All Eyes on Northfield- A State Championship Preview

Class A Girls Championship

SEASON BESTS VIRTUAL MEET: Perham (135.5), Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (152), Pequot Lakes (161), Albany (164), Staples-Motley (164), Luverne (164.5), Belle Plaine (188), Lake City (198)

SEASON AVERAGES VIRTUAL MEET: Perham (132), Luverne (136), Staples-Motley (151), Lake City (176), Fairmont (177), Murray County Central-Fulda (178), Albany (193), Pequot Lakes 206)

INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH: NATASHA SORTLAND (Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo, 17:48.1), MORGAN GEHL (Murray Co Central-Fulda, 18:03.3), ADDISON HOOF (Lester Prairie-Holy Trinity-Mayer Lutheran, 18:15.5), JADE RYPKEMA (Nevis, 18:15.9), TENLEY NELSON (Luverne, 18:17.3), CALIA CHANEY (Pequot Lakes, 18:32.6), GRACIE MALLAK (Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, 18:34.1), KIRA SWEENEY (Wadena-Deer Creek, 18:38), BROOKE BAUMANN (HL-W-W, 18:44.8), AVA HILL (Mesabi East, 18:50.5), JACEY MAJERUS (Lake City, 18:51.6), LAURA THOMPSON (Fairmont, 18:53.3), KRISTINE KALTHOFF (Albany, 18:55.6), CARLY CHANEY (Pequot Lakes, 19:01.5), KYANNA BURTON (Staples-Motley, 19:01.7), ASPEN ROHDE (Perham, 19:04.2)

THE SKINNY: There are clear cut favorites in the girls class A race both individually and in the team competition but there are plenty of talented programs and individuals ready to challenge those favorites who may be chasing a bit of Minnesota XC history. Individually, for most of the season Zumbrota-Mazeppa freshman Natasha Sortland has topped the MNXCCA coaches poll after she opened the season with a powerful salvo, running second at the highly competitive St Olaf Showcase in what was then the third best race of her career. Since then she has only elevated her profile as not just a top class A athlete but one of the best in the entire state. Since winning the Milaca D3 race in 19:13 (slowest time of the year) she has ripped off four races at 18:11 or better including dipping under 18 minutes twice with a career PR and all-class Minnesota best 17:48. Her section 1A title win, over a minute better than another potential all-state level athlete in Lake City's Jacey Majerus, showcased her form is peaking at the right time. Sortland was eighth at state a year ago and many of the runners who bettered her are in the field again in 2019, but she's improved her PR by over 40 seconds and already run over a minute faster than last year's state meet race performance. To win the state title she will have to be in top form but if you are looking for a favorite, Sortland's 18:23 season average over seven races is better than all but four other class A athlete's single best race in 2019. 

The leading candidate to challenge Sortland is likely Murray County Central-Fulda junior no. 2 ranked Morgan Gehl. Not only is Gehl the top returner from last season's state meet where she was third, but has also defeated Sortland in all four previous meetings that include two XC state races, a 1600m and 3200m state final in track. Though Gehl has yet to go under 18 minutes this season, she has a PR five seconds better than Sortland and is the only other class A athlete with a season average under 19 minutes (18:36) while going undefeated in across a whopping ten meets this season. In fact, when factoring in track competitions, one has to go all the way back to the Hamline Elite meet on April 26 to find some one without the last name Ping that bettered Gehl in any head to head race. Her competitive streak is known and Gehl knows how to win so the head to head meeting with Sortland should be outstanding. Names that should also be included among the front running favorites are no. 3 ranked Luverne sophomore and 3A runner-up (Gehl) Tenley Nelson, 8A champ Nevis freshman no. 4 ranked Jade Rypkema and runner-up no. 5 ranked Calia Chaney. Tenley was seventh at state last year while Chaney was 32nd but took huge steps this season moving forward into the best in class A. Rypkema is a bit of wildcard with a smaller sample size of results than many of her competitors. After running just two regular season 5ks and finishing fifth in 8A she ran to a relatively solid 26th at state in 2018. This year there are four races on her resume before state including an 8A title ahead of Chaney, two results under 19 minutes and the fourth best time in class A this season. Also consider Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted senior Gracie Mallak, one of just two seniors in the top ten class A results this year, as a potential top five threat. Mallak was 11th at state a year ago. It would also be wise not to doubt no. 6 ranked Mesabi East senior and three time 800m state champ, and University of Minnesota commit Ava Hill who was fourth at state last season.

In the team competition Perham will be the favorite heading into Saturday, looking to earn a rare three straight team titles that could historically coincide with their boys team also pursuing the same feat. Both season best and average data favors the Yellowjackets who are trying to win without potentially having a top 12 ranked individual or a single runner ranked in the top 15 fastest results this season. Perham's season best marks show their potential strength with the possibility of running five in the top 40 when no other top five team shows a fifth runner in the top 50. No. 4 ranked Luverne has season averages better than Perham in their fifth spot but better numbers in the second through fourth position still favor the two-time defending champs. No. 2 ranked Staples-Motley has the front running talent to place well but their top runners, similar to Perham figure to be on the edge of the top ten scoring individuals and their fifth runner numbers have yet to rise above many of the main title contenders. No. 5 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted has something no other teams have in either of our projections: two of the top ten fastest times in class A this season. A pair of single digit scores in what looks like a a 30-40 point difference between a state title and fifth place, could be the difference. However, the Lakers would need both those numbers in or near the top five scorers to overcome what could be a fifth runner 15-20 points behind some of the top teams.

No. 7 ranked Pequot Lakes has come on of late, winning section 7A, and will be led by the Chaney sisters, both capable of top ten finishes in their own right and show up in the top three season best projections despite being outside the top five in averages. No. 3 ranked Murray Co Central-Fulda has one of the state's best athletes at the front but does not have a second runner in the top 50 season bests and that projects as a second scorer some where from the mid 20's to mid-30's and a split over three minutes back to a fifth scorer is likely too big for a top three finish, however MCC-F runners will end up playing a key part in a crowded top 30 and could still end up in the top five. No. Lake City, 10. Albany and 11. Fairmont all show potential for top five team finishes in one or both of our virtual meets as well.