Runners just happy to compete this fall
The Park Rapids boys and girls cross country teams will run in triangular meets during revised season.
Pat Richard will miss the excitement of competing in large meets, but the head coach of the Park Rapids boys and girls cross country program is excited his runners will least have a chance to compete in small meets this fall.
The Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors modified the cross country season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams can only run in seven meets this fall with all of those meets limited to a maximum of three teams. With those guidelines, teams from the Mid-State Conference, Park Region Conference and Heart O’Lakes Conference combined to form a 24-team group with different sites hosting those meets.
“Cross country is a sport that can be held with restrictions, so I was hoping (the MSHSL) could make it happen,” said Richard, who will be assisted by Tarja Nelson and Eric Bervig. “I tried to stay as positive as I could and trust that a decision that was best for the kids would be made. I was excited and the kids were excited when we heard the news. We were all glad to get after it.”
On the boys team, four runners return who helped the Panthers place fifth at the Mid-State Conference meet and 10th at the Section 8A meet.
Returning to lead the boys this fall are seniors Renaldo De La Cruz Gomez, Skylar Hagen and Owen Wagner; juniors Darryl Etter and Sam Warne; and sophomore Blaine Hensel. Etter was named the team’s MVP after setting the pace for the Panthers in seven meets a year ago. Hagen led the team in one race and was the team’s No. 2 runner in five meets and the No. 3 runner in one meet. Warne was the No. 2 runner in three meets and the No. 3 runner in two meets. Wagner, who will serve as captain this season, was the No. 4 and No. 5 runner in one meet each and the No. 6 runner in four meets. Hensel was the No. 7 runner in two meets. De La Cruz Gomez ran in one varsity meet.
At the conference meet, Etter (14th), Warne (22nd), Hagen (25th), Wagner (35th) and De La Cruz Gomez (36th) helped the Panthers compile 122 points as Staples-Motley led the field with 25 points. At the Section 8A meet, the Panthers compiled 242 points behind Etter (23rd), Warne (35th), Hagen (68th) and Wagner (83rd). Perham won the section title with 22 points while East Grand Forks claimed the other state berth with a runner-up total of 98 points.
Being counted on to fill the void left by the graduation of Kolby Brandt (who placed 30th at the conference meet and 53rd at the section meet) and Marcus Benson (who placed 91st at the section meet) will be senior Nathaniel Bervig; sophomores Eli Bervig, Matthew Dahring, Pierce DeBlieck, Nolan Eckmann, Cameron Runyan and Aidan Yliniemi Hensel; and eighth graders Ephraim Bervig, Leo Kaufenberg, Thomas Lopez and Landon Strasburg.
The Bervigs are expected to make major contributions this fall after competing for Wadena-Deer Creek. Nathaniel Bervig earned Park Region Conference honors by placing third as W-DC’s No. 2 runner and placed 26th as W-DC’s No. 3 runner at last year’s Section 8A meet while Eli Bervig placed 13th as W-DC’s No. 5 runner at the conference meet and finished 65th as W-DC’s No. 7 runner at last year’s Section 8A meet.
“You lose the excitement of invitationals, but we’ll still run against some good competition,” said Richard. “It’s not out of the question that we can put together a competitive boys team. With the number of boys we have, I think we’ll be competitive throughout the season and at the conference meet.”
Sophomore Julia Harmon is the only varsity runner returning for the girls, who fielded an incomplete team all season. Harmon placed 19th at the conference meet and 66th at the section meet.
Rounding out the girls squad this season are sophomores Aleka London and Natalia Lopez; eighth grader Breanna DeBlieck; and seventh graders Alessia Harmon and Jalen Hensel.
“I want the girls to run their best race possible,” said Richard. “Our goal for the girls is for them to give it their very best.”
Perham’s boys won the Section 8A title for the 14th year in a row and went on to capture the state Class A title for the third straight season while the Perham girls won the Section 8A title for the eighth consecutive season and captured the state Class A title for the third year in a row.
In the first state Class A boys poll, West Central Area was rated No. 1 with Perham (No. 2), Staples-Motley (No. 3) and East Grand Forks (No. 12) also making the list. In the state Class A girls poll, Perham is rated No. 1 with Staples-Motley (No. 4), Pequot Lakes (No. 5) and Hawley (No. 11) also rated.
As of right now, the end of the season for the Panthers will be the Mid-State Conference meet on Oct. 8. The MSHSL will decide at a later date whether or not to hold a Section 8A meet and a state Class A meet.
“We’re not sure whether there will be a section or a state meet, but we’re training and preparing like there will be a section and a state meet,” said Richard. “I told the kids to keep motivated by giving it your very best. Our goal this year is the journey. I think they’ve bought into the idea that the journey is to have growth and progress and see improvement. If they do their very best, they’ll get to where they want to be.”