It's time to find out who the best distance runners in the Twin Cities are! This afternoon, schools from within the Minneapolis and St. Paul Conferences will be competing at the Twin Cities Championships (aka Twin Cities Challenge). The race is essentially a two lap course around the eastern portion of Battle Creek Regional Park in Maplewood. The park has plenty of hills, so the racers should be in for a challenging course. Like the weather yesterday, the conditinos will be unpleasant for racing. The first race goes off at 3:30, right in the heat of the day, and it's supposed to be in the low 80s and sunny. The heavily wooded park should provide some coverage, but the rough conditions will surely test the tenacity of the competitors. This meet also features putting pride on the line, as the winning team takes control of a travelling trophy. But it does one better: this meet also scores by city, with the top 25 athletes from each of the Twin Cities earning points to find out which metropolis is home to the better running talent.
On the boys side, a couple of teammates headline the field. Washburn's Joseph Minor is currently the 6th-ranked runner in the State, and has already broken 16 after his 15:56 at the Columbus Catholic Invitational. His teammate Caleb Haugland also garnered votes in the most recent edition of the coaches' rankings, and was only 6 seconds behind Minor at Columbus Catholic, a deficit he'll be looking to make up. Several strong runners from St. Paul won't let them take the win for Minneapolis easily, though. Mickies Kiros of St. Paul Central has shown solid improvement and has cracked 17 minutes in both of his 5ks, so he'll be in contention. His teammate Michael Smith has been right on his heals both times, less than 10 seconds separating them. In 2016, Highland Park used this race as a workout, though if they run all out, Oliver Paleen and Sidney Gross will be fighting for the win. Paleen in particular has been on a tear, taking 6th at the Rosemount Irish Invitational against a stacked field. With their 1-2 punch up front, Washburn is expected to win a virtual meet in 36 points over St. Paul Central's 42. This battle likely hinges on two storylines: First, if Matt Cota (who has a 16:05 PR) races, Washburn will have a huge weapon in their favor. Cota hasn't raced yet during the 2017 season, and we are unsure when he will return. Second, despite impressive PRs a year ago, St. Paul Central hasn't had as good a spread as expected based on those PRs. Could this be their breakout race? And if Highland Park races at max effort, they can't be counted out either.
The girls race should undoubtedly provide just as much excitement as the guys. Emily Covert of Washburn is currently ranked 2nd in Class AA, and has been absolutely dominant in 2017. In her first race of the year, she cruised to a 17:46 at the Columbus Catholic Invitational, only one second off her PR and 1:27 ahead of the runner up, her teammate Chloe Garcie-Grafing. In her second, the two-miler at Ron Kretsch, she cruised to a 69-second win in 11:10, this time over her teammate Grace Dickel. But don't let those margins fool you, because Garcia-Grafing, Dickel, Ovilia Orr, and Anna Kelley all have personal records of 19:34 or better, with Dickel and Orr having run sub-18:40. If anyone can break up the Washburn pack, Molly Moening of Highland Park has the best shot. Her 11:43 two-miler was good for 6th place at the super deep Irish Invitational. Another impressive performance could result in her finding her way onto the rankings. South's Anna Mulhern and Central's Sophia Rabins have also all broken 20:00 in the 5k, so they should also be near the front. Washburn's impressive top-five should lead to them winning with ease, as Class AA's 5th-ranked squad is projected to have a near-perfect 16 points over Southwest's 67, Highland Park's 74, and Central's 77. The stage is set for an extremely tight battle for 2nd place, and it looks like it'll come down to how tightly the teams can pack together. Southwest's projected 1-5 spread is 47.20 seconds, much better than Highland's 2:38.17 and Central's 1:23.20. That looks to be the difference for Southwest, but if they cut down on their huge gap, Highland could emerge victorious.