Nearly 20 teams will be gathering this afternoon at Baylor Park for the annual running of the Lions Invitational. It will be the 42nd running of this meet hosted by Central High School in Norwood Young America, making it another of Minnesota's longest-running meets. As tradition, awards are provided and presented by the Lions Club of Norwood Young America. Already run on a challenging course consisting of one long loop of hills and marshes, the races today will be made even more challenging due to the low-to-mid-80's temperatures combined with a bright sun that will certainly drain many runners over the course of the day. Nevertheless, with multiple notable matchups and a slew of great talent, there is a lot to look forward to for this meet.
In the boys race the individual battle will hinge on the performance of one runner, Jordan senior (and the 5th-ranked Class A athlete) Owen Keiser. Keiser has opened his season so far with a pair of runner-up finishes (first to La Crescent's Matt Steiger at the Bill Glomski Invitational, then Saint James' Lucas Pierson for the Gerry Smith Invite), though his times have been very good for this point in the season. Today, he will certainly be the runner to beat as his personal record of 16:18 is 27 seconds better than his closest competition. But after that, it gets really murky; the next ten fastest runners all have PRs within fifteen seconds of each, and all at 17:00 or under, other making it virtually impossible to say for sure who is most likely for a runner-up finish (assuming one of these ten runners, or even someone else, doesn't pull off an upset of Keiser). Among these ten athletes, we have two from Mound-Westonka who have already PRed this season (Charlie Reinhart and Alec Van Gelder), two from Class A's third-ranked G-F-W (Javie Victorino and Ryan Albrecht), two other skilled sophomores that already have great track records (Tri-City United's Hugo Ruiz and Owen's brother Symon Keiser from Jordan), and two from Class As second-ranked team Mankato Loyola (Landon Javens and Mitch Johnstone). Rounding out these ten athletes are Chaska junior John Starkey and senior Jack Heun of Watertown-Mayer. Mirroring the individual battle will be the team competition. According to the virtual meet projection, Loyola will be very hard to overcome, scoring 61 points to take the win with a comfortable margin of 50. But the battle for runner-up (again, assuming they don't upset the clear favorites) is about as tight as it can get, with 12th-ranked Jordan coming in at 102, Chaska in 3rd with 110, and G-F-W finishing with 114. In spite of G-F-W's third-ranking, they haven't had as tight a spread so far this year as has been expected, leading to humbling performances in their first two meets. The ship can easily be righted if their #5 runner can close the gap to the point where they were last season, putting them down to a 60-second spread rather than two-minute-plus spreads of their first two meets.
On the girls side, It can't be said that there are any real "clear favorites" at all, either in the individual battle or the team. Four runners in the field have run under 20 minutes in the 5k. One of those runners is Makenna Thurston of Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, the returning 13th-place finisher at Class A State last fall and currently the 7th-ranked runner in Class A. However, it is Chaska's Olivia Anderson who enters not only with the fastest personal record of any athlete competing (19:20), but also the fastest time run in the field this year (19:29 at the St. Paul Central Open). Anderson and Thurston are the only athletes in the field to break 20 minutes thus far in 2017, with Anderson doing so three times this year and Thurston doing it twice. The third challenger will be Isabel Lind of Saint Peter. Lind's two races consist of two wins, both run of challenging courses and without significant competition (thus her times this year of 22:09 and 16:17 in a 4K do not appear as impressive on the surface). But with her PR of 19:55 and an individual appearance at State under her belt, she can't be counted out. In the team battle, it could again come down to ranked Class A competition versus Chaska. Scoring 80 points in Milesplit's virtual meet, 10th-ranked Belle Plaine is expected to come away with the win, but the margin over Chaska's 101 isn't a particularly comfortable one. Chaska's 1-5 split of 2:11 is their biggest anchor, while Belle Plaine's split of 42 seconds is rather impressive. But that said, there is a much greater potential for Chaska to close that gap than for Belle Plaine to open it as Chaska's front three are better than Belle Plaine's. If Chaska can close the gap between their 3 and 4 runners, they can make up ground quickly.