This afternoon, the best talent from around northern Minnesota will gather in Eveleth, home of the US Hockey Hall of Fame, for the Eveleth Lions Invitational. This will be a huge meet, with 23 teams expected to compete in the 18th running of the meet hosted by Eveleth-Gilbert High School. However, the meet will be separated between Class A and Class AA, resulting in a whopping 10 different races scheduled for the day. The meet is located at Eveleth Municipal Golf Course, and it doesn't appear to be the quickest of courses. Times in 2016 weren't very fast across the board, but in cross country, what really matters is the place. Weather is projected to be decent, with temperatures in the mid 70s expected, and a cloudy day should provide good coverage. There's also a slight chance of rain, but it'll likely hold out, creating solid racing conditions. With multiple ranked athletes, it should be an exciting day of race up north!
Arguably the top athlete attending this meet from either division, Jake Paron of North Shore (Cook County/Two Harbors) stands as the heavy favorite in the Class A boys race. He opened the season with an impressive win over 7th-ranked Ethan Olson at the North Shore Challenge, and he's the only one in the field who has broken 17 minutes in a 5k. His closest competitor might be Luke Olson of Ely, who also opened the season with a win at the Virginia Invitational. Jacob Gontjes of Marshall School of Duluth has the next quickest PR, so don't count him out. And though they haven't ran yet this year, if Olson's teammates Joey Pierce and James Schwinghamer race, they could be in the mix, as could North Shore's Noah Smith and Virginia's Jake Seitz. Virgina also has one of Minnesota's newest and youngest talents in seventh-grader Cameron Stocke, who has already run 17:37 in the young season. Assuming Ely's entire top trio runs, they're predicted to win the virtual meet with 58 points over International Falls' 105 and North Shore's 110, though if North Shore run better than their massive projected 1-5 split of 3:19, they could be closer to Ely.
There's also a heavy favorite in the Class A girls race, as Mesabi East's Ava Hill has been on a tear this season, with two victories and an 18:45 performance already under her belt. A cross country rookie after taking home the Class A championship in the 800m last June, she's currently ranked 9th in Class A. The only other sub-20 runner is Proctor's Hannah Bettendorf, who should be leading the chase pack. The host team's Natalie Fultz will be in the running on her home course, and could use that to her advantage this afternoon. Sydney Binsfield of Proctor and Ashlee Siegle of Marshall have both run in the low 20s, so they should each be part of the chase pack. And don't count out Proctor's Annika Voss or Ely's Ryne Prigge, who took 2nd and 3rd here last season. Proctor's overall depth should lead the clear of the field, earning them 30 points in the virtual meet. In pursuit is Mesabi East with 90, and South Ridge with 119. If Ava Hill gets support behind her and decreases the monster projected 3:50 1-5 spread, they could be close to contending with Proctor.
In Class AA, despite only 5 believed to be running, there should still be solid competition. Leading the way should be Molly Weberg of Duluth East, who sports a PR of 19:13, and is fresh off a win at the Norm Ayen Bluejacket Invitational. The only other runner who has broken 20 minutes is her teammate Isabella Sutherland, who should be leading the charge behind Weberg. Weberg and Sutherland went 1-2 at this meet in 2016, and they'll be looking to do the same this year. Laura Dahlin of Hermantown and Lauren Cawcutt of Cloquet have both run in the low 20s, so don't count them out. And Riley Pohl of Duluth Denfield took 5th here a year ago, so she could also be in contention. Duluth East's 1-2 punch and overall depth should lead them to the team victory rather easily, as in the virtual meet they're projected to earn 24 points, over Hibbing's 68, Cloquet's 69, and Hermantown's 75. It looks to be a very tight race for 2nd.
On the boys side of Class AA, no boy in the field has broken 17 minutes over 5k. Aidan Ripp of Cloquet has come the closest though, setting a PR in his first race of 2017 in 17:00.30, so he'll likely break that barrier in the near future. While Ripp, an extremely promising Nordic Combined talent, is the favorite, he won't walk away with the title without a fight. Duluth East's Eli Koski ran 17:16 last season, but hasn't been very close to his PR yet this year, so he'll try to find his form this afternoon. Koski did well at this meet last year, taking 5th. Ripp's teammate Blaine Bong has the next fastest PR, thanks to a 17:27 effort in 2016. Also in the mix will be Luke Lundell of Hibbing and Blake Desmond of Cloquet, the only other athletes who have broken 18:00. In the virtual meet, Cloquet is projected to place all of their scorers in the top 10, leading them to the win with 23 points. Right behind is Duluth East with 40 points, and Hibbing with 72.