The field for this event is somewhat difficult to predict, since many strong 800m runners (like Matt Steiger and Jebediah Merkle) elect for the longer distances. The 4x800 and 1600m also lead to many running on tired legs. However, on paper, the 800m looks like it might be Keiser Freetly's race to lose. Lac Qui Parle Valley star is the top returner after taking 2nd in 2017, and his PR of 1:57.78 (a race in which he was forced to hurdle over a fallen athlete) is the fastest in Class A. That time was also run after 800m prelims the day before, as well as the 1600m earlier in the day. Only a handful of other athletes have previously broken 2:00. Jonathan Tostenson of Benson-KMS took 3rd in this event a year ago, and stands as the best chance to take down Freetly. Tostenson will also likely be more rested if Freetly doubles in the 1600m. His PR of 1:58.42 is the third best among returners.
After Freetly and Tostenson, the only other returner from last season's senior heavy 800m final is Daniel Wilson of Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. He ran an impressive 1:58.95 in prelims, but had an off race in the finals, so he could be a dark horse if has a strong two days at State. Lucas Ryan of Holdingford blazed a 1:59.34 at his section meet last year, and missed qualifying of the State final by just one position. He'll be favored to advance and potentially earn All-State this spring. The fifth athlete that has broken 2:00 is Devin Tinklenberg of Pipestone. Tinklenberg actually owns the second fastest PR in Class A with a 1:58.10 time, but had an off day at his section meet and did not qualify for State last year. If he qualifies this season, he'll be in contention for a top three position, and a potential dark horse for the win.
Other returners from the State meet include Stephen Dobie of Maple River, Lawrence Mettler of Upsala/Swanville, and Taran Howard of Deer River. Watch out for a sleeper to make waves, perhaps Maxwell Gifford of Minnehaha Academy or Joe Baker of Milaca. Carson Speicher of Perham's premier event is probably the 1600m, but he could also make an impact if he elects to compete in the 800 and qualifies for State.
Declan Dahlberg of Mounds Park Academy will be returning to defend his State 1600m title, but this event may turn into one of the closest affairs of the year. Dahlberg arguably has the best closing speed on the track not just in Class A, but in all of Minnesota. He dropped the field last year in a blistering 59.84 second final lap. It would be hard to bet against that, and competitors would need to create an honest pace from the gun if they hope to hold off a fast charging Dahlberg. Matt Steiger of La Crescent actually holds the quickest PR, thanks to a 4:21.10 effort at the Section 1A meet. Steiger will either need a gap or a fairly quick pace to counter the kick of Dahlberg. Given his slightly faster PR, Steiger might have the best chance of an upset.
He's not the only one with a decent shot though. Jebadiah Merkle of Southwest Christian performed well at the distance all of last year, most impressively taking 5th at the Hamline Elite Meet in 4:23.89. That time was only .15 of a second off of Dahlberg's finish, indicating that he has the potential to be the best in Class A on the right day. The freshman phenom Geno Uhrbom of Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin made waves last season when he broke 4:30 as just an 8th grader. With his huge improvement being put on display during cross country, he should be expected to make another leap in track. Owen Keiser of Jordan did not qualify for the State 1600m a year ago after finishing third in his section (including being behind Merkle), but holds a 4:25.55 PR. If he can match or better that mark, he too enters the conversation for top miler in Class A.
As it stands, the champion will likely be crowned out of the five previously mentioned names. However, there are many others that could surprise with a leap this spring. Among them is Perham's Carson Speicher, who returns from a top ten finish at State in this event. Ethan Olson of Moose Lake joins the five favorites as one of the only six to break 4:30 during the 2017 season, with Jake Paron of Two Harbors holding a PR of 4:30.79. And though Keiser Freetly of Lac Qui Parle Valley was only 16th in the 1600m at State last year, his 1:57 800m speed places him right in the mix if the pace goes out somewhat tactically. Keep an eye out for Hugo Ruiz of Tri-City United and Owen's brother Symon Keiser of Jordan to make the sophomore leap to improve on their already impressive 4:34 PRs. and finally, Jesse Middendorf of Melrose and Zackary Anderson of Spectrum are also members of the sub-4:35 club, so they too could be in the running for a top ten finish.
Though Dahlberg placed second in this event in 2017, his chances of winning this event might be even better than his odds in the 1600m. His PR of 9:23.77, set at State last year, is over 14 seconds faster than the next best returner in Steiger. And even more astounding, at State he closed his last 400m in 60 seconds. If he closes like that again, nobody in the field will be able to hang. Don't expect a blowout though. Despite Matt Steiger's best time being 9:38.12, he and Dahlberg are renowned for their close battles at the longer distances. As seen at the 2017 State XC meet, if Steiger can run some of the kick out of Dahlberg with an honest pace, Steiger has strong enough finishing capabilities to edge out a win.
Only a handful of other athletes have crossed the 10:00 mark. Leading the way is Jake Paron, who finished just a second behind Steiger at last year's State meet in 9:39.93 in 5th place. Lukas Pierson of St. James, Merkle, and Alec Ille of Blooming Prairie are the other few who have crossed that barrier. Pierson placed 6th at State in 2017, but Merkle and Ille did not qualify. Interestingly, they both ran their times relatively early in the season, and did not eclipse them over the remainder of the season. If they each maintain their form further into the season, they can be expected to be contender for a top ten finish at State.
The future of Class A boys distance looks bright, as there a multitude of young talents looking to break out at this distance. In 2017 we saw three freshmen qualify in the 3200m, those being Mora's Cooper Lennox, Mikey Kvaal of Lac Qui Parle Valley, and Ely's James Schwinghamer. Now in their sophomore seasons, each will be looking to make a greater impact. In cross country, the extremely strong sophomore class saw many move up to the front of State competition. In particular, Jacob Bright of West Central, Harris Anderson of Math and Science Academy, and Lennox all shot into the rankings. That improvement should be visible on the track. But when discussing young talent, 9th graders Geno Uhrbom of Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin and Emmet Anderson of Staples-Motley must be mentioned. Uhrbom exploded in cross country season, running undefeated and riding the top ranking for much of the fall until he ultimately took 3rd at State. Though he specialized in the 1600m all of last track season, if he moves up to the 3200m, he will instantly be in the podium picture. Anderson had an impressive track performance as an 8th grader, but as a freshman in cross country he has made enormous leaps. Finishing 6th at the XC State meet, he split 10:06 at the 3200m mark midway through the 5k. Since his 3200m PR in track was 10:21, who knows how much Anderson can drop it in 2018.
But even with all this young talent, seniors Nick Meyer of Wabasha-Kellogg (the 4th-place finisher at the XC State Meet), Owen Keiser and Keiser Freetly should use their experience to all be factors at this distance as well. And finally, you cannot count out two-time State qualifier Adnew Stueven of Northome/Kelliher/Blackduck. This dark horse athlete from Northern Minnesota (whose school does not even have a cross country team) has finished 8th in back to back years, and he beat his season best by 25 seconds at the State meet in 2017, so who knows what he is capable of in 2018?