Declan Dahlberg Looking To Rebound At Trinity Invitational

With the cancellation of the Victoria Lions Invitational, today's highest-profile meet may have just shifted down to the Dakota County Fairgrounds in Farmington for the 20-plus team strong Trinity Invitational, hosted by the Trinity School at River Ridge. While it is absent the sheer quantity of star power contained by the cancelled Chaska meet, there will be plenty of intrigue surrounding Trinity. The current forecast at race time is expected to be favorable for runners with low 60's and partly cloudy, but not before rain will have probably been trickling down the whole morning, in addition to the rain already received the past couple days. In other words, the course will be wet and soft, so it may be difficult to run quick times like previous years. But that won't stop any of the ranked teams or individuals participating today, or any of the other participants.

The boys race will be the main attraction, as Mounds Park Academy's Declan Dahlberg will run his first race since his disappointing performance at the Milaca Mega Meet (for Declan's own thoughts on his performance and everything leading up to it, check out his weekly column posted on Sunday). The reigning Class A champion is coming off his first loss to Class A cross country competition in over a year, and he will face another battle today in the form of seventh-ranked Jebediah Merkle from Southwest Christian. The 4:23 miler has improved each race this year and is coming off his first win of the season at last week's Farmington Cowbell Classic, where he ran a career-best 16:37. The biggest competition given to those two stars will probably be from the trio of young studs from Saint Paul Central, sophomore Mickies Kiros, freshman Kalid Ali, and junior Michael Smith. Each athlete has run under 17 in 2017, and Kiros has been having one of the better sophomore campaigns in the state having run 16:54 or better at every race other than the Roy Griak Invitational. But the most interesting figure in the race is probably the most under-the-radar one - Hastings David Nogle. The senior Nogle is in his first year of cross country after running distance events in track for several seasons, and while his start wasn't necessarily the most impressive (his first four races were 10:23 at the Irish Invitational, 17:20 at Hastings, 18:03 at Mayo, and 17:56 in Hudson), his latest performance at the Red Wing Invitational (finishing fourth in 16:43) has to make people turn their heads towards him. However, he is still an enigma at this point, with one truly impressive race. Just how good could he be? Today will answer a lot of questions. On the team front, there will be three clear frontrunners while the rest of the field will playing catch-up. The top team on paper is definitely St. Paul Central. With three runners under 17 minutes and their other two at 17:24 and 17:33 (and nary a senior among them), Central has all the makings of something truly special in the near future. The virtual meet projects them to score 35 points. Behind them is Class A's ninth-ranked Nova Classical Academy squad, projected to score 59 points. Nova has recently been working on their pack-running abilities, and their wok has paid off with a spread of 57 seconds and all five scorers under 18 minutes, led by senior Chris Norton and his season-best time of 16:59. Closing in with 69 points in the virtual meet is Nogle's Hastings squad, who will need to close the gap between Nogle and their next four runners if they want to finish better than projected.

The girls race, compared to the boys, may not be quite as intriguing or filled with notable names, but there is still a lot here to look forward to. One name in particular to watch out for is the girl entering with the top season-best time in the first, Hasting's Linnea Urban. Like her boy's counterpart Nagle, Urban is in her first year of cross country after running track for several seasons, and just ran her career-best time at the Red Wing Invitational to finish fourth. Urban has, however, been more consistently towards the front of the pack this season than Nagle (four of her races have been top-eight finishes), and her track record on the track is stronger too (she was the 1600m Metro East Conference champion in 5:24 last season). But Urban's career-best of 19:36 is actually not nearly close to the runner who has run the fastest. That would be South Saint Paul's Star Costa, who one year ago at this meet ran 18:37, one of six races she won in 2016. But the All-State track athlete from two years ago has struggled to regain similar form ever since this race last year, and in fact missed the 2017 track season. Her 2017 XC performances have been hovering between 20 and 21 minutes, and she is coming off a season-best run time of 20:09 at the Farmington Cowbell Classic, the third-best time in the field. Her two teammates, Amanda and Nicole Kelly, bookend Costa with their season performances of 20:03 and 20:13 respectively, giving South Saint Paul the best trio figureheads of all competing teams. St. Paul Central also will have a talented trio at the front with Kaia Hilgendorf-Roost, Emily Cerkvenik, and Sophia Rabins, but not nearly as strong as their southern city neighbors. The final runner to watch out for in the individual battle is MPA's seventh-grader Margo Nightingale and her season-best time of 20:20. In the team battle, the top three are configured almost identical to the boys race with three teams separating themselves from the pack and one clear frontrunner. Led by their top three of Kelley, Kelly, and Costa, South Saint Paul is the winner of the virtual meet with 32 points, followed by 55 points from Saint Paul Central, and 71 points from Hastings.