 point to 70.

FC returns a solid group of returning letter winners in Anders, Bergeron, Lylian Anderson, Schultz and Cora Peterson but they also lost some in Alison Dubiel and Katie Kent which means younger runners have to work their way to be contributors on the varsity squad. FC has 11 runners on the girls' team and eight runners on the boys. Stewart Gundry and Jamison Carey are returning letter winners while Kael Sanfelippo and Gunnar Johnson graduated from the boys' team.

"We have a young team that has to get used to Varsity cross country," FC head coach Joelle Anders said. "We're lucky in that we have great, experienced leaders in Jenna and Stewart Gundry."

Gundry, a senior, had Fall Creek's top finish in the Loyal/Greenwood meet finishing 17th in 19:35. Other FC runners were senior Tyler Kleinhans, 29th in 20:52; sophomore Joel Stump, 45th in 22:13; freshman Marcus Coleman,. 50th in 22:23; sophomore Jamison Carey, 53rd in 22:39; freshman Marcus Kleinhans, 56th in 22:53; freshman Kaden Prock, 66th in 23:35; and freshman Shane Moore, 86th in 27:37.

"This team has shown hard work, determination, and grit already in practice," Anders said. "They may be young but that does not deter them from wanting to be successful and grow as a team. I think they have a lot of potential to do well in meets. We also have more runners for both teams which will make them more competitive."

Osseo-Fairchild fits the rest of the teams in the Tri-County Area with lots of freshmen and inexperienced runners who will be competing in their varsity line-ups this fall but also has plenty of seniors to lead the way this season. Yet, there's not much in the middle for the Thunder.

"We have a top and bottom heavy team this year - a lot of seniors, and a lot of freshmen, with not many runners in between," ;long-time OFHS head coach Janet Wood said. "Talking with other coaches from the conference, it sounds like a pretty common occurrence. I think it’s probably partly related to COVID-19. A lot of the athletes that were developing missed out on opportunities to compete, and they found other interests to take the place of sport. I am hoping that having a 'regular' season this year will help spark the interest in athletics again."

O-F has three returnees on the girls' squad: Emilee Bauer - Senior; Ada Nelson - Senior and Aubrey Schmidt - Senior but just one additional runner in freshman Alyssa Burmesch. Rylee Bratina, Shelby Johnson, and Aurora Wier graduated from last year's team.

"Unfortunately, this year we do not have a complete girls’ team," Wood said. "Although this is disheartening, we have some larger middle school classes coming up, so I am confident that we can recruit more talent in the next few years."

The Thunder competed in the Loyal/Greenwood meet this past week Tuesday, Aug. 30 and at the Brone Invitational on Thursday, Sept. 1. At the L/G meet, Schmidt was 67th in 30:39; Burmesch was 73rd in 31:58 and Bauer was 84th in 37:39.

The O-F boys will have a full team to compete this season and they finished eighth at the L/G Invite out of 13 schools with 207 points (Bloomer won it with a incredibly low score of 34). Senior Kyle Burmesch returns as the Thunder's top runner along with fellow letter winners Bryce Armstrong-Baglien - Senior, Mason Scheffer - Junior and Lincoln Bertrang - Sophomore. The two fresman on the varsity squad are Orion Prudlick and Jonas Sackmann-Van Hoof.

"(Kyle) was all-conference honorable mention last year, and he has set lofty goals for himself for this season," Wood said. "He has a strong work ethic; barring injury, he should definitely be able to repeat his All-Conference accomplishment. It’s exciting to have a solid boys’ team this year. Last year, we struggled to keep enough healthy boys on the roster to score as a team."

Wood's goal is to have the team's seniors to set a standard of leadership and performance which younger runners can pass down as the middle school program is built up.

"My team leadership is incredibly strong this year," Wood said. "Headed by seniors who care about team culture as well as sportsmanship, we are setting the stage for building a compact team family. They work hard, accept coaching, and want to be good people as well as good athletes. I am proud of their growth and accomplishments, on and off the course. My goal for them is not only to improve each race throughout the season, but also to nurture their love of running, recognizing that it is something they can do their entire lives as well as expand the discipline that it takes to be a long-distance runner to other aspects of their lives. Each team member has set achievable individual goals, as well as team goals that focus around culture, supporting each other, and being mentors to the middle school team. They know that the future of our program depends on nurturing the younger athletes so they will continue to love running."

Osseo-Fairchild will host the WIAA Division 3 sectional meet this season on Oct. 22 and that has brought excitement into the program as well. O-F also has their own invitational race set for Sept. 30.

"We are excited to be hosting a D3 Sectional meet this season, on October 22, at the Osseo Golf Club," Wood said. "It’s not always easy to garner community support for individual team sports, and I believe that hosting a large race will go a long way toward further legitimizing cross country in our community. We have a fast, coach/spectator-friendly course, and our hope is that many community members will come out and support us as we run at home, both at our home invitational on September 30 and at the Sectional race. "

The Fall Creek Invite is scheduled for next Saturday, Sept. 10 and the Eleva-Strum Invitational takes place on Oct. 6. E-S and O-F will compete in the same sectional meet while Augusta and Fall Creek will head north to Cadott's Whispering Pines Golf Course as the line for the northwest and southwest sectionals runs right across I-94. Cloverbelt Conference meet is in Gilman Oct. 15 while the Dairyland's is again at Melrose-Mindoro on Oct. 13.

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