No matter how Saturday’s state cross country meet shakes out on the Class AA girls side, expect a tight margin among the teams that ascend the podium.
That was the case last year, when Rapid City Stevens claimed its second straight title with 75 points ahead of second-place Lincoln (94 points) and third-place Brandon Valley (96).
In fact, the margin was so tight a year ago that the Lynx were basically a half-second away from silver.
“If our 25th-place finisher [Mikaela Birath] finished 24th, we’d have taken second,” said coach Larry Beesley. “I think it’s going to a very close race again.”
Beesley’s group, which consists mostly of freshman and sophomores, has made steady gains since a year ago. At the Metro Conference Meet last week, the Lynx finished had 10 runners finish in the top 25.
Sophomore Courtney Klatt paces the group and will look to improve upon her fifth-place finish at state last year. Klatt finished second at the Metro meet behind defending state champion Jasmyne Cooper of Lincoln.
Fellow sophomore Haylee Waterfall joins freshman Danica Kocer (16th at state in 2014), Lauren Wells, Allison Rief, and Birath, a sophomore, to make up a deep group worthy of contending for the state crown.
Brandon’s depth sets the team up nicely for a strong state meet.
Scoreboard: XC regional meets underway
Scoreboard: XC regional meets continue
I think it’s going to come down to the fifth and sixth runners to decide it,” Beesley said. “We’ve talked about that all year: That even if you aren’t our first or second runner, those five, six and seven spots count as much. We’ve just been fortunate that we’ve had it where if someone has an off day, somebody else steps up.”
The two-time champion Raiders are a mostly top-heavy bunch, returning seniors Jamie Schweiss (second at state in ’14) and Kendra Dykstra (third in ’14). Stevens has another impressive senior in Felicia Roskam, who finished 22nd a year ago.
Runner-up Lincoln placed four runners in the top 25 — paced by the champion, Cooper, who had a seven-second — and the Patriots get all four back. That includes junior Katie Patrick (10th in ’14), senior Brooke Infield (14th in ’14) and eighth-grader Caroline Sudbeck, whose vast improvement could vault her into the top 10 after taking 24th last year.
Cooper has to be the favorite to repeat as champion. The sophomore also made a splash at the state track and field meet in May, winning the 800- and 1,600-meter races, possessing similar versatility to Class B stalwart Macy Heinz.
Aberdeen Central, which finished in 12th place a year ago, has put together a strong season and could also contend for a podium finish. The Golden Eagles are paced by standout seventh-grader Melanie Jacobs and sophomore Katherine Erickson.
Washington’s Kelsi Kearney will look to build upon her eighth-place finished at state last season. Kearney took home fifth in the Metro meet. Her teammate Jennalee Larson (10th in ’14), a sophomore, will also be in the mix for the Warriors.
Brookings’ Ellie Abraham will be a runner to watch after finishing fourth at state a year ago as a seventh-grader.
‘AA’ BOYS FIELD COULD SEE CHANGING OF THE GUARD
While the girls ‘AA’ field is chalk full of returning top 25 finishers, the boys side will see lots of new faces — particularly in the top 10.
Lincoln’s Gabe Peters is the presumptive favorite. Last year’s runner-up behind decorated Stanford recruit Will Lauer, Peters is one of two runners from the top 10 who didn’t graduate. (The other is Washington sophomore Yonas Sadi, who took ninth last year.) In Peters, the Patriots have another lead dog to set the pace for the rest of the team.
Stepping in for the departed seniors Lauer, Nathan Schroeder (fifth in ’14), Dreux Selzler (11th) and Tyler Dobson (16th) are junior Henry Klitzke and senior Dale Loudon, who claimed 18th a year ago.
With Lincoln moving on from so many strong finishers, it’s cleared some space for another pair of city rivals: Roosevelt and Washington.
The Riders could push for a title in spite of the loss of fourth-place finisher Jesus Urtusuastegui. Depth will play a big part in that effort, and Roosevelt coach Jason Wagoner sees the city gap narrowing.
“I think we’ve definitely closed the gap on them,” Wagoner said of Lincoln. “They graduated a lot of kids; a pretty well-decorated group. They’re relying on some new faces and younger kids. What helps us is we’re not necessarily young. That and we’re deep. That’s probably our advantage.”
Senior Dan Armstrong (13th in ’14) leads the group and is on the heels of a fourth-place finish at the Metro Conference meet. In that race, the Riders came in with a tight top 20 grouping: Seth Iverson finished sixth, followed by Thane Hein (eighth), Blake Chesley (10th), Davis Johnson (13th), Cole Brown (14th), Josh Goehring (15th) and Isaiah Lee (17th)
“We are so packed up that teams probably go, ‘Holy crap, here come these Roosevelt guys together,’” Wagoner said.
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Washington, meanwhile, has also taken a step forward this season after just missing the podium in fourth a year ago. With Sadi, Alec Kray (third at the Metro meet), Alex Derr and Topher Zahn, the Warriors have the talent and depth to make things interesting Saturday.
Rapid City Stevens has been without a state title since 2004, which ended the Raiders’ streak of 10 straight. Stevens finished third behind the Riders a year ago and will be in the mix again. Pierre also has a strong pack of runners.
Brandon Valley’s Jakob Hanna has made big strides since taking 14th at state last year.