8. Lauren Ping, Winona Cotter (MN)
When Lauren Ping opened her 7th grade season by taking third place to her sister Grace and Tierney Wolfgram at the St. Olaf Showcase, she instantly became one of the most recognizable middle school athletes in the nation.
Since then, she has only elevated her status as a national contender, with maybe her most impressive race being her fifth-place finish at the stacked Roy Griak Invitational. She has yet to win a race this year -- mostly due to the face she has finished runner up to her sister four times -- but she is fresh off a runner-up performance at the Minnesota Class A Championship, and she has experience far beyond her years.
Even still, her lifetime best of 18:19, which she accomplished last week, is far slower than every other favorite in the race and the odds are that she may need to better that time by as much as a minute in order to be a serious national contender.