Finding joy in athletics has never been an issue for Mitchell Hanson. As a senior, the Faribault High School runner funneled his fun-loving enthusiasm into a career season.
Three-plus years on the varsity cross country team culminated in Hanson's first appearance at the MSHSL Class AA state meet earlier this month. He finished near the top of half of the leaderboard, taking 92nd place out of 174 with a time of 16 minutes, 52.2 seconds. That was his fourth career sub-17 minute time and third of 2019.
Adam Tuma was the last Falcon to make it to state in 2015.
Hanson ended his prep career as a three-time Faribault Daily News male cross country runner of the year honoree. He got faster with each season, but there was a difference in this final go-round.
"I think the biggest thing I have to tell, and I’ve told many people, is he started off as a young man, a boy liking to run," said Faribault boys cross country coach Mark Bongers. "Over the years he’s been able to take his passion and fun-lovingness and he’s built it into one of my better captains I’ve ever head on the cross country team. And that says a lot, because I’ve had a lot of great captains."
Hanson had his best track and field season last spring as a junior. running mid- to long-distance He carried the momentum through the summer and into the fall where he was locked in to his ultimate goal.
"I’ve been trying to go to state. I’ve been close for a few years," Hanson said. "During track season last spring I really focused in and wanted to do it. So it’s been a long process to get there. It was a lot of fun. At sections, I was pretty ecstatic about it."
Hanson finished in 20th place at the 2018 Section 1AA meet, coming up six places away from qualifying for state.
He left nothing to chance a year later in his return.
"My best time was at sections," Hanson said of a career best 16:31.4. "They always say ‘Give your all during races,’ and I can honestly say I gave my all toward that section time because I was 'dead' at the end of that race."
He beat his previous best time by 6.9 seconds, a time that earned him sixth place at the Big 9 Conference meet to earn all-conference honors nine days prior.
The effort at Big 9 unlocked another goal, as Hanson finished in 17th in 2018 to settle for all-conference honorable mention honors by one spot.
While he was the only Falcon to represent the green and black at state, he wasn't alone in sharing the success. Hanson's congenial personality brought together his teammates for one of the program's best seasons in recent years. They finished in the upper third of both the Big 9 Conference and Section 1AA, taking fourth place out of 12 and 17 teams respectively.
Several of his teammates were right by his side Nov. 2, riding the bus with Hanson over to St. Olaf College in Northfield, site of the state meet.
"Not only his running ability, but what he’s done as being captain of the team is probably more important," Bongers said. "He’s had to take some 10th-grade boys and some younger kids and really try to jell them around the idea to compete in the upper half of the Big 9."
There was still plenty of room at practice for hyjinks. Cross country practices are never short on laughter.
Rest assured, the light mood was meant to supplement a hard day's work, not to distract from it.
"It’d probably be the runs and the practices I did with the guys," Hanson said of what he'll remember fondly. "We were doing really hard practices and the guys were all just there and we’d be laughing and talking through them. We’d do the workout, but at the same time be able to have fun while doing it, you know?"
Hanson's family helped him catch the running bug.
"My grandfather was very into running and a few of my uncles ran so I have a family connection," Hanson said. "My grandpa likes to come to all the meets in the area he can get to."
The odometer will take more of a toll getting out to Hanson's future meets. He plans to run collegiately with Luther College in Iowa and the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, as his two final options.
Bongers is confident Hanson's maturation has set him up for success.
"Still fun loving, but not the same kind of jokester he was when he first started," Bongers said. "He just has a passion for running, which is really cool to see."