Jade Rypkema received a second chance to fulfill her goal of becoming a state champion.

The Nevis sophomore topped the 91-runner field at the Twin Cities Running Club Cross Country Showcase at Atwater’s Island Pine Golf Course on Saturday (Oct. 31) with a winning 5K time of 18:57. This club event was a substitute for the Minnesota State High School League state meet, which wasn’t held this fall because of COVID-19. All of the top runners in the state received an invitation to this meet and most accepted to compete in this season-ending race. This race was not sanctioned by the MSHSL.

“Every coach in Class AA and all but a couple in Class A would tell you this was the state meet,” said Nevis head coach Tom Stambaugh. “Class AA had everyone there. Class A had a couple coaches not bring their teams. Just my opinion, but these coaches took an amazing opportunity away from their kids. The meet was run first class. Every detail was covered to give the kids a great experience. As far as the top individuals, everyone that was healthy was competing.”

Rypkema, who was the state runner-up last season, entered this race rated No. 4 in the final state Class A poll. Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s Natasha Sortland was the top-rated runner all season, but did not compete. Sophomore twin sisters Ashley Overgaauw and Amanda Overgrauw of Murray County Central were ranked No. 2 and No. 3. Defending state champion and No. 5-rated Morgan Gehl of MCC also didn’t compete.

The Nevis sophomore earned an invitation by repeating as the Section 8A champion at Bagley. When the MSHSL canceled this year’s state meet, defending her section title was Rypkema’s top priority to cap off the season.

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“It was very important to me to defend my section title because I work all year for sections and state. I'm very happy about the Bagley race. I pushed through a side ache and technically qualified for state,” said Rypkema. “Despite that fact, it wasn't the way I wanted to end my sophomore season. I was pretty bummed not getting a state race. I have been running daily since last season and I really wanted the opportunity to compete against the best in the state.”

Rypkema received that opportunity when the Minnesota Cross Country Coaches Association helped organize the Showcase.

“When I heard there was going to be a ‘state’ meet, I was thrilled. It was a chance for me to finally race against the girls I had been rated against all season,” said Rypkema. “Saturday was very windy and so I knew the race wasn't about getting my best time. The only goal was to hopefully have a strong healthy run and to win. I didn't know if I could, but I don't like to lose.”

This race was similar to the section meets and was run in heats. Rypkema was in the final heat and knew the time to beat was the 19:16 clocked by Luverne’s Tenley Nelson, who finished third at last year’s state meet. Even though the temperature was 50 degrees, Rypkema knew that wind gusts up to 33 miles per hour would have an impact on her time.

Rypkema’s strategy was to run with the Overgaauw twins and take the lead at the halfway mark. The Nevis sophomore executed that game plan perfectly.

“My strategy was to duck in the wind and then make my move around the two-mile mark. This was engraved in my head, and with the wind, I thought it was the best move to make,” said Rypkema. “In the actual race, I ducked right behind the Overgraaw twins, and right before the two-mile mark, I sprinted to make a short distance between us. This way we were both taking a beating in the wind and they couldn't draft off me.”

“The day was very challenging. It started out windy and got worse as the day went on. I’ve never seen a race in that kind of wind,” said Stambaugh. “Jade was in the final flight so she knew what time to beat. Jade and Amanda and Ashley Overgaauw were together at the mile. Jade ran a very smart race and sat on the twins. She broke them at 2,500 meters. The twins hung about 80 meters behind till the last 200 meters. Ashley collapsed and Amanda stopped to help her. After a bit Amanda continued and ended up fifth. It’s hard to say the effect the wind had on times, but I would say between 45-60 seconds. Jade has the one talent all great athletes have. As long as she’s healthy, she comes through in high pressure situations. She shines on the big day. I’ve seen it for three years now. It doesn’t come from coaching, it comes from her desire to win.”

Canby’s Grace Drietz finished third in 19:17, Luverne’s Jenna Debates was fourth in 19:22 and Amanda Overgaauw took fifth in 19:34. Following were Lester Prairie’s Addison Hoof (sixth in 19:35), Lake City’s Jacey Majerus (seventh in 19:35) and Howard Lake-Waverly’s Maddie LeSage (eighth in 19:37). Drietz (No. 7), Hoof (No. 8) and Majerus (No. 10) were rated in the state poll.

Other area runners also fared well in this final race of the season.

