by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River girls, not expected to be among the leaders at the state cross country meet, placed 15th Saturday, while savoring the opportunity to run with the state’s best teams.
“Omigosh, I loved it. I am just so happy to be here,” said senior Kailey Erdahl, closing her career with her second trip to St. Olaf College. “I start out the same as I usually do, then everyone else just speeds by you! You forget that you’re running against the best in the state. I tried to work my way up and pick a few people off as I go.”
The Elks were led by sophomore Rachel Ness in 76th with 15:28.1 for 4,000 hilly meters. They also had freshman Kennedy Warner in 109th (15:48.5), seventh-grader Annica Carr 111th (15:49.2), sophomore Gracie Scheid 150th (16:28.7) freshman Maria Brown 153rd (16:33.0), Erdhahl 156th (16:39.1) and junior Gabbi Jung 167th (17:08.8).
The Elks, qualifying as a section runner-up for the second straight year, placed 16th among 16 last year, and moved up one notch to 15th this year with 339, beating conference rival Anoka (419). Forest Lake, which beat the Elks in Section 7AA, placed 11th.
“It’s very special to be here,” said coach Mike Niziolek, who has brought four girls teams to state the last five years, with one championship team (2009). “They are here because they are one of the better teams in the state, and to have the opportunity to run in the state championships is wonderful. It was a good day.”
Scheid had to withdraw during last year’s state race, and missed much of this season with problems with her calf muscles. But she got back in the lineup and ran well at sectionals, and was elated to get another shot at state.
“It was way better this year, because I finished! Last year, I got a real bad side ache,” said Scheid. “It’s really fun to be here. The state meet is fun. That last hill, you’ve just got to push through it.”
Brown, asked if running at St. Olaf for a second time made it a little easier, shook her head. “I didn’t get my fastest time. I think I went out a little fast,” said Brown. “It’s fun to run at state. That’s what kept me going. I was tired.”
The state run ends with a notorious hairpin turn into a rather steep little hill. Erdahl, asked if that hill is a killer, put on a positive spin.
“You get an adrenaline rush for that last hill,” she said. “I heard everyone cheering, and I realized, this is my last race ever, because I’m a senior.”
Wayzata, ranked in the top five nationally, was the runaway winner. The Trojans had all seven runners in the top 12, with their counters finishing 5-6-7-9-10, for a microscopic 34 point total. Runner-up East Ridge had 134 and Lakeville South 165 for third.
Alexandria sophomore twins Bethany and Megan Hasz were first and second in 13:53.1 and 14:13.9, respectively. Bemidji junior Jenna Truedson was third with 14:19.2.