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Warriors return strong nucleus of runners

A strong nucleus of runners returns as the United North Central girls cross-country team seeks its third trip to the state Class A meet in the last four years.

Three runners return who helped lead the Warriors to a runner-up finish at the Section 8A meet and a 16th-place showing at the state meet last fall. Senior Annika Aho and freshmen Kaarin Lehto and Gabby Hrdlicka are back after helping UNC compile 102 points to trail Perham's 37 points at the section meet and tally 347 points at the state meet as Perham won the state title with 86 points.

Aho was the Warriors' No. 1 runner last season, placing seventh overall at the section meet and 61st overall at the state meet. Lehto was the No. 3 runner by placing 27th overall at the section meet and 138th overall at state. Hrdlicka was the Warriors' No. 4 runner at state by placing 142nd overall after placing 37th overall as the No. 5 runner at the section meet.

Looking to fill the other varsity spots are seniors Lydia Isaacson and Megan Hendrickson; junior Maddie Bullock; sophomores Lora Isaacson and Maddie Thene; freshmen Alessandra Matson and Rachael Smith; and seventh graders Emma Isaacson, Kera Broughton and Sophie Ahrendt.

Aho and Hendrickson competed at the state meet in 2015 when the Warriors finished 13th with 292 points in their state debut while Aho and Lehto ran on the UNC team that placed third at the section meet in 2016.

On the boys side, the Warriors continue building their program.

Three runners return from last year's team that finished 17th at the section meet with 451 points. Perham (48 points) and Ada-Borup/Norman County West (91) points earned the two trips to state.

Sophomores Edward Salmen, Jack Pietila and Sam Jackola will be counted on to lead the Warriors this season. Salmen was UNC's No. 4 runner by placing 101st overall, Pietila was the Warriors' No. 6 runner by placing 122nd overall and Jackola was UNC's No. 7 runner by placing 135th overall at the section meet.

Rounding out the Warriors' roster are sophomore Andreas Aho; freshmen Aaron Pietila, Christian Johnson and Theodore Jackola; and seventh grader Henry Hultberg.

"We are down in numbers right now, but hopefully as school starts we can get some more runners out. Although we are small, we still are moving in a positive direction of having runners that love to run and are hard workers," said Nick Jasmer, who shares head coaching duties with Nicole Oyster. "We are going to run against a lot of very good teams this year. My expectations are that we go out each meet and run each race as hard as we can. It will be very interesting to see how this season goes. I feel the chances of the girls returning and the boys going to state are there, but we are going to have to come out each meet and compete hard for that to happen."