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UNC runners look to be competitive

Despite having young runners, both the United North Central boys and girls cross-country teams are expecting to be competitive this fall.

The UNC girls have four runners returning from a team that finished third at the Section 8A meet while the UNC boys have only one runner back from a team that placed 12th at the section meet.

"We are very excited to see how this season goes for both the boys and the girls," said Nick Jasmer, who shares head coaching duties with Nicole Oyster. "They have been working hard these last couple of weeks and are ready to race."

Returning to lead the girls are senior Maria Isaacson, junior Annika Aho, freshman Kate Hendrickson and eighth grader Karrin Lehto. That group helped the Warriors compile 111 points to finish behind Perham (41) and Pelican Rapids (68) at the section meet.

Aho was the Warriors' No. 1 runner last season, placing sixth overall at the section meet to qualify for the state Class A meet. Aho earned all-state honors by placing 15th at the state meet. Hendrickson was UNC's No. 2 runner at the section meet by placing 13th overall, Lehto followed by placing 31st overall and Isaacson rounded out the varsity team by placing 58th overall. Senior Erin Olson also returns with plenty of varsity experience. Aho, Isaacson and Olson also ran at state in 2015 when the Warriors qualified as a team for the first time in school history.

Looking to claim the other varsity spots are junior Lydia Isaacson; sophomore Maddie Bullock; freshmen Lora Isaacson, Anita Lehto and Maddie Thene; and eighth graders Molly Hendrickson, Gabby Hrdlicka and Rachael Smith.

"We still have the same expectations this year as we did last year, both individually and as a team," said Jasmer. "We have a young girls team, but a very competitive one. These girls will go out there and work hard and stack up well with the other teams. These girls are going to go out there and give it their all."

The UNC boys will feature an even younger team with only freshman Jack Pietila returning from last year's section squad. Pietila finished 95th overall as the Warriors' No. 6 runner. UNC tallied 328 points at last season's section meet as Perham (34) and Pequot Lakes (78) claimed the two state berths.

Eighth grader Christian Johnson and seventh grader Joel Isaacson also ran cross country last season while freshmen Sam Jackola, Brian Keranen and Eddie Salmen; eighth graders Lyle Brownell and Abram Josephson; and seventh grader Luke Brownell will round out the varsity lineup as first-year runners.

"With only two boys returning and adding some other solid younger runners, we will be a very young team, but the expectations will be high," said Jasmer. "We want them to go out there and show everyone that even though we are young, we can still compete. This is a hard-working group and we expect a lot of good things from them this season."