Future Stars: Young Runners Shine at the State Championships


Upperclassmen may have won all the individual state titles at the 2023 MSHSL State Cross Country Championships, but plenty of underclassmen and middle-schoolers made seriously impressive impressions that set them up well for the future. 

Here we look at five runners who had impressive performances at the state meet and what made their day at state so impressive!



Anna Vanacker (Forest Lake)

A sophomore at Forest Lake High School, Vanacker has arguably the most impressive performance of any Class AAA runner at the state meet. Vanacker placed 4th overall with a time of 18:09.90 to set a new personal best by 19 seconds. 

Vanacker came on strong late in the season with three new personal best times in a four-meet stretch, a 4th place finish at the Suburban East Conference Championships, and a 3rd place finish at the Section 7AAA XC Championships before her huge performance at state.

Vanacker finished the state meet as the #2 overall sophomore, only behind Wayzata's Jazleen Malherek-Osorio. Overall she ranked as the #4 sophomore in Minnesota this season and ranks just outside the top 100 runners nationally for her class.  

Erik Semling (Cotter)

The #1 runner for Cotter as an 8th-grader, Semling will be one to watch at the state meet for years to come as he graduates from middle-school to high school next year. In his second attempt at the state championships, Semling went from 71st in 2022 all the way up to 6th place this fall. In the process, he improved his state meet time from 17:22.43 all the way down to 15:59.10, his first career sub-16-minute 5K. 

Semling had a remarkable rise during his 8th-grade season this fall. He started off slow but only got better as the season went along. That culminated in his 6th place finish at state, but also a Three Rivers Conference and Section 1A Championship titles. His time of 15:59.10 at this year's state meet is the fastest time at state by a Minnesota 8th-grade boy all-time. 

Overall Semling was the fastest middle-schooler's at this year's state meet, ranks as the #1 boy for his class in Minnesota, and ranks as the #3 runner nationally for his class of 2028. 

Isabel Pass (Nova Classical Academy)

Pass had a strong debut season this fall for the Nova Classical Academy girls, but saved her best for last at the State Championships. Pass finished 7th overall with a time of 18:58.9 which was just 12 seconds from a top-five finish at her first state meet. Her time of 18:58.9 was a 30-second PR, eclipsing her time from her Skyline Conference Championships victory. 

Her time of 18:58.9 is the 13th fastest 5K time by a 7th-grader at the state meet all-time. She is the fastest 7th-grader at state since Kienna Loberg in 2021 and is the highest finisher since Sydney Drevlow and Addison Hoof placed 5th in their classes in 2019. 

Pass in her debut season has not only been one of Minnesota's best runners but one of the best runners nationally for her class. Pass ranks #7 for her class of 2029, and is one of just seven runners in her class to break the 19-minute mark. 

Connor Heltemes (Chanhassen)

It's not easy to run at the state meet as an 8th-grader with more experienced and most of the time larger athletes. It's also not easy to qualify for as an individual, like Chanhassen's Connor Heltemes did. Heltemes qualified for state by running to a 16th-place finish at the Section 2AAA championships, qualifying as the final individual state qualifier. 

At state, Heltemes may not have stood out with his 109th-place finish, but he did run a time of 16:54.6 to set a new 13-second and finished as the top middle-school athlete in Minnesota's fastest class. His time of 16:54.6 ranks as the 22nd fastest 8th-grade boy's time at the state meet all-time. 

Heltemes time is the fastest 8th-grade boy's time at state since Sam Scott and Hootie Hage in 2019, plus Erik Semling this year. 

Makayah Petricka (Northfield)

An 8th-grader at Northfield High School, Petricka had to travel a little bit further than her local university in St. Olaf this year, but ask her and I'm sure the travel was well worth it after her performance at Les Bolstad this year. After finishing 115th at last year's meet, Petricka rocketed up the results this year en route to a 17th-place finish. 

Petricka was one of the biggest risers at this year's meet with a huge performance, running a new PR of 19:30.30 and leading the Northfield girls to a 4th-place team finish. Petricka improved her state meet time from 20:30.66 last year to 19:30.30, improving by a whopping 1:17.36, the 11th biggest year-over-year improvement at state.