This afternoon, Fergus Falls will be hosting the John Hermes Invitational for the 59th time. This installment takes place at Pebble Lake Golf Course, with many teams from Section 8AA attending, as this meet will feature the exact same 5k course as their section meet. With so many of these teams attending, this invitational will serve as a preview to show who has the best chance of making it to State when Sections occur in roughly a month. Multiple ranked teams and individuals will be present, and with loads of challengers in pursuit, we could see some fairly fast times here. Last year, 10 boys broke 17:00, and though only one girl broke 20:00, the top 8 finishers are returning. And with temperatures set to be in the mid 60s, it should be a pleasant day for racing.
In the boys race, the runner to beat appears to be Keaton Gruber of Alexandria. He's been rolling through the 2017 season, running 16:20 already, and winning last week's Rocori Invitational. Hussein Muqsuin of our North Dakota neighbors Fargo South has also broken 16:30 on the year, and was 10th at the 2016 North Dakota State Meet, so expect him to be leading the chase pack. However, the top two returners to this meet are Sartell-Saint Stephen's dynamic duo of Ryan Fernholz and Alex Nemeth. Though that's a strong 1-2 punch, Alexandria might have a better one: Gruber's teammate Jackson Wichtendahl ran 16:35 at the Lucky Lindy Invitational this year, beating Fernholz by 9 seconds at that meet. And Jacob Bright of West Central Area, just a sophomore, is the only ranked athlete in the boys field, as he holds the 8th position in the Class A coaches poll. Lastly, don't forget to watch out for Soren Dybing of Bemidji and Hunter Gowin of Breckenridge, who have each dipped under 16:45 in 2017. Though Alexandria's 1-2 punch can hold their own against Sartell-St. Stephen's, they lack the depth to really compete with the 8th-ranked team in the Class AA. The Sabres are expected to win with a virtual meet projection of 50 points, followed by Alexandria's 104, Bemidji's 115, and Moorhead's 124. With 3 teams within 20 points, it'll be incredibly close for the best of the rest. However, if Bemidji's Linaes Whiting returns to form, then his squad will likely have the edge. Whiting ran 16:33 last season, but his season best at this point is 17:34. Rounding out the top 5 is projected to be Perham, the 1st-ranked Class A boys squad. Though they hold the top position in the polls, they've looked somewhat vulnerable this season, so their performance here could indicate whether they're contenders or pretenders.
The girls race is headlined by Sartell-St. Stephen's Ingrid Buiceag-Arama, who's ranked 12th in the Class AA. She holds a 18:41 PR and already ran 19:01 earlier this season, winning two races so far. However, at last weekend's Milaca Mega Meet she was thrillingly outkicked by 7th-grader Natasha Sortland in the 3A race, so she's definitely not unbeatable. Becker's 1-2 punch of Allison Hendrickson and Victoria Kolbinger have had a stellar 2017 campaign, and each have run 19:33 or faster. A pair of Class A stars, Lexi Bright of West Central and Caitlin Covington of Perham, have each been in the coaches rankings this season, so they should also impress. Bemidji's Sadie Hamrin is somewhat of wild card, as she was All-State in 2014 and 2015, but hasn't quite reached that same form since then. However, with two wins and a 19:39 5k under her belt this season, she should contend for the win. Emily Rugloski of Brainerd is coming off a victory at the Pierz Pioneer Stampede, so expect her to enter with some confidence. And keep an eye out for Alexandria's Bethany Miller, Monticello's Elise Yeager, Frazee's Ellie Morgan, and Thief River Falls' Jerzie Finstad, as they all have also broken 20 minutes this year. In the team standings, the 12th-ranked Becker girls are the heavy favorites. Fresh off a win in the Roy Griak Invitational Maroon Race, their scoring five have impressed all year. Perham, ranked 2nd in Class A, is projected to take 2nd in the virtual meet, scoring 101 points to Becker's 50. Rounding out the predicted top five are Monticello, Brainerd, and Moorhead.