All Eyes on Northfield- A State Championship Preview

Class A Boys Championship

SEASON BESTS VIRTUAL MEET: Perham (66), West Central Area (85), Saint James Area (132), Staples-Motley (157), Lac Qui Parle Valley (204), Nova Classical Academy (213), East Grand Forks (215), Lake City (218)

SEASON AVERAGES VIRTUAL MEET: Perham (79), West Central Area (102), St James Area (111), Nova Classical (171), Staples-Motley (191), Lac Qui Parle Valley (201), East Grand Forks (216), Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (227)

INDIVIDUALS TO WATCH: EMMET ANDERSON (Staples-Motley, 15:09.4), JACOB BRIGHT (West Central, 15:25.3), HUNTER KLIMEK (Staples-Motley, 15:29.9), GENO UHRBOM (GNK, 15:36.7), BRANDON O'HARA (Perham, 15:37.8), LUKE SWANSON (Northwest Homeschool, 15:41.1), TYSON MAHAR (East Grand Forks, 15:48.5), BAILEY EVENSON (Perham, 15:59.3), CAMERON STOCKE (Virginia, 16:01.9), HARRIS ANDERSON (Math & Science Academy, 16:03.7), MITCH JOHNSTONE (Mankato Loyola/Cleveland, 16:07.5), JACOB MCCLEARY (Perham, 16:07.6), JACK VAN KEMPEN (West Central, 16:08.4), LUKE OLSON (Ely, 16:11.7), COLE NOWACKI (East Grand Forks, 16:11.9), SETH PIERSON (St James, 16:12.5)

THE SKINNY: Of the four team races in 2019 the class A boys seems on paper to have the most distinct favorite. Two time reigning champ Perham looks for a historic three-peat and appears a clear favorite based on both season performances and recent results. During the season Perham has yet to finish behind any class A team and only class AA ranked teams bettered them in any final results. While they have been the best team this season, there are squads with the talent to push the Yellowjackets and, as in all state championship events, Perham's state title race on Saturday will require them on their best game. Perham could feature three athletes in the top ten scorers, an advantage only one or two teams are likely to approach. When the fifth runner is examined they also have a distinct advantage there even across the season average virtual meet. In winning their 8A team title, Perham averaged a 16:43 over a 61 second split to beat a team capable of a top five state finish by over 70 points. No. 2 ranked West Central seems to be the only squad with the true depth from one through five to have a realistic shot at keeping pace with Perham if both teams continue on their fine regular season form. Perham defeated West Central in their only two meetings, including an 8 point win in the Heart of Lakes Conference championship. Yet WCA senior Jacob Bright is among the fastest performer in across both classes in Minnesota and has bested the top three Perham athletes during in their head to head meetings. Small advantages at the other four positions keep Perham in front of WCA. Even if they improve in the third spot where there is a possible 10 point gap, the Knights would still need to close up their split currently at about 90 seconds to truly challenge for the title.

West Central seems the clear runner-up favorite but will be holding off challenges from section 2A champ no. 3 St James Area and section 4A champ no. 4 Nova Classical Academy for the second place spot. In their only head to head to head race, the Milaca D4 competition WCA took home the title followed in second and third by St James and Nova respectively. In both season best and season average data WCA and St James seem poised for a second and third place state meet finish while Nova seems right on the cusp of a top five performance in both virtual meets. The biggest factor for all the teams hoping for a top five team finish could be the performance of no. 6 ranked Staples-Motley who appears to be locked in for a finish anywhere from third to seventh but will have a 1-2 runner duo that could both run in the top five if not better. Those two low scores may not directly affect the top team score but in our season best virtual meet data no other team other than Perham has a pair in the top ten so even though the Cardinals split seems to big for a top three team finish, their pack placement could decide which teams get on the podium. No. 5. Lac Qui Parle Valley will also be a strong contender for a top five finish as well.

Individually, the reigning champ Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin junior Geno Uhrbom ran through class A undefeated from cross country all the way through both the track 1600 & 3200m state title races last season to win a historic distance triple crown in 2018-19. This season Uhrbom has not shown the dominance of his sophomore campaign but still comes in with a no. 3 coaches ranking and the fourth fastest race in class A. It is important to note that if you filter out the exceptionally fast results from the Litchfield Invite (large section of pavement) and the Moorhead Twilight run at night under the lights at a soccer complex, Uhrbom's season best 15:36 would be the best in class A by nearly 10 seconds. He has run under 16 minutes in three of his last four races including 15:49 and 15:36 in winning the Iron Range and section 7A titles in comfortable fashion. Staples-Motley junior Emmet Anderson took over the no. 1 spot early in the season and has held it since then and should be considered the favorite for the title as he has defeated Uhrbom in all three head to head races this year and boasts the fastest 5k (15:09) in Minnesota this year at the aforementioned Moorhead Twilight. Anderson has a case for being named the second best runner in Minnesota this season as only Class AA state favorite and no. 1 ranked Oliver Paleen defeated him in 2019, in a memorable home stretch sprint finish at in the Roy Griak Gold race. Even without his season best mark skewing the numbers, Anderson averaged an outstanding 16:04 over nine 5k events, second to only Paleen across the entire state this fall. It is safe to say only Paleen has had a better year than Anderson so far in Minnesota cross country after finishing third at state last year. 

West Central senior Jacob Bright has also had a very good year and comes in ranked no. 2 in the coaches poll. His season average of 16:18 without the Litchfield and Moorhead data puts him in the the top three in class A and he is undefeated in four head to head meetings with no. 4 ranked Staples-Motley junior Hunter Klimek. Bright is also won two of three head to head meetings with Perham no. 1 runner and no. 6 ranked Brandon O'Hara. Bright was eighth at state last season and shown better form than both Klimek and O'Hara in 2019. O'Hara will come in as the fourth best returner from a year ago with when when he was fourth at state. His year has been up and down but he still averaged a top five level 16:23 over eight races with out the Moorhead results and should be running to lead his team to a historic three-peat, extra motivation that the other potential leaders will not have in their arsenal. Hunter Klimek has been as steady and consistent a quality performer as there is across the state but has had to share head lines with teammate Anderson. In his own right Klimek is a top five talent with sub-16 minute abilities that should be considered along with the states best class A competitors. He averaged a 16:30 without his PR race at Moorhead and its not a stretch to see him challenging the front pack of runners late in the race even if he ends up outside the top three in final standings. Other names to watch for among top ten finishers include East Grand Forks junior Tyson Mahar (15:34.8 PR), Northwest Homeschool sophomore Luke Swanson (PR 15:41), Perham senior Bailey Evenson (SB 15:59), Math & Science senior Harris Anderson (16:03 SB), and Virginia freshman Cameron Stocke (16:01 SB).