Cross country OHS

The Owatonna girls cross country team was one of the youngest in the conference and section last year and are poised to ascend to the top of the heap in 2019. (Jon Weisbrod/People’s Press)

One of the first opportunities for Owatonna to measure up to the rest of the Big Nine Conference as well as some Section 1-AA foes is coming up soon.

The Huskies will travel to Faribault on Sept. 6, and compete against a number of conference teams as well as established programs from throughout the metro area. Albert Lea, Mankato West, Northfield, Owatonna and Winona will come from the Big Nine. All but West are in Section 1-AA. Sectional opponent, Farmington, will also attend.

Here’s a brief outlook for each girls Big Nine and section team heading into 2019. Both meets will be at Brooktree Golf Course in Owatonna. All athletes’ grade levels listed are for the 2019-2020 school year.

Big Nine Conference

Albert Lea — The Tigers placed 12th in the conference starting all sophomores or younger. Albert Lea hopes its youth continues to grow as junior Abigail Thompson was the highest finisher in 2018 in 53rd place at 22:02.4. The top three runners are juniors. Jim Haney returns as head coach.

Austin — The Packers return five of seven starters from a third-place team in 2018. Two departures made up two of three top spots last year, including Abigail Lewis who clocked a 19:27.6 to place third and tops in her grade. Sophomore Vaughn Nadia could be the leader in 2019 after taking 15th place (fourth among freshmen) at 20:29.9. Tony Einertson returns as head coach.

Faribault — Faribault is among the favorites to contend for the Big 9 title after coming oh so close in 2018. A disqualification dropped the Falcons from first to third, but, fortunately for them, they return six of seven starters. That includes Big 9 champion senior Madelyn Skjeveland and fifth-place finisher junior Ruby Gernandt. Skjeveland clocked a 19:15.4 to win by nearly six seconds with Gernandt close at 19:39.3. FHS’ next three starters all have two or more years left in the program. Eighth-grader Mariana Foxhoven was the second-fastest in her grade at the varsity level (40th, 21:33.4). Willie Clapp returns as head coach.

Mankato East — The Cougars appear to be a team to watch out for in the coming years. East fittingly placed eighth in the Big 9 last year with a trio of eighth-graders at the top. It was within four points of seventh place and within five of sixth. Entering their freshman seasons are eighth-place finisher Emmy Schultz (20:06.7), 10th place Olivia Beschorner (20:17.3) and 18th place Eva Peters (20:34.9). The next four starters were sophomores or younger. Jennifer Hilger returns as head coach.

Mankato West — The Scarlets return their entire lineup from a sixth-place squad in 2018. It will need a runner or two to become elite if it’s to contend for the title, but it had three in the top 25 led by freshman Nicole Swanson who took 12th at 20:22.6. Scott Carlson returns as head coach.

Northfield — The Raiders were one of the more veteran teams last year with two seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup. Northfield placed ninth led by current junior Nicole Theberath who took ninth individually at 20:14.7. She was the second fastest in the Big 9 at her grade level. Its next fastest time (19th, 20:37.7) departs in Elizabeth Acheson as well as fourth starter, Grace Acheson. Nichole Porath returns as head coach.

Owatonna — The Huskies were another young team in 2018. Its top six starters were freshmen or younger with only its seventh graduating. Only three seventh-graders ran at varsity Big 9 in 2018. Carsyn Brady was the fastest, taking sixth at 19:57.5. The next fastest in her grade took 40th. Brady was also the fastest on a team that placed 10th and did not have any others in the top 30. It will have home course advantage yet again for the two most important races of the season. Dan Leer returns as head coach.

Red Wing — The Wingers return their top two starters and five of their top six from a fifth-place team in 2018. It lacked a top-10 finisher but put three in the top 30 and all five counting scores were 51st or higher out of 82. Junior Tori Leitner was 11th at 20:20.7 and Sammi Chandler 16th at 20:30.7. Jesse Nelson returns as head coach.

Rochester Century — The Panthers’ 97 points helped them finish atop the Big 9 ahead of Austin at 123 and Faribault at 125. Century’s depth paid off as its top four were inside the top 21 and the fifth and final qualifying time was a respectable 42nd place. It was led by sophomore Kennedy Speer who took fourth at 19:34.6. Its next two runners graduate, but the next four are back. The two graduates will likely be replaced by sophomore Alison Austin, the 2018 JV champion (21:21.9) and senior Heather Wilaby, the JV runner up (21:33.1). Joey Keillor returns as head coach.

Rochester John Marshall — The Rockets finished 11th last year and lose two of five starters. One of the departures is Ally Halverson who placed 28th at 21:06. Right behind her was junior Greta Freed who took 30th at 21:11.6. Freshman Ava Fevold was also in the top 40. John Marshall had one runner in the top 10 in JV. Anne Gingery was promoted from assistant coach to head coach.

Rochester Mayo — Mayo is another team with designs at a high finish in the Big 9 as it returns its entire lineup. Sophomore Hannah LaMaster will look to dethrone Faribault’s Madelyn Skjeveland after placing second at 19:21.5. LaMaster was 6.4 seconds clear of third and 5.8 behind first. Her classmate, Hadley Jensen, took 14th at 20:26.4. All but the Spartans’ six starters at Big 9 have two or more years left in the program, so if not 2019, 2020 could be their year. Brett Carroll returns as head coach.

