Both Benilde-St. Margaret’s and St. Louis Park Cross Country programs have hit the trails hard to start the fall season with a bang.
The Red Knights hosted the Ron Kretsch Invite at Basset Creek Park on Saturday with Park among the field.
Ahead of the home meet, Benilde competed at the Maple Lake Invite at Ney Park West on Sept. 1. The boys captured the team title scoring 56 points with all seven finishers among the top 21 times out of 61 runners on 10 teams.
Sophomore Frankie Lynch held the top time of 17:16.5, ahead of junior Aidan Luebke who was seventh in 17:19.8. Freshman Sam Ryan led the next group with a 12th place finish in 17:45.4, Greg Ramel was 14th, Sean Biwer was 17th, Lorenzo Cerda was 20th and Mark Ramel was 21st.
Coach Mark Snell was most surprised by Ryan’s finish as the third Red Knights runners. “The training that the runners did this summer was a great indication on how we did at Maple Lake,” Snell said as nine teammates took a 12 day trip to Montana where they developed strong team chemistry. “We also have over 70 runners out for cross country, this is by far our biggest team ever.”
The Maple Lake course was fast and running through the woods was a highlight of the race
The Benilde girls were fifth out of 11 teams, 32 points behind fourth-place Buffalo. Senior Tracy Renier posted a runner-up time of 19:11.6, trailing only Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted sophomore standout Gracie Mallak’s winning time of 18:50.9.
Coach Casey Hanson said Renier’s success is a direct result of her training leading up to the season. “She’s really put in the work this summer in order to compete at a high level,” Hanson said after Renier discovered an iron deficiency midway through last fall. “That really put her back and her goal was to make it out of the section, she just missed.”
Struggles continued in the track season as she dealt with an IT band injury forcing her to focus on physical therapy and increasing her strength for the cross country season.
She also won the Holy Angels Invite, a three kilometer race at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis.
At Maple Plain, Renier ran strong and smart.
“She knows she needs to set herself up to place high or even win a race and she has worked hard on getting into a good spot during the first half of a race. She stayed strong and comfortable and raced just relaxed,” Hanson said. “The second part of the race she knows she has to put in the work and just has to say focused and positive. That is one of the biggest differences this season with (Renier), she has become mentally strong.”
Benilde sophomore Abigail Swanson was 17th in 21:52.5 and senior Nicole Dorn was 18th in 21:54.6.
The Red Knights didn’t have the full varsity lineup and with a lot of new team members and Hanson explained that the coaching staff has been impressed by the leadership from all 10 seniors helping an entire new group of junior high and freshmen runners on the girls side. “It has been fun to see the experienced runners spread their love of the team/sport to the new members.”
Park had several strong individual performances at the Blaine Bengals Invite on Sept. 6. Junior Abati Dedefo led the boys team with a third place finish in the 5,000 meter varsity race in 16:47.40 at Majestic Oaks Golf Course in Ham Lake.
First-year Orioles head cross country coach Chris Nordstrom was impressed with Dedefo who broke the 17 minute mark in his first-ever 5k race and is also a varsity member of the Orioles soccer team.
“He ran really smart,” Nordstrom said. “He went out with the leaders and hung on as long as he could against two of the better runners in the state.”
Teammates Nebyu Bekele and Henry Nelson earned top-20 finishes with Bekele, who was also running his first 5k race was 10th in 17:52.10 and Nelson was 17th in 18:15.90. Rodolfo Zarate was 22nd in 18:54.50 and Emmett Foner was 28th in 19:19.40.
“Neb has come a long way in a very short time and I look for him to continue to improve over the course of the year,” Nordstrom said. “As far as the guys teams it was a good start and our goal is to continue to close the gaps we have as we look ahead towards the conference meet in mid-October.”
Andover senior Tom Breuckman won the race in 16:21.50 with Blaine senior Ben Olson second in 16:27.40.
Forest Lake swept the team titles as the boys scored 38 points, ahead of Blaine’s 53 points and Park shared third place with Andover at 75 points. In the girls race, the Rangers edged Andover by 17 points and Park was edged by three points by third-place Anoka.
Park’s girls team was led by Josie Mosby with a fifth place finish in 20:51.20 and Kaia Myers 15th overall in 21:29.
Mosby and Myers will lead a strong young Orioles squad and both ran smart races at Majestic Oaks. “Josie started the race off in somewhere between 15-20th place and moved forward throughout the entire race. She was close to a PR on her first race of the season which bodes well going forward,” Nordstrom said.
As for Myers, Nordstorm sees her dropping time throughout the season. He said: “Our goals were to go out and compete and have fun.
“The first race is always important to get through so that the runners can remember what it feels like to race again.”
Erin Brousseau led a six-Orioles group that finished within 11 seconds of each other. Brousseau finished in 23:18.20 followed by Carissa Prestholdt 23rd place in 23:29.70, Kathryn Fredrickson 26th in 23:46.20, Megan Perkins 27th in 23:52.90, Isabel Kjaer 32nd in 24:28.50 and Katherine Brinkman 33rd in 24:29.10.
Nordstrom said the turnout to summer workouts and captains practice was very strong. “We have a very young team so to have the younger kids eager and running in the summer is very exciting for our future,” he said.
Follow Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason.