Eyes across the nation will turn to Les Bolstad Golf Course as the University of Minnesota hosts the 34th edition of the Roy Griak Invitational. The meet will feature two divisions of girls races that will showcase teams among the best in the region and nation.
We've got a preview of both races that will each include over 55 teams set to toe the line on on Saturday. Our virtual meet data uses the season best results for all competitors and teams and gives a glimpse into how things could shake out on one of the most exciting days of cross country in the midwest and US.
GARY WILSON HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS GOLD RACE
The girls gold race will feature five MileSplit50 ranked teams and two more named in the honorable mention list. No. 3 Naperville North (IL), no. 4 Wayzata, no. 14 Edina, no. 16 Cherry Creek (CO) and no. 21 Saint Michael-Albertville will join honorable mention Stillwater and Farmington in race with plenty of talent from outside of Minnesota.
VIRTUAL MEET TOP THREE TEAMS: Cherry Creek (76), Sioux Falls Lincoln, SD (209), Saint Michael Albertville (211)
A key factor in how things will shake out among the top teams will be the roster that Wayzata puts on the starting line. They have yet to use a full strength line up this season even in winning the St. Olaf Showcase on August 29. Senior Emma Atkinson has yet to run a race this season coming back from illness while fellow senior Caroline Sassan ran her first 5k at the Milaca Mega Meet on Saturday. If both race at Griak we may not see the Trojans in their top form but it will surely change the projections.
Cherry Creek has the fastest five results led by sophomore Riley Stewart who has the best time this season when she ran a career best 17:12.6 at the Liberty Bell Invitational on September finishing as runner-up. If Cherry Creek realizes their projected potential to place five in the top 30 it would be difficult for many teams to match that depth. A possible team average of 18:20 would likely be better than the field but a split over 90 seconds leaves room for the field to make up the difference in points.
Sioux Falls Lincoln and St Michael Albertville look to be very tight in the race behind Cherry Creek. STMA sophomore Ali Weimer has been better than Lincoln's top performers but they have four athletes with a season best under 19 minutes, currently the difference in the two teams in our projections. Fellow STMA sophomore Katie Sigerud could be a key factor for the Knights team hopes. Sigerud usually joins Weimer at the front and if that duo can slide inside the top ten, it could change the standings.
Edina is projected as the second Minnesota team in the virtual meet and has gone toe to toe with MS50 no. 3 Naperville North finishing just a point behind at the Spartan Challenge on September 7. So far Edina has been running a solid pack with a potential split under 60 seconds. Though the Hornets do not have a runner in top 30 in our projection its not hard to see their top three moving up together in such a competitive field. If senior Morgan Richter, sophomore Maggie Wagner and freshman Lauren Cossack, who have all gone under 19 minutes this season, can chase PR numbers Edina can mix it up in the top three or better.
TOP FIVE SEASON BESTS: Riley Stewart, Cherry Creek, 17:12.6, Genevieve Nashold, Madison West (WI), 17:39.5, Alea Hardie, Sioux Falls O'Gorman, 17:50.6, Isalina Colsman, Regis Jesuit (CO), 17:53.2, Meghan Ford, Jamestown (ND), 18:01.8
Individually, the top four finishers from 2018 will not be in the field this year. Lakeville South senior Brianne Brewster was fifth last year but has not appeared in the same form so far this season while coming back from injury. Riley Stewart of Cherry Creek has run the fastest race of the season among possible entered athletes and that PR is almost 40 seconds better than what the field has run so far this year. There are many athletes who do have the big meet experience and talent to challenge Stewart.
Farmington junior Anna Fenske has plenty of big meet experience, a 5k PR of 17:00.4 and the slowest result in her four 5k races this season was a time trial like effort in a season opener at Lester Park where she went under 19 minutes, winning by over two minutes. Fenske's season best is ranked ninth but every runner who plans to finish in the front knows she is someone they will have to beat to do so.
Stillwater junior Analee Weaver beat Fenske head to head earlier this year at Faribault and has gone under 18 minutes multiple times in her career. Her season best of 18:15.3 is 11th but any athlete from Stillwater will be prepared to run competitive race in an environment like Griak.
While Wayzata's Atkinson and Sassan may not be ready to challenge national level runners at this point in the season, freshman Abbey Nechanicky has been outstanding in her own right this season. She won the season opening St Olaf Showcase as well as the D1 Milaca Mega Meet race on a very challenging day with inches deep mud and standing water on much of the course. She handled both races like a veteran and Griak could be just the stage for her to firmly establish herself as the next Trojan girls national level star.
The field features 23 runners who have run under 18:44 this season and another 11 who have dipped under 19 minutes. Its almost certain a few runners will have a breakthrough on a big stage while others may be running through the meet trying to improve racing chops against a quality field that's hard to find in the regular season, while biding their time until the post season. The field is good and talent is deep but they will have to challenge themselves to challenge Emily Covert's course record 17:28.