Hutchinson, Annandale, Howard Lake, And More Set To Fly In Litchfield

This afternoon, the Dragons of Litchfield High School will be hosting their annual home cross country meet. The course runs throughout Litchfield Golf Course, which is located on the north shore of Lake Ripley. Both competitors and spectators should be in luck, because this course is FAST. At the 2016 edition of this race, the number of sub-17 boys and sub-20 girls were each in double digits, with many athletes running their season and/or personal best at this meet. The weather is supposed to cooperate, with a forecast of a cloudy day in the high 50s should be almost perfect for racing. Humidity is predicted to be in the mid-70s though, which is definitely higher than ideal. It should be noted that the quality of the field will be affected greatly by who Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted runs, as they just raced on Tuesday at the STMA Invite, so this meet would be a tough turnaround. If they don't run their top athletes, or they're fatigued, there could be spots up for grabs for both teams and individuals. Either way, expect a close battle on both sides, with many quick times.

4:00 M.S. Boys (2500m)
4:02 M.S. Girls (2500m)
4:30 Boys Varsity 5k
5:00 Girls Varsity 5k
5:30 J.V. Boys 5k
5:32 J.V. Girls 5k
6:00 Grades K-6 Kids Fun Run (1500m)

In the boys race, there's really no clear favorite on paper. The top returner from last year is Hutchinson's Mitchell Grand, who took 3rd in 2016. Grand has been on the radar in Minnesota for what seems like forever, as he ran 17:10 as just a 7th grader way back in 2013. He set his PR of 16:24 here last year, so look for him to run another top time. He doesn't have the fastest time run this year though, as Samuel Ringger of Sauk Rapids-Rice owns a 16:36 time, from a win at his home invitational. Noah Bundrock of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted has had one of the most impressive seasons in the field, with four sub-17 efforts already, including three victories. Another athlete with multiple victories is Annandale's Christopher Groth, who has been the top runner for his eleventh-ranked squad. Michael Miller of Maple Lake has run 17-flat this year, so he's very likely to break through that barrier for the first time here. Mason Friesz and Ryan Droubie of Cambridge-Isanti, Evan Lee of Mayer Lutheran, and Elijah Weiss of Albany have each broken 17:30 on the year, so they should also be apart of the chase pack. In the team battle, Hutchinson's overall depth is projected to lead them to a fairly solid victory in the virtual meet, scoring 70 points. Their entire top 5 is predicted to finish in the top 20, and their 1-5 spread of 54 seconds proves to be the difference over Cambridge-Isanti's 100 points, which is good for 2nd. Annandale, the eleventh-ranked team in Class A is predicted to take 3rd. Lead by Groth, they're expected to score 127 points for 2nd, but they're ultimately hurt by their 2:13 1-5 split, as their 4th and 5th runners account for 97 of those points.

Unlike the boys race, the girls competition is headlined by one athlete who stands out from the rest. That would be 11th-ranked Gracie Mallak of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, who blazed an 18:50 in her season debut on a very fast course. After missing some time earlier in the season, she is coming on strong recently with 19:42 and 19:31 efforts in her last two races. The next fastest time from 2017 is exactly a minute slower than Mallak's season best, and it belongs to her teammate Gwen Helgeson. She cracked 20 minutes in her previous race at STMA on Tuesday. The only other runner who has broken 20:00 this season is Erika Swanson of the Northwest Nighthawks Co-op, after she ran 19:53 at the the Dassel-Cokato Invitational. She has a strong history too, taking 31st and 18th at the last two State Championships. The runner one place behind her at State was Kristine Kalthoff of Albany, who appears to be getting into postseason form: she's run faster than she did in the previous meet at every single race this year. She'll be looking to go sub-20 for the first time in 2017, as her 19:12 PR was run at this course. Her teammate Grace Rieland has also broken 20:30 on the year, so she could be up in the mix. Augustus Demarais of Maple Lake owns a 20:05 season best, and is fresh off her first career victory at the Father Otto Weber Invite. Coming in with a little confidence could see her drop a great time. On paper, the team battle looks incredibly close. 4th-ranked Annandale is projected to win the virtual meet with 76 points, just squeaking out the W by three points over Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted. However, HLWW's times are somewhat skewed from the extremely fast Maple Lake course, and their projected enormous 1-5 spread of 3:36 suggests that they'll be a bit farther back from Annandale. That being said, since they have such an impressive 1-2 in Mallak and Helgeson, with a strong race from their 5th runner, they could pull an upset.