PREVIEW: Long Prairie Invitational

The Long Prairie Country Club will be the grounds today for nearly thirty schools from Western-Central Minnesota. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle High School will serve at the hosts for this stacked meet, which features multiple ranked runners and a few teams that will undoubtedly make a strong case to be ranked as well. It will be great competition, though perhaps not extremely comfortable for the runners, with temperatures approaching 80 with a hot sun around the start of the meet, and not really looking to cool down much as the day goes on. But these are the conditions where athletes can start to show us their grit, and there will be plenty of that this afternoon.

In the boys competition, things will get very interesting in both the individual and team battles. West Central Area's Jacob Bright is, according to the polls, the runner to beat. With a career-best time of 16:08 and 16:36 under his belt already this season, the 8th-ranked Class A runner looks to be in good shape for a win. But there will be three other runners who could make things uncomfortable for Bright. One of those athletes is the 11th-ranked freshman from Staples-Motley, Emmett Anderson. Unlike Bright, Anderson already has a win to his credit this season, plus a runner-up finish to the 7th-ranked Class AA athlete Isaac Basten, so he could upstage the sophomore. But even more interesting are the pair of Breckenridge-Wahpeton runners, Hunter Gowin and Zack Haire. Both these athletes just ran a race on Saturday in Milbank North Dakota, so it will be a fairly short turnaround for them, but the interesting part were their times of 16:07 and 16:22 respectively, which were both big PRs for them. However, alterations made to that race course due to rain accumulation could have been a factor in those times, so having them compete against Anderson and Bright will give us a better idea of just where they stand and how good they could be. Of course, Gowin and Haire weren't the only Breckenridge runners to have career-bests on Saturday. The rest of their team did extremely well too, and as a result our virtual meet projections have Breckenridge running away with the win in 50 points, compared to 125 from New London Spicer, 135 for Albany, and 137 for Staples-Motley. So this meet will be a great opportunity to see just how good this Breckenridge team really is.

On the girls side, the individual battle will feature two more ranked runners, who both just so happen to be freshmen coming solid vicories. Staples-Motley's Kira Sweeney, ranked 5th in Class A, had a 46-second victory in her last race at Wadena, while Albany's 12th-ranked Kristine Kalthoff won by 24 seconds last week. This race will be a great opportunity to really assess where these runners are at as it is the first time this year they will face another ranked runner. But just on their heals is an athlete who very-well might get ranked in the near future, West Central Area's 8th-grader Lexi Bright, the sister of Jacob. Bright doesn't have a win yet this year, but has raced very well against solid competition in her two third-place finishes and a runner-up performance. This could be the ace that she makes her case to be ranked, or at least put her up for consideration. Also to be making her case is Morris' Maddie Carrington. Carrington came in third in this race last year and has had a sold start so far in 2017, but doesn't have quite the PRs as Sweeney, Kalthoff, or Bright. Neither do the two girls who beat Carrington, Sauk Centre's Katie O'Brien and Osakis' Lauren Savageau, who could definitely factor into the final results, but don't overall have as strong resumes as the favorites. For the team battle, there isn't one team that's expected to run away with the competition, though it could be a great battle between two. Our virtual meet projects 65 points for the victorious West Central Area, but Albany at 89 is easily within striking distance. After that there is a bit of a gap before reaching Morris, Staple-Motley, and Osakis for the rest of the top five.