Several convincing wins, the long-awaited return of a nationally elite runner, and the debut of an athlete who has just as much potential made for an extremely exciting St. Olaf High School Showcase on Thursday. Though the favorites all emerged victorious, the race shed light on the early season fitness of top athletes and teams. Some strong performances will undoubtedly shake up the Minnesota rankings, as some emerged as probable contenders for the podium this fall.
In the girls race, Minnesota prep distance running fans finally got what they've all been waiting for: the return of Grace Ping. The freshman stud from Winona Cotter did not disappoint, taking it out hard from the gun, as she's been often known to do. She'd create a gap early, with Tierney Wolfgram of Math & Science Academy leading the pursuit. Right behind Wolfgram, Ping's younger sister Lauren was in the midst of her own stellar coming-out race.
Ping would hold on for the W in an impressive time of 17:45 over 5k, a time seven seconds faster than when she won State on the same course in 2015. In the latter half of the race, Wolfgram would build a gap on the younger Ping to take 2nd in 18:04. It's an impressive start for Wolfgram, who hopes to make her way onto the nationwide rankings and become a factor at the national level.Lauren Ping held on for 3rd place in a time of 18:21. That showing should lift her up to the 3rd spot in the Class A rankings. While the younger Ping is mostly content with taking 2nd to her older sister, she'll also look to steal a bit of her sibling's thunder this fall.
The first of many matchups between Wolfgram and both Pings may have stolen the show, but there were many other impressive performances as well. Lakeville South's 6th-place finisher Brianne Brewster made a strong case for a spot in the rankings with her time of 18:40, and 7th place Rachel Ball of Hudson (WI) did well to represent our neighbors to the east.
Also impressive were the races from Emma Atkinson, Caroline Sasson, Emelia Arnone, and Rhynn Paulsen. The most impressive part? All four attend powerhouse Wayzata, and all four placed in the top 10 to lead their squad to a dominant victory. Wayzata scored just 37 points, over 100 better than 9th-ranked Forest Lake's 168. Hudson was right behind in 169, with Red Wing and Roseville rounding out the top five. The decisive win indicates that Wayzata's goal of placing on the podium at State is definitely achievable, and perhaps even a bid to NXN looms in their future.
In the boys race, one runner stood out from the rest, while one team's impressive showing demonstrated that they may deserve a higher ranking. Early on in the race, two individuals separated themselves from the field. Myles Fleming of Henry Sibley took the lead, while Isaac Basten of Buffalo sat on his shoulder. Basten began to pull away just past the 2-mile mark, and would grind out the win in 16:16, a PR of roughly 10 seconds. Currently ranked 7th in the state, a time of that caliber in August (on the State course itself) could signal that he has the potential for a top-5 finish.
Basten would win convincingly over 11th-ranked Fleming, who would hold on for 2nd. With higher mileage than he's ever ran, Fleming looks primed to make the podium at State, though his eyes are on the top 5 spots. Finishing right on Fleming's heels, Blake Iverson of Maple Grove grabbed 3rd place, taking over the lowstick position from 2017 graduate and NXN All-American Alex Miley. Iverson and his teammate, 5th place finisher CJ Young, would sandwich White Bear Lake's Ben Vanderbosch to round out the top 5. Tom Nemanich, Jace Bartz, Eli Hoeft, and Joe Reinmann would also all break 17 minutes.
Led by Vanderbosch placing 4th and Bartz taking 7th, 11th-ranked White Bear Lake would earn the team title with 84 points. It was a fairly convincing win over 10th-ranked Red Wing and the strong Maple Grove squad, a result that seems to signal that they're even better than their position in the polls. While Maple Grove placed two athletes in the top five, White Bear Lake's superior depth ultimately put them over the edge. Though the Bears came in off a tough week of training, they certainly proved their quality with the win over an enormous field. Look for White Bear Lake to make a splash when they run this course again in November.