United North Central eighth grader Anjalie Aho, the Section 8A runner-up, finished 11th in 20:05. Pequot Lakes’ Calia Chaney (ninth in 19:52), Long Prairie-Grey Eagle’s Caroline Kuehne (10th in 19:54), East Grand Forks’ Lydia Floden (16th in 20:24), Wadena-Deer Creek’s Kira Sweeney (18th in 20:29) and Hawley’s Lily Olson (20th in 20:37) also placed in the top 20. Chaney (No. 6), Kuehne (No. 12) and Sweeney (No. 16) were rated in the final state poll with Sweeney (seventh), Chaney (eighth), Floden (15th) and Kuehne (17th) placing in the top 20 at last year’s state meet.

“It was great to see two girls from our section in the top 11,” said Stambaugh. “Anjalie ran a great race to finish 11th. Jade was 26th (at state) as an 8th grader, so it’s obvious Anjalie is going to be a force in our section. I believe her and Jade will have some great races in the next few years.”

In the team standings, Luverne won the state title with 45 points with Winona Cotter placing second with 99 points. Luverne was rated No. 2 and Cotter was No. 6 in the state poll. Hawley, the Section 8A runner-up, was fifth with 143 points and Pequot Lakes followed in sixth place with 149 points. Hawley was rated No. 5 and Pequot Lakes was rated No. 9. Only 10 teams competed. Staples-Motley (which was rated No. 1 in the state poll) and defending state Class A champion Perham (which was rated No. 4) did not compete.

Staples-Motley’s Emmet Anderson claimed the Class A boys title in 16:02 on Saturday while Stillwater’s Ethan Vargas won the Class AA boys title in 15:54 and Stillwater’s Analee Weaver captured the Class AA girls title in 17:04 during their meet on Friday (Oct. 30).

Getting a chance to run against the best Class A runners and win a state title was the perfect way to end an undefeated season for Rypkema.

“As a school we are extremely proud to recognize Jade as our third state champion along with Ben Ott (pole vault) and Bryon Schuldt (cross country). As long as she stays healthy, she has a chance to compete for another over the next three years,” said Stambaugh. “What I am most proud of is how she competed in a very challenging season. Meets were run in waves and we were unsure of a state meet. Champions block out all distractions and only worry about competing. At the beginning of the year, I felt Ethan Vargas and Analee Weaver would win AA titles. I thought Emmet Anderson would win the boys Class A title. All three won titles on Friday and Saturday. Like Jade, they showed no matter what obstacles you put at them, the best will always shine.”

“This wouldn't be possible without the boys I train with and my coach. Mr. Stambaugh is there every day, rain or shine. He helps me know where I stand in the state and tells me exactly where I need to be to compete with everyone. He is truly a blessing. It would not be possible without Coach and my team,” said Rypkema, who finished first in all eight races she entered this fall. “It feels really great to be a state champion because all the training hours finally paid off. In the next few years, I hope to claim an official MSHSL state title and set some personal records. In addition, I want to enjoy every opportunity that comes my way because as 2020 showed me, you never know what's going to happen.”

Pohl places 43rd

Nevis’ Evan Pohl finished 43rd out of 117 runners with a 5K time of 17:59 in the boys Class A race on Saturday. Pohl earned an invitation by placing fifth at the Section 8A meet.

“Evan ran really well,” said Stambaugh. “I was hoping Evan would be in the top 50 and he ended up 43rd. He had a great improvement from last year where he was 115th (at the state meet). The young man has a bright future. He has both talent and a great work ethic.”

In addition to Anderson, who entered this race rated No. 1 in the state, Perham’s Jakob McCleary (fourth in 16:33), East Grand Forks’ Tyson Mahar (12th in 16:50) and Pequot Lakes’ Ethan Johnson (20th in 17:18) were area runners who finished in the top 20. Mahar won the Section 8A title and was rated No. 4 while McCleary was the Section 8A runner-up and was rated No. 5.

Greenway’s Geno Uhrbom, who was rated No. 2, was the runner-up in 16:24. Uhrbom edged out Anderson for the 2019 state Class A title while McCleary placed fourth and Mahar was 14th last year.

Nova Classical Academy won the state Class A title with 78 points while Greenway was second with 91 points in this 13-team meet. Pequot Lakes was sixth with 142 points and East Grand Forks was ninth with 194 points. Staples-Motley (the top-rated team in the state) and Perham (the defending state Class A champion and the No. 6-rated team in the state) didn’t compete.