As the season goes on, cross country keeps on getting bigger. While the Roy Griak Invitational and the Milaca Mega Meet loom on the horizon, this week Minnesota distance fans will get to witness the enormous Rochester Mayo Invitational. 28 teams are penciled to run, stacking the field with some of the best talent in the state, in both Class A and Class AA. Nearing half a century in age, the 48th edition of the Mayo Invite will kick off at 3:30pm this afternoon. The race will take place at Eastwood Golf Course in Rochester, and it consists of two 2.5k loops winding throughout the golf course. Though this meet has historically witnessed fast times, results in 2016 were relatively slower, a trend that may continue this year given the brutal conditions. It's projected to be in the mid-80s and partly cloudy, but with about 10mph wind. The heat and the breeze should test how tough the racers are. With so many tantalizing matchups, we can't wait for racing to get underway.
Last season, only three girls broke 20 minutes on the day. However, with so much talent expected to run, there's no chance of the same thing happening this year. Headlining the field is Cotter's Grace Ping, who currently holds the 6th position in the Flo50 national rankings. She impressed in her first race back in Minnesota at the St. Olaf High School Showcase, winning convincingly over last year's Class A State champion, Tierney Wolfgram. While Grace enters as the favorite, her little sister Lauren stands as the closest challenger. Ranked 3rd in Class A, the younger Ping had a stellar debut, running 18:21 on the State course at St. Olaf. Behind those two are a slew of other quality runners. Kendall Pfrimmer is running on her home course and enters as the defending champion to this meet. Aly Welch of Rochester Century should be a part of the front pack, as she took 19th at State last season and holds a 5k PR of 18:39. Her teammate Jiayi Li has finished right on her heels in both of Century's races this year, so look for her to do the same this afternoon. Another runner who should be in contention is Red Wing's Grace Johnson, who earned All-State honors in 2015, consistently broke 19:00 last season, and has looked good in her two races this year. Don't forget to keep an eye out for Faribault teammates Madelyn Skjeveland and Ruby Gernandt, who have both broken 19:00 as well. And representing Class A, Stewartville's dynamic duo of Kailee Malone and Abby Orvis should also make a splash. On the team side, 11th-ranked Red Wing is projected to emerge victorious in MileSplit's virtual meet with 68 points, but that hinges largely on the performance of Jasmyn Armstrong, who clocked 18:50 last season but hasn't yet performed at that level in 2017. Perhaps this will be the race that she finds her form. Right behind Red Wing is 12th-ranked Rosemount with 131 points. Their insanely low projected 1-5 spread of 15.60 seconds should be a huge asset in such a large race, though they may be hurt by essentially not having a true lowstick. Rochester Century is predicted to finish next with 139 points, and the Stewartville girls squad is currently ranked 5th in Class A, so they'll also be in the mix.