PREVIEW: Gerry Smith Invitational

Down in Montgomery, Minnesota, Tri-City United will play hosts to over 30 schools on the Montgomery Golf Course This massive meet featured no fewer than seven ranked teams and individuals in Class A, plus a few notables from Class AA too. With temperatures in the low 70s and partly cloudy, it will be very nice weather for competition, and could even help the top runners achieve faster times than normal on this course, which historically has produced fairly average results. In any event, it will be a very exciting day down in Montgomery.

On the boys side, the big name to watch is Jordan's Owen Keiser. Ranked fourth in Class A, Keiser has already run 16:30 this fall and has a career-best time of 16:18. The senior will definitely have some good competition, though, primarily in the form of HLWW's Noah Buntrock. Buntrock isn't yet ranked in the coaches poll, but having already run 16:48 after a season-best in 2016 of 16:38, I have a strong feeling he will be at some point this fall. Whether his chances of upsetting Keiser are strong or not remain to be seen, but I have no doubt he'll try. Hugo Ruiz from the hosts TCU will also be in the lead pack, and Ruiz might have an even better chance considering that he's already run 16 seconds faster this year than he did in 2016. But if we're taking about improvements over 2016, then we need to talk about both of Mound-Westonka's top athletes, junior Charlie Reinhardt and sophomore Alec Van Gelder. Both athletes broke 17 minutes for the first time in their careers at the Maple Lake Invitational, and in Gelder's case the improvement was by over 45 seconds. Considering both athletes are underclassment, this strng front could be a huge stepping stone to being competitive in the team race. Other names to watch will be waseca's Cole Halla and Brentt Attenberger who both take over for Cole Streich at the head of Waseca's team, Owen's sophomore brother Symon Keiser, Waconia's Adam Ebent and Kalin McDonough, and Saint James' Lucas Pierson. Each f these athletes ran under 17 minutes in 2016. But a bunch more names to watch come from our team favorite, and possibly the best team in Class A, Mankato Loyola. Mitch Johnsone is off to the best start of the Loyola athletes, but Brady and Brett Omtvedt, Landon Javens, and Micah Rentshler will not be far behind either. The quintet is predicted to score 68 points in this competition, placing them well clear of the 11th-ranked team from Jordan and the Class AA challenges from Waconia and Waseca. But don't be surprised to see Mound-Westonka poke their nose into the podium is their other runners see similar improvement as Van Gelder and Reinhardt.

On the girls side, there are yet more ranked performers to keep an eye on. Coming off a very strong track season (6th in Class A in the 1600 last June), Gracie Mallak could hardly have had a better start to her season in dropping fourteen second off her personal best and breaking 19 minutes. However, while it is temping to say that the 10th-ranked athlete in Class A is the clear favorite, the presence of Lake Crystal's Makenna Thurston makes things more complicated, as she is actually ranked higher than Mallak at 9th. Thurson opened her season with a time of 19:40 at Mountain Lake, not far off her best time from last year in 19:30 from State last fall. More competition will come in the form of AA Waseca's sisters Abbe and Ella Dufault. Abby's 2016 time of 19:26 is the second fastest of all the athletes in the field, and she opened her season very strong at St. Olaf in 19:36. But her sister a seventh-grader is perhaps more interesting. Finishing St. Olaf is one second under 20 minutes, she joins Lauren Ping as the only sub-20 seventh-graders in Minnesota on the girls side thus far. It will be interesting to see how she stacks up against more Class A competition. The rest of the individual battle will probably be supplied by the two top teams in the race, third-ranked Fairmont and fifth-ranked Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted. Whether you use 2017 times or 2016 in the virtual meet, the result is the same - it's going to be very close, but Fairmont has an ever-so-slight edge. However, using 2017 times, there is actually a third team that the virtual meet predicts to walk away with the championship, Waconia high school and their 47-second spread. In spite of not having any individual favorites, their 2017 times give them a score of 62 against Fairmont's 88 and Howard Lake's 101, so it is anyone's guess just which order these three teams will end up in.