This afternoon, some of the best talent in Class A will be clashing at Hibbing High School's Rotary Invitational. The meet is set to be run at Hibbing Municipal Golf Course, and will feature a plethora of teams northern Minnesota. Last year, this race saw brutally slow times. No girl broke 21:00, and Isaac Boedigheimer, who went on to place 6th at the 2016 Class AA State Meet, only managed a 17:56. However, it seems as though we should see better performances this year. The forecast is mostly cloudy with the temperature right around 60ºF, ideal conditions for quick times. And with multiple ranked individuals, we should be in for an extremely exciting day of racing.
Though the extremely talented Boedigheimer has moved onto the College of St. Scholastica, the boys race is arguably stronger than it was in 2016. Minnesota's latest phenom, freshman Geno Uhrbom of Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin has been on a tear this season, and he stands undefeated through his first five competitions. In his latest victory, he won the Milaca Mega Meet 2A race fairly convincingly over 3rd-ranked Keiser Freetly, 9th-ranked Owen Keiser, and last year's State Champ Declan Dahlberg. 10th-ranked Jake Paron of North Shore is Uhrbom's latest challenger, and he's fresh off an impressive top 30 finish in the stacked Roy Griak Invitational Gold Race. Ethan Olson of Moose Lake/Willow River broke 16 minutes last season and has broken 16:30 this year, so he should also be part of the front pack. Another sub-16:30 athlete, Wyatt Rauvola of Cromwell, could also be apart of the top 5. Tyler Norgord of Grand Rapids is the only other athlete in the field who has broken 17:00, but Aidan Ripp of Cloquet has run 17 flat and is fresh off a win at the Eveleth Lions Invitational, so don't count either of them out. In the team battle, Uhrbom's 4th-ranked GNK squad is projected to squeak out the win in the virtual meet in 68 points, just barely edging out Grand Rapids' 77, with Cloquet,Class A's 5th-ranked Esko, and Moose Lake/Willow River expected to round out the top 5. Nine points is a margin easily reversed, so Grand Rapids should provide an intriguing challenge to the strong GNK team.
In the girls race, last year's champion returns, but she doesn't enter as the favorite. That status belongs to 4th-ranked Ava Hill of Mesabi East, who's yet to lose in 2017. In her first season of cross country, the 2017 800m State Champ has broken 19 minutes twice already, shooting her up the rankings. She'll have tough competition, as the top two finishers from the 2016 installment of this meet are both returning. Last year's winner, Duluth East's Molly Weberg, has two victories so far this season. And the runner-up in 2016, Emma Stertz of Grand Rapids, blazed a 19:23 at the GNK Titan Invitational, setting a huge PR. Other than Stertz and Hill, the only athlete in the field who's broken 20 minutes this season is Proctor's Hannah Bettendorf, who ran 19:49 in the same race as Stertz's time. Ashlee Siegle of Marshall (Duluth) has been running well this season, including a victory at the Northwestern Invitational. And Bettendorf's teammate Sydney Binsfield holds a season best of 20:03, so she too could be in contention if she runs, though she hasn't raced since August 31st. Whether Binsfield returns here or not is the gamechanger in the team battle, as with her in the virtual meet, Proctor is expected to win in 51 points, beating out Duluth East's 73. However, if Binsfield doesn't race, Duluth East would be predicted to make up that deficit and come out victorious. After those two, Mesabi East, Northwestern (WI), and Ely are projected to complete the top 5.