This afternoon, Marshall High School will be the host to cross country teams from across southwest Minnesota. Their eponymous Invitational will be held at Independence Park in Marshall, a fairly scenic green space that makes for a nice race course. The race is essentially an out and back that winds throughout the entirety of the park, with a few hills, including one significant one approximately a third of the way in. Last year's race saw some fairly fast times, and a perfect score for the host school in the girls race. With the graduation of 3-time All-State runner Claire Boersma, who now runs for Augustana University, it'll be interesting to see who steps up to take the win. The top 3 finishers in the boys race will not be returning, so that race is up for grabs as well. It could be a very warm day, as the first race is set to begin at 4:30pm, and weather projects to be around 80ºF and sunny, which isn't ideal for racers.
Taking spots 1-5, Marshall dominated the girls race. Though the loss of Boersma is a major one, there's nothing to suggest that the host team will have any issue winning handily at this year's meet. Ranked 4th in Class AA, they return last year's 2-5 finishers from this meet a year ago, and their projected fifth runner took 8th in 2016. In MileSplit's virtual meet, they're projected to take the win with 17 points, two places away from the perfect score they achieved a season ago. That outpaces Waconia's 78 points in second, with Redwood Valley coming in at 129 and Canby/Minneota at 132. The Marshall quartet of Natalee Sample, Kaia Sueker, Morgan Radel, and Nicole Sample should be battling each other for the win. Last week in their impressive Bauman/Rovn Invitational win, these four girls formed a pack near the front and hung together through almost the whole race. If anyone will break up the Tigers, Morgan Gehl of Murray County Central has the best shot. She took 8th at the Class A State Meet last fall, and has already run 19:12 this season. However, we also need to keep an eye out for dark horse Kaleesa Houston of Waconia, as she may also contend for the W.
With the top 3 finishers from 2016 gone, there are plenty of spots up for grabs at this year's meet. Waconia's Adam Ebent is the top returner to this race, and he's the only returner who broke 17 minutes here last year. While he's the favorite, the athlete with the fastest PR is actually Anthony Wollum of Canby/Minneota, who ran 16:37 last season. Zach Matzner of Marshall has had a very impressive start to his sophomore season, including already running 16:45. However, if he wants the individual crown, he'll also have to fend off teammate Noah Versaeval, who ran 16:46 in 2016. Also, coming from the far bottom corner of the state in Pipestone, two-time state wrestling champion Michael Suda finished in 9th place at the 2015 State Championships and could factor in the final results. Lastly, don't count out Kalin McDonough, who also broke 17 minutes a year ago. Despite Marshall's strong 1-2 punch, Waconia is projected to win the virtual meet with 50 points, just 4 more than the host school, followed by Worthington with 89. It appears that spectators will get treated to a thrilling team battle between Waconia and the hosts.