Mounds View Boys Respond With First NXN Qualifier Ever

Maybe they didn't get the state championship they desired in Minnesota just a week earlier. 

But the Saint Paul Mounds View boys certainly came ready to roll on Sunday at NXR Heartland in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, picking up their first qualification to Nike Cross Nationals in school history by scoring 135 points, outpacing second-place Middleton (WI) by 21 and Edina (MN) by 29. 

The moment felt huge for the Class AA team. 

"We were thinking about NXN for a long time, it was a distant goal," said senior Austin Streit, who was 11th overall in 15:32.1. "We all knew it was a possibility. After the state meet, we came in and we knew we had a shot to do something special and for the first time in our program's history, we're going to go to NXN. We're all excited."

The club devised a plan to pack up throughout the course, on the fast and looped grass track, and put together one of its best outings of the year. 

"We did a really good job pairing well," said senior Lukas Hessini, who was 30th overall in 15:51.7. "We knew it would be cold and the competition would be tough, but we stayed focused and we were able to get a good time and place well as a team."

Middleton, meanwhile, qualified for NXN for the second straight year. But in a lot of ways, the performance likely felt like a weight off the team's shoulders.

At two big events this season, the team from Wisconsin team struggled, finishing eighth at the Roy Griak Invitational before then falling to second at the Wisconsin state championships by nine points. 

The state title race was the one big goal the program had been driving toward all season. But while the Cardinals didn't get it, its second qualifier to NXN was a welcome moment. 

In third was Edina, who scored 164, and whom will now have to play a waiting game to see if it will get an at-large qualifier to the national event.

Stillwater (MN) was fourth with 179, while Wayzata was fifth with 191 points. 

On the individual front, it was another big day for Homestead (WI) senior Drew Bosley

The nationally elite runner held strong throughout and claimed his second victory at Heartland in 15:01.3. 

But this is only the beginning for the runner, who was seventh at both NXN and Foot Locker Nationals a year ago. The Northern Arizona commit has national title aspirations. 

"Coming into today the goal for myself was to throw down a fast last mile and a last 1K and put something together there," Bosley said. "The first mile I played the game. I went through the motions through the first mile. Around the 2K mark I started picking it up and started to break away from the pack." 

Beyond Bosley, it was a field day from The Badger State. 

Four runners from Wisconsin finished in the top five, including runner-up Rowen Ellenberg (15:10.6), third-place Matthew Meinke (15:13.3) and Middleton's Caleb Easton (15:21.7). 

Recent Minnesota Class AA champion Acer Iverson claimed his second straight bid to NXN, finishing fourth overall in 15:16.7. 

And Wayzata's Andrew Brandt, who finished sixth in 15:24.1, was gifted a qualifier too when Easton's club qualified. 

2. Covert Pulls Through, Pings 2nd And Third

On a severely windy and cold day, times didn't play remarkably fast in the girls race. 

But the championship outing did yield some very smart races. 

Seeing the conditions and playing to her strengths, Minneapolis Washburn's Emily Covert took her first NXR Heartland title in 17:06.3, while Winona Cotter sophomore Grace Ping grabbed her third NXN bid in four seasons with a time of 17:10.8. 

Her sister, Lauren, was third overall in 17:29.3, claiming her second straight NXN invitation, while Farmington's Anna Fenske -- on a roll to end the season -- was fourth overall in 17:31.1. 

Maybe the surprise of the meet, however, was the fifth and last qualifier. 

While a few others faded down the stretch, Topeka Washburn Rural (KS) senior Jaybe Shufelberger didn't and claimed her first qualifier to NXN. 

The runner had finished second in her championships in Kansas two weeks prior and had just barely broken 17 minutes before. 

But she took on the moment well and ran to a career day, logging a time of 17:31.10.

While the team championship looked as it did most years, with Wayzata winning the overall title, the performance was important for the Trojans, who had lost their Class AA race a week earlier to upstart Saint Michael Albertville. 

Wayzata raced well to 95 points, while Edina was second with 107 and STMA was third with 164, out pacing Wisconsin's Muskego by just one point. 

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