Winona — The Winhawks will boast five upperclassmen starters including a trio of seniors at the top. Anni Skillicorn is the top returner, placing seventh at 19:59.4 and second among those in her grade. She’ll hope to have a teammate to keep up to her pace if Winona, which brings back its entire lineup, is to contend for the title. Kaia Hamilton finished after Skillicorn in 24th (20:52.8) with two others in the top 30. Jed Reisetter returns as head coach.

Section 1-AA

Farmington — The Tigers cleaned up at 2018 sections, winning with 23 points and 61 clear of second. Fortunately for the rest of the section, 2018 individual champ Lauren Peterson (17:27.3) has graduated and now runs at Furman University. Unfortunately for the section, junior Anna Fenske is the favorite to keep Farmington at the top. She was second at 17:39.9, more than 16 seconds clear of third. These two took second and third at state, respectively. Two other eighth-graders were in the top 10 and six of seven starters, all of who return for 2019, were inside the top 30. Adam Lippold returns as head coach.

Lakeville South — The Cougars were 18 points clear of third place in 2018. While catching Farmington could be tough, South looks to be the favorite again for second. Senior Brianne Brewster took third individually at 17:56.6 and will be joined by freshman Avery Heinz who was 14th (19:17.3) and 65th at state. Two more returners took top 20 and the fifth score came in 28th place. Jessica Just returns as head coach.

Waseca — The Bluejays will have to work to replicate their third-place finish and 102 points after losing runners Nos. 2-4 to graduation. Fortunately for Waseca, freshman Ella Dufault returns after placing fourth overall and first in her grade at 18:13.9. The next returner is sophomore Cora McCabe who placed 48th. Dufault and McCabe placed 33rd and 40th at state. Grant Popp returns as head coach.

Faribault — The Falcons finished the highest among 11 Big 9 teams in the section and fourth overall at 180 points, though well back of Waseca in third at 102. Leader Madelyn Skjeveland is hungry to get back to state after she dealt with injury at 2018 sections where she took 27th place. Faribault did send a runner to state in Gernandt who took 11th at 19:08.6 and 120th at state.

Red Wing — The Wingers also had 180 points at sections but took fifth place after tiebreakers. Johnson led the team with a 10th-place finish (19:06.4) and represented the team at state by taking 17th.

Rochester Century — The Panthers took sixth with 196 points. Speer is the top returner from sections after placing 31st.

Rochester Mayo — The Spartans were seventh at 206 points. LaMaster led the way by taking sixth at sections (18:33.4) and was tops in her grade. She took 26th at state.

Lakeville North — The Panthers return five of seven starters including their two fastest from an eighth-place team with 226 points. Freshman Bayliss Flynn took 21st at 19:38 and could make the jump to qualify for state this fall. She was the only one in the top 40, though two more returners finished on the top half of the 112-runner leaderboard. Rich Heilman returns as head coach.

Austin — The Packers lost their top finisher Lewis, who took 15th, as well as its second finisher, Morgan Hose, who was 25th at 19:52.6. Vaughn is the top returner at 39th (20:23.3).

Winona — Skillicorn was the Winhawks’ top finisher at 13th (19:14.9) and finished 95th at state. She may be the only Winhawk at state again as senior Emily Carrie is the next returner needing to make a leap (38th, 20:21.7).

Owatonna — Brady was the fastest to miss out on a state bid after taking 16th at 19:22.9. Next fastest was 49th. The Huskies placed 11th as a team with 247 points.

Rochester John Marshall — The Rockets were 12th with 256 points. Fevold will look to work her way closer to state contention after taking 35th (20:16.1) for the team’s lone top-40 finish.

Northfield — Theberath hopes a state bid is in her future after placing 22nd at 19:51.3. The Raiders took 13th with 261 points but Theberath is the only returner who was in the top 60.

Kasson-Mantorville — The KoMets took 14th place with 367 points as one of the smaller schools in the section. K-M returns six of seven starters including its top two. Junior Tiana Wiebke was 36th at 20:18.5 and eighth-grader Adisen Skov was 40th at 20:23.3. No other returner finished higher than 98th. Jared Pittman returns as head coach.

Hastings — The Raiders were 15th with 423 points. Hastings returns six of seven starters including three of the top four fastest. Junior leader Linnea Urban is back after taking 26th at 19:55.9. No other returner found the top 100, but they all have two or more years remaining to ascend the leaderboard. John DeWall returns as head coach.

Albert Lea — The Tigers rounded out the section with 449 points. Thompson led the team in 69th place at 21:13.7 and was one of four inside the top 100.

Reach sports editor Jon Weisbrod at 444-2375, or follow him on Twitter.com @OPPJonW

Award-winning Sports Editor for the Owatonna People's Press, Weisbrod has worked in daily newspapers his entire career. He writes a regular column called Beyond the Box that delves into local, regional and national sports storylines.

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