Lutz, Park Rapids girls cross-country team run to runner-up honors in section
Despite having only three healthy runners back from last year's team, Kerry Johnson was confident the Park Rapids girls cross-country team could return to the state Class A meet.
Led by Lydia Lutz's individual runner-up finish, the Panthers used a runner-up finish as a team at Friday's Section 8A meet at Bagley to fulfill that quest.
Perham, which is rated No. 10 in the latest state Class A poll, repeated as section champs with 84 points while the Panthers were next with 102 points. Warroad finished third with 113 points and Roseau was fourth with 115 points. The top-10 individuals will join Perham and Park Rapids at the state meet.
Lutz, a junior, covered the 4,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 32 seconds to trail only Lake of the Woods' Victoria Alexander in this 125-runner field. Alexander, who is rated No. 3 in the latest state Class A poll, led the field with a winning time of 15:16.
Following Lutz for the Panthers were freshman Alex Pederson (15th in 16:19), junior Shelby Pierce (27th in 16:59), sophomore Kaylee Hilmanowski (29th in 17:02), sophomore Morgan Olson (39th in 17:18) and sophomore Lora Remus (41st in 17:25). Only Lutz (who was the sec-tion runner-up last year), Olson (who finished 27th as the Panthers' No. 4 runner last fall) and Hilmanowski (who placed 30th as the Panthers' No. 5 runner last season) returned from last year's team, which finished second with 81 points at last year's section meet. Senior Tiffany De-itchler also ran on last year's state team, but has been injured most of the season.
Johnson knew it was going to be a battle for the two state berths. In the regular-season finale at Headwaters Country Club, Perham took first with 69 points, Warroad was second with 91 points, Park Rapids finished third with 98 points and Roseau was fourth with 101 points at the Park Rapids Invitational.
"I thought our chances were pretty good to make it to state again because I felt the girls were healthy and ready to go," said Johnson. "We were worried about Warroad since they beat us by 7 points at our home meet. But that also gave us extra incentive."
The Panthers used that extra incentive to qualify for state again.
Lutz led the way by finishing ahead of Roseau's Madeline Huglen (third in 15:35) and JaNae Pahlen (10th in 16:00) and Warroad's Lindsay Fast (fifth in 15:46) and Gretta Brunelle (sixth in 15:51).
"I did feel confident that Lydia would advance. She is such a strong and confident runner. I know that she will go out and do her very best," said Johnson. "Lydia did have a Roseau runner on her shoulder for a bit during the race and that motivated her to push herself. She knows how to go out and what pace works. Lydia ran a smart race."
Park Rapids' other five runners also did their job by finishing ahead of Warroad's and Roseau's runners to send the Panthers back to state.
Pederson finished ahead of Roseau's Anndi Klatt (19th in 16:40) and Warroad's Susy Heppner (21st in 16:43). Pierce and Hilmanowski finished ahead of Warroad's Lynn Astrup (32nd in 17:06) while Remus was ahead of Roseau's Katie Erickson (43rd in 17:31) and Rose Gracza (52nd in 17:59) and Warroad's Tara Buss (58th in 18:13).
"Our race strategy was to be smart. It's common to go out too fast in big meets, but that usually doesn't work well. I told them to run their race and if they felt great, speed it up a bit as they ran. I also told them that every person they passed was important and that every place was important. I told them to really try to reel in yellow (Warroad) and green (Roseau) jerseys. I knew Perham would be tough to beat, but I wanted to make sure we were second," said Johnson. "I al-ways tell the girls to run with confidence and have no regrets. I know they are doing everything they can. I guess the girls heard some cheering on the course that they were looking tired or that runners should catch the girls from PR. That really motivated the girls to get after it. It was fun to talk to the PR girls after the race. There was a bit of trash talking going on."
Nevis' Chloe Johnson also ran a solid race, finishing 38th in 17:15. United North Central finished 15th out of 22 teams with 403 points. Leading the Warriors were Jill Isaacson (74th in 18:51), Madlin Lausten (83rd in 19:29), Joy Haataja (84th in 19:31), Sara Kuismi (91st in 19:50), Emily Keranen (105th in 20:25) and Anna Johnson (107th in 20:35).
Last year, the Panthers finished fifth out of 16 teams with 190 points in their first state appearance since 1998. This year, Johnson is looking for the Panthers to turn in six solid times and place as high as possible at Saturday's state meet, which begins at 11 a.m. at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
"We will have to see how it goes at state. We closed the gap on Perham a bit at sections, so that is very encouraging. A few teams beat us at Milaca and I am looking forward to seeing how we do against them now," said Johnson. "I feel we are ready. The girls wanted this so badly and I know that now that they have made it, they're not content. They want to have their best races yet. I feel they are ready to do great things."
Team scores: Perham 84, Park Rapids 102, Warroad 113, Roseau 115, Staples-Motley 125, Lake of the Woods 156, Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal 181, Pelican Rapids 190, Pequot Lakes 199, Pillager 254, Thief River Falls 266, East Grand Forks 283, Trek North 333, Frazee 399, United North Central 403, Pine River-Backus 430, West Marshall 434. Incomplete teams: Bagley/Fosston, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Nevis, Lake Park-Audubon, Wadena-Deer Creek.
State Class A qualifiers
1, Victoria Alexander, LOW, 15:16. 2, Lydia Lutz, Park Rapids, 15:32. 3, Madeline Huglen, Roseau, 15:35. 4, Lisa Reichert, Staples, 15:38. 5, Lindsay Fast, Warroad, 15:46. 6, Gretta Brunelle, Warroad, 15:51. 7, Emily Bakken, Pelican Rapids, 15:56. 8, Cassie Beseman, Perham, 15:59. 9, Marissa Carlson, Bagley, 15:59. 10, JaNae Pahlen, Roseau, 16:00.
Park Rapids results
2, Lydia Lutz 15:32. 15, Alex Pederson 16:19. 27, Shelby Pierce 16:59. 29, Kaylee Hilmanowski 17:02. 39, Morgan Olson 17:18. 41, Lora Remus 17:25.
38, Chloe Johnson 17:15.
United North Central results
74, Jill Isaacson 18:51. 83, Madlin Lausten 19:29. 84, Joy Haataja 19:31. 91, Sara Kuismi 19:50. 105, Emily Keranen 20:25. 107, Anna Johnson 20:35.