The last few years, the Class A race at Swain had been able to serve as something of a preview for the State Championships. The boys race had featured both Perham and Mora at the height of their rivalry. The girls race also featured Perham, as well as a Trinity School team who finished 3rd in 2015. Individual poduim finishers have also abounded, with the likes of Carl Kozlowski, Ethan Olson, Michael Mitchell, Tierney Wolfgram, Brynnan Covington, and many more. In the 2017 edition of the race, the team star power may not be quite as strong as previous years with Perham electing to forgo attending in favor of hosting their massive home invitational on Thursday, and GNK (and thus, Geno Uhrbom) running at Crosby-Ironton. But there will nevertheless be many, many names that you will see come November, both schools and individuals. In fact, this year might be one of the deepest, most competitive Class A races in recent memory.
The quickest 2017 time in the boys field is owned by an athlete who just recently joined the ranks of the ranked for the first time, sophomore Harris Anderson of Math & Science Academy. Despite his age, Anderson is far from an unknown commodity, having qualified for State in 2016 and running solid performances of 17:00 at the St. Olaf Showcase (taking 11th) and 16:59 at Faribault (taking 5th). But his 16:22 time from Carleton's Running of the Cows (taking second to the Class AA favorite Charlie Babcock) is what finally earned him his ninth ranking in Class A. The other currently-ranked athlete, coming in at 12th, is Mora's Cooper Lennox. Also a sophomore, Lennox has been amazingly consistent in 2017, finishing in the top ten of all seven of his races, and in the top five all but twice. His last two races, however, have ended in victories for Lennox in Foley (16:52) and Becker earlier this week (17:01). The ever-dangerous Ethan Olson of Moose Lake will also be running again after finishing 7th at this meet last year (before ultimately finishing 5th at State later that year). Olson has not yet won a race in 2017, but he has amazingly been a runner-up five times (out of six races), thrice at the hands of Geno Uhrbom. Cross country rookie Nathan Runck is also running, having been either the winner or runner-up in each of his six races in 2017, four of which have been under 17 minutes. The highest returning finisher is North Shore's Jake Paron, who finished 5th at Swain's 2016 Edition. Paron has been racing much less aggressively than his competitors so far, running just three times, but he has done excellent in each race, winning two, and then achieving at top-30 finish at the Roy Griak Invitational in the star-studded Gold Race. The race's biggest wild card, however, is Cromwell-Floodwood's junior Wyatt Rauvola. Before this fall, his fastest race was 17:36, but in 2017, all but one of his races has been faster than that, topping out at 16:27 in Deer River last week. In his last race at Hibbing, Rauvola finished 3rd behind only Uhrbom and Olson on a tough course. Swain could be Rauvola's opportunity to break out. Wadena's Noah Ross, Esko's Joshua Kemp, Watertown-Mayer's Jack Heun, Ely's Luke Olson, and Marshall School Duluth's Jacob Gontjes will also all be in the running for top-five finishes, and there are many more who will battle for the top ten. This will definitely be the most interesting and entertaining race of the day.
Things are also wide open in the team competition, featuring three ranked teams and several more knocking on the door. In fact, the competition is so deep that Ely, one of last year's State team qualifiers who did not graduate any runners, is only projected by our virtual meet tool to finish 11th. However, the tool does have a favorite in the form of 10th-ranked Plainview-Elgin-Millville and their 51-second spread. Their 149 points put them ahead of 8th-ranked Mora's total of 182, Glencoe-Silver Lake's 203, Wadena-Deer Creek's 210, and 4th-ranked Esko's 221. Of course, here underlies one of the flaws of our virtual meet tool; Esko has yet to run both on a favorable course and with favorable conditions simultaneously like Wadena, Glencoe, or P-E-M, and they have already defeated Mora in head-to-head competition, so we are confident they will finish better than 5th. Regardless, it will be close, and the outcome will be enlightening on just where teams like Glencoe, Wadena (who are running their second race in three days), Moose Lake, Ely, or even Math & Science Academy stand in Class A.
On the girls side, the individual battle will also be enlightening, but for very different reasons. There are only two names to really watch, one being reigning Class A (and Swain) champion Tierney Wolfgram from Math & Science Academy, the other being the undefeated (and thus-far unchallenged) rookie superstar Ava Hill of Mesabi East. While Wolfgram is a well-known commodity, Hill is still something of a mystery. The reigning Class A 800m champion, each of Hill's last four races, including against ranked competition, have been victories by at least 59 seconds. This will be her first race against truly elite comptition, so it will be very interesting to see how much of a challenge she can give Wolfgram, or even if she can defeat her. Well-behind those two athletes, there will be tight competition for the rest of the top ten. Hannah Bettendorf of Proctor will likely be in that pack, as she owns the next-fastest time so far in 19:46. After her is United North Central's Annika Aho. The returning 15th-place finisher at State in 2016, Aho has been having an up-and-down season, not running faster than 20:53 in any of her first seven races, many of which have been as much as two minutes slower than the same race in 2016. She may have just had a breakout race, however, with her 19:51 performance at Perham on Thursday. However, with the quick turnaround and since it will be her ninth competition of the year, it's possible she may be fatigued. Two athletes from Saint Paul Academy, Flann Enneking-Norton and Maddy Breton, will also be in this front pack, as will P-E-M's Madilyn Simon. One wild card in the race, however, is Marshall School's Ashlee Siegle. A five-time state qualifier between track and XC, Siegle has not run under 20 minutes since her freshman year two years ago. However, she has finished in the top six of all her races thus far, including a win at Northwestern and a 6th-place finish at Milaca. She PR'ed in track in the spring over 1600m, has consistantly finished her season strong, and has been running much better thus far than in 2016, so she may break out in this deep and open competition.
The team competition will depend very much on who runs and who does not run. The initial virtual meet projection puts Proctor as the girls winner with 79 points by a comfortable margin over Mora's 108, but that include's Sydney Binsfield among their scorers. Binsfield ran in Procor's first race of the year at the North Shore challenge, but has not run since and Proctor (who otherwise return every member from a State-qualifying team in 2016) has missed her, finishing behind six other teams in the Class AA competition at Milaca. Without Binsfield, ninth-ranked Mora is the projected winner by virtue of their very impressive 38-second spread with 103 points, and Proctor projects to 2nd with 126. Third is the eight-ranked Class A team from Lake City, with 133, but Lake City actually beat Mora at the Milaca Mega Meet two weeks ago. However, on paper that Mora team has improved significantly since then, and so this rematch will shed a lot more light on what might occur once November rolls around. United North Central projects to finish 4th with 167, but like their star Aho, they will need to battle fatigue from a heavy race workload and one day of recovery since their last competition. Saint Paul Academy and Mesabi East will be in the battle for a top-five finish also, as both teams have faced well against their competition thus far and are in a favorable position in their section regarding state qualification.
This preview was written by Mark Rice