A total of 15 Sectional races took place across Minnesota over the past two days and indicated how the state will shape up at the MSHSL Championships on November 3 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The region plays home to some of the best distance runners in the country and a host of strong teams, so these races are an important gauge of fitness and ultimately will signify big efforts in the next few weeks.
Let's jump into the national storylines.
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1. Wayzata's boys and girls squads are officially ready to throw down.
On the national fringe for much of the season before the Roy Griak Invitational, the Trojans' boys really started to shine at the annual litmus test at Les Bolstad and carried over that fitness to the Lake Conference Championships, where they tallied a close win over rival Edina, then pounced again at the Section 6AA Championships, bypassing the nationally ranked Hornets with another impressive performance. These results will carry a lot of weight for a lot of reasons -- confidence, pride, pecking order in the state -- but the main one is precedence. Minnesota's best teams often have been green lighted through to Nike Cross Nationals, and often the favorite in the state has performed well in Portland, Oregon. Edina had long been considered the best boys team in the state in 2018, but Wayzata's squad began to change that perception over the past few weeks. Sectionals showed a team willing to work together, as the Trojans put together a 50-second spread and 16:01 average, displacing the Hornets just slightly to win 54-61. While Edina's Max Manley won a big race yet again, Wayzata's Andrew Brandt wasn't far behind in second place. And more importantly, his team was holding on, too.
Meanwhile, the Wayzata girls finally had a truly breakout race, winning Section 6AA with 41 points, exactly nine points ahead of Edina (50). The Hornets weren't too bad, either, but the Trojans' performance was special in how they put the race together. The squad put three girls in the top 10 and three more in the top 20, with all six of them going 18:15 or faster. Wazyata's performances had looked a little off kilter as of late because junior Caroline Sassan either wasn't in the field or wasn't herself. But when Sassan runs well, the Trojans are dangerous. With junior Emma Atkinson finishing second overall in 17:57.40 and eighth-grader Abby Nechanicky making a big push in fifth (18:13.70), having Sassan as a legitimate No. 3 will help pull the Trojans up by the bootstraps and put them back into the discussion as one of the best teams in the nation.
2. In the same race, Minneapolis Washburn senior Emily Covert threw down another big performance. She put together the second sub-17 minute performance of her career, harking back to her first performance at NXR Heartland last year. Covert won the Section 6AA race in 16:56.40--which largely played pretty fast overall, but it was no doubt impressive to see how the gears were churning for the No. 4 ranked runner in the country. As we saw at Griak about a month earlier when Covert put down a meet record by 15 seconds, the senior has been on another level for much of the season. It will be exciting to see what she does over the postseason in the coming weeks.
3. Tierney Wolfgram is officially back. A little over two weeks since her sixth-place finish at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, the Math & Science Academy sophomore returned to cross country at the Section 4A Championships in Maplewood. She made the decision to skip her conference meet in favor of this pivotal state qualifier, and on the surface it looks like a great move. Wolfgram won the race by over two minutes, finishing in 17:29.60, which also marked a 13 second improvement from her time last year. She said afterward that she believed the performance was a good indication of her fitness going into the state championships. But the race is probably as talented as it's ever been, with a fully 100-percent Grace and Lauren Ping. Wolfgram is a two-time winner at the Class A race.
5. The Mounds View boys were pretty impressive, too. The squad had four boys in the top five and its final scorer in ninth to score a dominant 21 points at Section 5AA. But more than that, the first four were all under 16 minutes and the team's final average was 15:48, putting them, at the very least, in line to contend with Wayzata and Edina in the Class AA race. A year ago, the Mounds View boys were fifth at state.
6. The Saint Michael Albertville girls produced a perfect score at Section 5AA. The program has been on the waiting list for much of the season on a national front, but this sectional race was the representation of all that pre-season hype. Those five girls were all under 18:40 and its sixth was at 18:45. It's going to be a ridiculously loaded Class AA race with Wayzata, Edina, Farmington, and Saint Michael Albertville.
7. Other notes:
Grace Ping & Lauren Ping, Cotter High School: Consistency has been key for Grace this fall, and the sophomore continued to show it at the Section 1A Championships, finishing first in 17:49.90. That result, however, marked her first run under 18 minutes. That time was probably a little more impressive than it looks, too, considering it would have finished 19th in the boys race. Lauren, meanwhile, was second overall in 18:09.80. The Cotter girls scored a sectional win with 72 points.
Morgan Gehl, Fulda High School: A little off the radar, but Minnesota MileSplit Editor Mark Rice says the sophomore is worth nothing. She authored her second sub-18 performance of the season at the Section 3A Championships to win in 17:48.00. Watch out for the underclassmen in the Class A race.