This afternoon, the Majestic Oaks Golf Course will be the grounds for the renovated Blaine Invitational. After many years of this meet being held annually in the first week of October, this fall saw the change to the second Friday of September, and then a further change due to a double-booking error to settle on September 6th. Also unlike past years, there will not be blue/white divisions; there will instead be the normal setup of varsity/JV/middle school races. This race challenges runners, but is also capable of producing fast times. With weather set to be cloudy and in the mid 60s, with not too much wind, tomorrow is a great day for these runners to put up a solid time early in the season. With only six teams set to compete tomorrow, (Blaine, Forest Lake, Andover, Anoka, Maranatha Christian, and St. Louis Park) that'll give the runners a lot more space than a usual, jam packed race.
In the boys race, the clear frontrunner is going to be Blaine's Ben Olson, one of the more popular runners in Minnesota due to his very strong history of always being one of the top runners for his grade, going back to middle school. Olson has already run 15:58 this season, one of the fastest times in the state, and is currently ranked 7th in the state in the coaches poll. A runner who could potentially challenge Olson is Andover's Tom Breuckman. He has already run 16:17 this season, but that was in the same meet that Olson ran his best time, so Breuckman will certainly have some ground to make up on his conference rival. One more runner to watch out for will be Forest Lake's Charlie Babcock, a runner who had a solid track season (4:30 1600, 9:40 3200) and has a 5k PR of 16:27. Babcock's only race so far is the Holy Angels Invitational 3200m which he won in 9:59.
As for the team competition, Forest Lake will be the team to beat. In a virtual meet using 5k PR's, they win with 29 points, exactly half the score of the host school, Blaine. Forest Lake, who qualified for State last fall, has a strong up and coming team with 3 runners having 5k PR's under 17. They typically have been known more for their Nordic Skiing, but their future looks bright for their cross country team as well. Blaine will need more than Ben Olson up top if they want to challenge Forest Lake, but they also seem to be the only team within striking distance of the Rangers.
For the ladies race, Regan Duffy is clearly the top girl up front. With her 18:17 PR and a 19:09 under her belt this season already, she not only looks ready to win this race, but ready to make a clear push at being one of the best runners in the state. The girls with the most realistic chance to finish close to her tomorrow are her own teammates Caroline Schoessow and Ava Wilson, who both enter with PRs in the low 19's. Blaine's Sarah Olson would have had the next fastest 5k PR to Duffy (outside of her Forest Lake teammates), but Olson will not be running cross country this season. And finally, one more girl to watch who has already bested her 2016 PR is Andover's Alexa Havon.
The team competition looks very well like it might not even be close at all. Forest Lake dominates in the virtual meet by a very big margin over Andover, who themselves are a potentially State-caliber team out of Section 7AA. With just 22 points in the virtual meet, the Rangers are looking to have a dominating performance tomorrow. Andover is a distant second in the virtual meet with 54 points, and reigning NWSC champions Anoka come in with 72. Ranked 9th in the state, Forest Lake is looking very strong this season, and they look to show everyone how good they really are tomorrow.