Location: Cloquet Country Club, Cloquet
Weather: Low 40's, light wind, cloudy
THE SKINNY: Our virtual meet favors the squad from Forest Lake boys as they will feature the three fastest season bests in the section. If that model holds up, it will be difficult for projected number two Cloquet to catch them. Based on season best data no other teams have more than one athlete in the single digit scoring range giving the Rangers a big edge. Cloquet looks to hold a similar edge over the rest of the field as the second state qualifier in 7AA with potential to get four in the top fifteen, results only Forest Lake looks capable of producing. Elk River has a top three that can score with the best trios in the section but would need to see improvement in the back end of their top five, especially in the fifth spot to compete for a top two finish. Forest Lake and Cloquet were the best teams last season and it's reasonable that they should be the favorites at the top once again in 2019.
The aforementioned Forest Lake trio of seniors Max Charlsen and Austin Sievers and sophomore Daniel Vanacker give the Rangers three times under 16:30, meaning the third best time would represent the fastest result for most teams in the section. Charlsen is the only runner in 7AA to have gone under 16 minutes and Vanacker is currently ranked no. 12 in the final regular season coaches poll despite having a sub-par race at the Suburban East Conference meet. That duo was 2-3 in last year's section meet. Sievers has consistently ran low 17-minute times with a pair of sub-17 efforts that improved his PR by over 30 seconds. Cloquet senior Jordan Allen appears ready to lead his team back to state and also break up back to back 1-2-3 performance by the Rangers in the section meet. He's won a pair of meets including the Lake Superior Conference title and was runner-up to Charlsen in the Swain AA race after running third in the Milaca D2 race. Princeton senior Ryan Young has raced nine times this season, finishing no lower than 10th in the Milaca D2 race, and winning three meets including the Mississippi 8 league title. Denfeld junior Isaac Fink, Elk River senior Adam Boeckermann and Cambridge-Isanti sophomore Jaxon Jones have all gone under 17 minutes this season and are lead candidates to secure individual state qualifying spots.
THE SKINNY: One must go back to 2015 to find a time when Forest Lake and Andover were not the top two teams in section 7AA and it appears the pair are once again the class of the field this season. Between the two squads they occupy seven of the top ten individual places and it could be that their combined team scores would be less than the third place team total. Forest Lake is a class AA honorable mention in the coaches poll but clearly rank among the best teams in the state with a team average under 19:30 and potential to post a split under 40 seconds. While none of the Rangers runners are ranked they do have a top seven that has all gone under 20 minutes with four of those having gone sub 19:30. Regardless of the actual times run at sections this season, if that pack can run in the front a team score under 30 points is possible. Andover has less depth at the back but still has four athletes who project in the top 20 and return five of seven from last year's section title team. If there is a team that has any shot of catching Forest Lake, it's the Huskies, though it would take a break through day in nearly every scoring spot. Expect the Rangers and Huskies to pull away from Princeton and Cambridge-Isanti for the two state meet berths.
On the individual side, Forest Lake freshman ran a then PR 18:54 to finish as section runner-up last season before going on to finish in the top 40 at state. She has the top season best this season and is followed closely by junior teammate Natalie Runquist who was 16th at sections last season. Andover junior Alyssa Gerth is the next best returning athlete from last season when she was fourth and comes in with the seventh best result this year. Princeton senior Lexi Duscher has the third fastest season best and reached the state meet last year with a 10th place finish in 7AA. Forest Lake freshman Jordan Parent and seventh grader Norah Hushagen have marks inside the top ten as well. Cloquet sophomore Harmony Tracy looks like a strong candidate to reach the state meet in her first year of cross country with a time well inside the top ten as well. Andover junior Claire Beckman and Forest Lake sophomore Ava Wilson both return with section top 11 finishes and state meet experience under their belts.