In the first truly massive competition of the fall, 33 boys squads and 32 girls squads will all come together at the course housing the State Championships for the annual St. Olaf High School Showcase. From the far southeast corners of the state to the lakes country near the Dakota borders and everywhere in between is where teams will come for today's meet, and the result will be our first glimpse at just how well these teams match up with one another. With the weather set to hover in the low 60s and a bright sun in the sky when the first gun goes off at 10:00 this morning, the outlook is beautiful for these runners.
In the boys competition, it is safe to say that we can expect quite a battle near the front. The lone ranked runner of the competition will be Henry Sibley's Myles Fleming at 11th, who managed a fourth-place finish in this race a year ago behind three graduated stars, making him the highest-returning runner in the field. But Fleming's personal best 5k time of 16:02 is surrounded by runners of similar PRs. Maple Grove will have two athletes returning from their podium-finish at State who will be in the mix at the front with senior Blake Iverson and sophomore CJ Young. White Bear Lake's Ben Vanderbosch is another runner who will be in the mix as well, coming off a track season in which he set personal records of 4:28 and 9:45. Hopkins' Eli Hoeft and Buffalo's Isaac Basten will represent the top juniors of the competition, and then to round out the race's favorites will be Red Wing's top dogs Asa Beckner and Tom Nemanich. In the team battle, the competition will be primarily between three teams: 10th-ranked Red Wing, 11th-ranked White Bear Lake, and Hopkins (Wayzata is attending, but will not run their varsity squad). In Milesplit's virtual meet projection, the results will fall identically to the teams' rankings, with Red Wing taking the top spot thanks to having five athletes in the top 36, scoring a total of 104. White Bear Lake pulls in a score of 139 for 2nd, and Hopkins finished in third with 156.
But just as the boys competition will be a free-for-all at the top, the girls competition will be anything but. Without a doubt the biggest item of the day will be Grace Ping's first race back in a Cotter uniform since she took the Class A State Championships in the 1600 and 3200 back in 2016. But while it would be easy to say the race is Ping's to lose, the presence of reigning Class A 1600m, 3200m, and XC champion Tierney Wolfgram of Math & Science Academy will put a stop to that talk. Wolfgram will not easily relinqush her top standing to Ping, and there is no doubt that you can expect these two runners to pull out immediately and stay step-for-step with each other until one or the other of them falls off. This will be the first race of what we expect and hope will be a long and great rivalry between the two freshman stars (save for Wolfgram's distant runner-up finish to Ping in the 3200m at State in 2016, though she has improved substantially since then). Of course, not to be lost in the stardom of Ping and Wolfgram are top-ten ranked Class AA runners Brianne Brewster of Lakeville South and Regan Duffy of Forest Lake. Brewster has already started her season on a great note with a 18:51 performance already under her belt, while Duffy is making her season debut. And shortly after them you can expect to see sophomores Emma Atkinson and Rhynn Paulson representing the favorites in the team competition, 4th-ranked Wayzata. While there is no shortage of great teams in the girls competition (Lakeville South is ranked 6th while Forest Lake comes in at 9th), Wayzata is the team our virtual meet projections expect to walk away with the comfortable win in 58 points. Lakeville South is expected to take the runner-up honors with 90 points, and in 3rd place due of a large gap between their 4 and 5 runners is expected to be Forest Lake in 140. But before anyone solidifies those three teams as the consensus podium finish, they would do well to watch out for Red Wing who follow close behind in 166, so they could definitely find a way to squeeze onto the podium.