by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River boys cross country had not accomplished much since the program’s last state trip in 2003. Often, the boys have wound up cheering for their more successful girls teams at state meets.
A week from Saturday, though, the Elk boys and girls teams will both be headed to Northfield, and this time both of them will be running.
Led by Lucas Trapp in fourth place and Ryan Trapp in ninth place, the Elks were Section 7AA champions by a two-point margin over Chisago Lakes, among 16 teams, at Princeton Golf Club. Six of seven Elks had personal records (PR’s).
“We were hoping for top two, and it would have been amazing to get get second, and go to state,” said Ryan Trapp, a senior and team leader. “And then we wind up winning, out of nowhere.”
The Elk girls, with four state trips and one state title since the last time the boys went, qualified again by placing second. (See separate story.)
“We have never taken two teams to state before, so this is really special,” said Mike Niziolek, longtime coach of both teams.
The Elk boys have run near the bottom of conference in recent years, and placed sixth at the 11-team NWSC two weeks ago.
But things were looking up this year. At the U of M’s huge Roy Griak race Sept. 30, the boys placed second among 49 teams in the maroon (second-tier) division, earning the program’s first trophy since the 2003 team won section and placed sixth at state. And the Elks did run pretty well at the conference meet, which always has a much stronger field than their section.
“The boys really showed that a little discipline, and a great deal of focus, and belief that they can do it, can go a long ways,” said Niziolek.
When Niziolek “crunched the numbers,” meaning the times the top teams have been posting, the Elks appeared to be the third or fourth best team.
“But,” the coach added, “we always run well late. We always cut a little time between conference and section.”
The Elks cut even more than usual this year. After placing fifth, third and fifth at section the last three years, they stole away with the championship this time.
The Elks also had junior Breck Hickman in 15th place, senior Nate Webster in 27th, and sophomore Alex Holm in 39th, for the five counting scores. Meanwhile, sophomore Sam Gearou was 74th and junior Joe Martin 75th among 112 runners.
They won 94 to 96 over Chisago Lakes, which placed 6-19-210-24-26, led by junior Andrew Magnuson in sixth place. Both teams advance. Forest Lake was third with 107.
“Everybody had a PR except Nate and he only missed by one second,” said Ryan Trapp. “Sam (Gearou) sprained his ankle (during the race) but Alex Hoff really stepped up, and had a PR by 20 seconds. Alex and Sam have been going back and forth as our five and six runners, so that was really important. We only won by two points.”
The Elks learned they were section champions, and state-bound, when they returned to their tent after a half-hour cool-down jog.
“People ran up to us and hugged us and told us,” said Lucas Trapp, meaning parents, siblings and schoolmates. “It was super cool.”
To get in the best frame of mind, and stomach, for the sectionals, the Elks gathered at the Trapp’s house for a “Prefontaine night,” on Wednesday evening.
“We watched movies about cool runners, and had spaghetti and meatballs,” said Lucas, referring to legendary runner Steve Prefontaine.
Lucas, a state qualifier last year as an eighth-grader when he placed 10th in the section at Cloquet, ran a PR of 16:28.4 for fourth place. The champion, senior Jacob Jankowski of Forest Lake, set a section record of 15:56.3 with Andover senior Steven Colter just .2 behind him. Andover junior Chris Meadows was third in 16:29.
“I think fourth is the best I could have done, because the people in front of me were really fast,” said Trapp, who beat his previous best by 20 seconds. “Next year I will move up.”
Such was the Elks improvement since conference that they were six places ahead of Andover after finishing one place behind them at the NWSC meet.
“Definitely our finest performance of the season,” understated Niziolek.
He could have added: finest performance since 2003.
The leader of that 2003 team, John Kallemeyn, incidentally, was at Princeton cheering his alma mater on. He lives in Big Lake.
Ryan Trapp, not as fast as his kid brother but faster than most, would have qualified individually if his teammates hadn’t come through to help win the team title. He made sure of that by placing eighth. He was 13th last year.
“I have missed by one person a couple of times, and I was tired of not making it,” said Ryan, who ran 60 miles a week over the summer, same as Lucas. “Going to state is something every cross country runner strives for.”
And now the whole team is going.
We did everything right the last couple weeks and everything fell into place,” said Ryan. “We have a very strong team spirit.”
The state meet will be held at St. Olaf College in Northfield on Saturday, Nov. 3.
1. Elk River 94
2. Chisago Lakes 96
3. Forest Lake 107
4. Grand Rapids 115
5. Cloquet 116
6. Andover 148
7. Duluth East 1 82
8. St. Francis 204
9. Big Lake 274
10. Princeton 281
11. Cambridge-Isanti 282
12. North Branch 290
13. Hibbing 293
14. Duluth Denfeld 311
15. Hermantown 382
16. Zimmerman 439
Individual top ten
1. Jacob Jankowski, Forest Lake, 15:56.3
2. Steven Cotter, Andover, 15:56.5
3. Chris Meadows, Andover, 16:20.1
4. Lucas Trapp, Elk River, 16:28.4
5. Colin Cottingham, Grand Rapds, 16:28.9
6. Andrew Magnuson, Chisago Lakes, 16:29.7
7. Nathaniel Souther, Big Lake, 16:32.0
8. Keaton Long, Duluth East, 16:37.0
9. Ryan Trapp, Elk River, 16:41.7
10. Dylan Marvel, Cloquet, 16:50.1
15. Breck Hickman 17:10.0
27. Nate Webster 17:36.8
39. Alex Holm 17:51.0
74. Sam Gearou 18:35.8
75. Joe Martin 18:36.8