The biggest cross country week of the season continues this afternoon as 21 teams congregate onto the campus of Crown College. With nearly every team coming from the general vicinity of Lake Minnetonka, the 23rd annual Run of the Lakes attracts talent from both big and small schools, and thus is a great way for Class A teams to compete against comparably-skilled Class AA squads. This course has seen a few fast times in recent memory, although difficult weather made the previous two years slower than when we've seen historically. Thankfully, this year will be a lot kinder weather-wise, as temperatures of low-to-mid 70's combined with partly-cloud overcast skies make for good conditions, if not perhaps a tiny bit warmer than ideal.
Beginning with the individual battle on the boys side, we once again will have a matchup of Buffalo's Isaac Basten and the Chanhassen Trio. Already facing off once at the Bauman/Rovn, Basten (who is undefeated in four races this year and has looked very impressive while doing so) held the upper hand that day crossing in 16:08, nine seconds ahead of runner-up Zach Long. Based on results so far this season, Class AA's 7th-ranked Basten is clearly the established as the favorite, but any one of Long, Torin Christianson (who won this race last year) or Nicholas Scheller could give him a run for his money, or take his money outright. Also in that same group is Jordan's 5th-ranked Class A runner Owen Keiser, who is coming off his first win of the season in Norwood Young America (and a pair of runner-up finished before that). In the second their of athletes, things get even more crowded. A total of sixteen athletes in the field have run under 17 minutes in the 5k ether this year or last. That list of athletes includes Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted's Noah Bundrock (who was ranked in the Class A polls earlier this year), a trio of duos from Marshall (Zach Matzner and Noah Versaevel), Mound-Westonka (Charlie Reinhardt and Alec Van Gelder), and the hosts from Waconia (Adam Ebent and Kalin Mcdonough), Basten's Buffalo teammate Brett Hanson (who has had an up-and-down season so far), Chaska's John Starkey, Jack Heun of Watertown-Mayer, and finally Owen's brother Symon Keiser of Jordan. In a field with this much talent, combined with a fairly quick course and favorable weather, you can bet that there will be a lot of great competition and more than likely a few PRs. As far as the team competition goes, Chanhassen definitely looks to be the favorite, winning the virtual meet with 58 points, but Buffalo surprisingly isn't that far behind with 70. While Chanhassen's big three have more or less established themselves as one of the best running trios in Minnesota, there is a fairly significant gap to the fourth runner which has kept them from their full potential so far this year. Buffalo's tighter spread will keep them in the competition and might even help them pull off the upset. It is hard to imagine someone other than one of those two teams come away with the win, but in the battle for third, you could make a case for any one of Waconia, Marshall, Chaska, or Jordan to come away on top. But if the result call according to athete's PRs, 3rd place should go to the home team.
On the girls side, there is unsurprisingly one name that pops up all over near the top of the virtual meet results, and that is Marshall. In the individual battle, Marshall claims the two fastest athletes in the fiels with Natalee Sample and Kaia Sueker. Of course, Marshall's team strategy has not been one which affords having a true frontrunner, as they have been firmly embracing a pack-running mentality thus far this season. This means that those two could easily be joined by Morgan Radel, Nicole Sample, and Bellamy Sukalski. Marshal also has one more athlete in Alison Mortimer who has a similar PR, but she has not raced yet this year. Outside of Marshall, another athlete who has not raced recently is Chanhassen's Miranda Gilbertson, the owner of the third-best PR in the field at 18:32. Gilbertson ran in the first race of the season at the St. Paul Central Open, finishing 5th in 19:34, but since then has been quiet, and so we cannot say for sure she will run. HLWW's Gracie Mallak is in the same category, as she has been quiet since dropping an 18:50 to start her season at the Maple Lake Invitational. This is a severe blow to her team too, who was ranked highly in Class A until her injury. One athlete we do expect to run, however, is Meghan Pierson. Pierson's three races this year have all been between 19:34 and 19:56, and with a PR of 19:00, she will certainly be a challenge to the Marshall girls. Buffalo's Amanda Montplaisir will also be a challenge, having already set a career PR this year in 19:18. And finally there is Chaska's Olivia Anderson, who has already races five times this year, running sub 20 four of those times and peaking with 19:29. In the team battle, assuming none of Mortimer, Mallak, or Gilbertson will run, the battle isn't a battle at all, but a rout. With five athletes having PRs of 19:34 or better, Marshall easily runs away with the team competition, as their score of 25 points is less than a sixth of the total of 153 for the projected runners-up of Waconia (who are led by Kaleesa Houston). But the battle for 2nd will be interesting, as Class A's 6th-ranked Belle Plaine team, Buffalo, and HLWW would find themselves in the mix for that second spot. It is worth noting, however, that is Mallak does manage to run, suddenly there is no battle for 2nd anymore, and HLWW will have a margin over Waconia of nearly 50 points.