Nick Jasmer and Tom Stambaugh aren't surprised that they will be accompanying runners to this year's state Class A girls cross-country meet.
Jasmer, who shares head coaching duties with Nicole Oyster, was confident United North Central would qualify for state for the second time in school history. Stambaugh, who returned to coaching when Nevis formed a cross-country team this fall, thought seventh grader Jade Rypkema had a good chance to advance to state.
Both coaches saw their runners complete their quests Friday at the Section 8A meet in cold and windy conditions and on a snowy course at Bagley's Twin Pines Golf Course.
United North Central, which finished third at last year's section meet to miss out on back-to-back state trips, claimed runner-up honors with 102 points. Perham, the No. 1-rated team in the state, repeated as section champs with 37 points while East Grand Forks finished third with 119 points and Pelican Rapids was fourth with 133 points.
Rypkema earned an individual state berth by placing 12th overall in her section debut.
The Warriors and Rypkema will compete at the state meet, which will be held Saturday (Nov. 4) at 1 p.m. at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Warriors return to state
Annika Aho, Kate Hendrickson, Kaarin Lehto and Maria Isaacson ran on the UNC team that finished third at last year's section meet with 111 points. Perham won the section title with 41 points while Pelican Rapids claimed the other state berth with 68 points a year ago.
Those four were determined to lead the Warriors to state this year.
Aho and Maria Isaacson ran on the UNC team that qualified for state in 2015 while Aho was an individual qualifier last season and finished 15th to earn all-state honors.
The Warriors relied on motivation from the veterans and solid performances from three runners making their section debuts to return to state.
"'It's cold' were the words I was hearing from the huddle at the start line. They were right, but personally I don't think it affected them during the race. They were not only physically ready for those conditions, but mentally ready," said Jasmer. "We told them to believe in themselves if they wanted to make their dreams of going to state come true. They needed to go out there and leave it all on the course, which is exactly what they did."
Aho, a junior, led the way by finishing sixth in the team standings with a 5K time of 21:37 while Kate Hendrickson, a freshman, followed by placing 12th in 22:24. Lehto, an eighth grader, finished 25th in 23:21 while eighth graders Molly Hendrickson and Gabby Hrdlicka rounded out the team score by placing 26th in 23:22 and 33rd in 23:41, respectively, in their first section meets. Freshman Anita Lehto was 49th in 24:25 and Isaacson, a senior, was 67th in 25:10 to round out the Warriors' seven-runner team. In the overall standings, which include runners who were not running with a full five-runner team, Aho was seventh, Kate Hendrickson was 13th, Kaarin Lehto was 27th, Molly Hendrickson was 29th, Hrdlcika was 37th, Anita Lehto was 53rd and Isaacson was 73rd.
Perham's Caitlin Covington led the 119-runner field with a winning time of 20:35 in leading the Yellowjackets to their sixth consecutive section title.
"We were confident that the girls team could do it. They have ran hard all season and we knew that they were going to go out there and give it their all," said Jasmer. "We knew that in order to go to state, we were going to have to beat some very good teams. Those girls ran the hardest they have all season and earned second place and punched their ticket to state."
With a state berth intact, the Warriors will be looking to improve on their finish in 2015. UNC finished 13th out of 16 teams with 292 points in their state debut that year.
"We are excited to be heading back to the state meet, especially after coming up short last year," said Jasmer. "We expect to do the same that we did at sections. This is a group of runners that could go the distance, but they are going to have to run the race of their lives. We are so very proud of this group and all the hard work that they have put in this season. We know come the state meet Saturday that they will be ready to run their hearts out."
Rypkema earns state trip
Despite having Rypkema run 3,200-meter junior high races all season, Stambaugh was preparing the Nevis seventh grader for the section meet.
"I thought Jade had an outside shot to make it. She ran junior high all year and I moved her up at the end of the season. After the Milaca Mega Meet, I knew she had a shot. She was fourth in a field of 300 seventh graders from all sizes of schools. Most of her meets were 3,200 meters, but we trained her for a 5K," said Stambaugh. "The weather was the only thing that worried me. Six inches of snow gave a huge advantage to the strength runners. At 70 pounds, Jade is not that type of runner yet. Most kids go out too fast. Jade ran a perfect race."
Rypkema paced herself throughout the race, moving up from 50th place at the mile mark to place 12th overall with a time of 22:23. That was good for the No. 7 spot individually of the runners not on the two state-qualifying teams. The top 8 runners not on those two teams qualify for state.
"Jade kept picking them off," said Stambaugh.
Now Rypkema will make her state debut in hopes of following in the footsteps of Nevis' only state cross-country champion.
"I've told many stories about Bryon Schuldt. Bryon made it to state as a seventh grader in track and finished dead last. That experience molded him into a future state champ," said Stambaugh. "State will be a great experience for Jade. It will open her eyes to see what she wants to do in her future. She would love to run under 21:00, which is doable. Most young kids get caught up in the fast pace and crash. We will try and keep that from happening. If she could finish in the top half of the field, I would be very impressed. No matter what happens, this experience will help her later on."