All Eyes on Northfield- A State Championship Preview

Class AA Boys Championship

SEASON BESTS VIRTUAL MEETMounds View (66.5), Eden Prairie (109), White Bear Lake (136), Eastview (140), Prior Lake (145), Saint Paul Highland Park (176.5), Bemidji (198.5)

SEASON AVERAGES VIRTUAL MEETWhite Bear Lake (98), Mounds View (103), Saint Paul Highland Park (120), Eden Prairie (129), Prior Lake (161), Edina (166), Bemidji (193)


INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH: AJ GREEN (Eastview, 15:33.9), NICHOLAS SCHELLER (Chanhassen, 15:39.1), CARTER BRIGGS (Winona, 15:41.1), OLIVER PALEEN (St Paul Highland Park, 15:41.2), FINN SOKOLOWSKI (Mounds View, 15:41.8), GABE SMIT (Prior Lake, 15:44.4), JETT OACHS (Mankato East, 15:45), ALEC NELSON (Mounds View 15:48.8), MAX CHARLSEN (Forest Lake, 15:49), GAGE MOSTAD (Bemidji, 15:52.2), SHUAYB HUSSEIN (Wayzata, 15:53.3), WILL SACAY (Mounds View, 15:53.3), MACKINON MOKORO (Osseo, 15:55), MAXWELL NELSON (White Bear Lake, 15:56), MICKIES KIROS (St Paul Central, 15:46.2), CONNOR PRESTON (Champlin Park, 15:56.2)

THE SKINNY: This year's edition of the class AA state meet is likely to feature a senior heavy podium including the majority of main challengers for the individual title. Overall, 18 of the top 20 best results in the field are held by a member of the class of 2020. Yet, the potential favorite will not come in with the fastest time this season. St Paul Highland Park senior Oliver Paleen is the MNXCCA no. 1 ranked runner has has gone undefeated in 2019 including impressive wins in the Griak Gold race, Alexandria Meet of Champions and Section 4AA Championship. Paleen has head to head victories this season against many of the top competitors in the field. He appears in his top form having run a career best 15:41.2 in winning his section title last week and that mark is fourth fastest in the field. The fastest time in class AA belongs to Eastview senior AJ Green who posted a 15:33.9 in winning the 3AA title last week and everyone in the field is wary of the closing speed Green possesses as one of the nation's top HS 800m specialists. Even though Green started slowly this season and his average over six 5k races this season is eighth best, it is easy to see him among the front running candidates. In Green's only career XC match-up with Paleen, he came out two seconds in front in last year's state championship race. No. 3 ranked Chanhassen senior Nick Scheller must also be considered among the contenders for a state title. Scheller has won four of his seven races with a pair of narrow runner-up finishes to Paleen and brings the second fastest time in the field, 15:39, run in his 2AA title race last week. He is also the top returner from last year's state final where he ran fifth overall and he has bettered Green in both meetings this season.

The above mentioned trio represents the coaches top ranked individuals but there are a long list of challengers including Winona senior Carter Briggs who comes in with the third fastest time and is the fourth best returner from last year's state meet behind, Scheller, Green and Paleen. Another pair of names that should remain of interest are Mounds View senior Finn Sokolowski and White Bear Lake senior Maxwell Nelson. Both have individual credentials worthy of note but they are the top runners for a squad that is also among the team favorites and headline programs known for pack running prowess. They are state meet battle tested and averaged 16:09 and 16:11 respectively, the fourth and fifth best marks in class AA. If its late in the race and one of these two is near the front, it could be interesting to see the power a team title may add to their effort. An additional name to consider is that of St Paul Central Mikies Kiros. He has been second to Paleen in several races this season but has the third best season average of 16:08 and is coming off a career best 15:56 at sections. It may take a special day for him win on Saturday but he has bettered several of the top runners head to head and it will be interesting to see what he could do on the big stage. Also track Prior Lake junior Gabe Smit as he comes in the highest ranked underclassman and recently ran a 15:44 as runner-up to Green in section 3AA.

Across both season bests and averages, coaches no. 2 ranked Mounds View and no. 3 ranked White Bear Lake figure highly. What the statistics cannot completely capture is what the coaches recognize. Eden Prairie ran very competitively all season and received a huge boost late in the season when projected no. 1 runner Jake Derouin returned to the line up after missing September with health issues. His return coincided with the Eagles surge to the top of the coaches poll and helped carry Eden Prairie to both a Lakes Conference and section 6AA title. The addition of a sub-16 minute talent took a top 10 state meet team and makes Eden Prairie a team that could content for a state title. White Bear Lake and Mounds View will also contend for the title in a display of team running. Along with Eden Prairie, both teams feature an average split of under 52 seconds with the capability to go under 40 seconds on their best day. Mounds View, led by Sokolowski are the only team in the field with three runners who have gone under 16 minutes and boast a top five with season bests under 16:15. That version of the Mustangs would present a team average under 16 minutes, something no one else in the state has done this year. Four of those athletes were on the Mounds View squad of 2018 that came up 11 points shy of a state title and will need no extra motivation to make amends on Saturday. White Bear Lake does not have the season best numbers of Eden Prairie or Mounds View but have maintained not just a consistency but a high level steadiness that makes them a state title threat. Overall this season the Bears averaged a 16:36 over a 54 second split, both the best in class AA. Their team win in the Griak Gold race showcased what they can do on a big stage and coming off a terrific section 4AA win, it could be a repeat of the Suburban East Conference meet with White Bear Lake and Mounds View head to head, this time for a state title. 

Additional teams to consider include no. 4 ranked St Paul Highland Park, led by the individual favorite Paleen and another pair of athletes who could challenge for top 20 spots. Their average times compare well with the state's best and while it seems they would need dramatic improvements in the final scoring position to compete for a title, a top five finish is fully within reach for the Scots. Prior Lake is no. 10 in the coaches poll but they figure in the top five in both our virtual meets and have potential for a team average under 16:20. Defending state champ Edina has three back from their victory last season and have a quality pack that earned them no. 5 billing in the coaches ranks. That pack so far in 2019 has been just behind the teams mentioned above and appears to need improvement both in the front and the back to get inside the top four overall.