Before stepping foot on the campus of Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School, Z-M/K-W’s Natasha Sortland has already had a cross country career girls around Minnesota dream for.
The freshman in 2019 enters her third year on varsity and seeks her third MSHSL Class A State Championship appearance.
Short but speedy, Sortland is regularly under 19 minutes now. She improved from 11th in state in 2017 to eighth in 2018.
Competing against several state opponents, including several top runners from big metro schools, she placed second at the season opening St. Olaf High School Showcase held at the state meet course.
While running is ultimately an individual sport, five scores are counted for team scoring in the high school ranks.
On the girls side, Z-M/K-W has two seniors on the roster but will rely heavily on juniors and younger.
Junior Hailey Grudem has posted the team’s second fastest time in the first two meets and has been under 25 minutes both times.
There’s a logjam in the lineup as freshman Bobbie Rae Benson, sophomore Siddha Hunt, sophomore Alexis Berkner and junior Joselyn Stensland all are under 27 minutes and could push closer to 26.
The top K-W athlete on the girls is senior Kallie Bauer who has been under 30 minutes each of the first two meets and had a counting time at St. Olaf.
The girls finished 12th out of 20 teams in the section in 2018. No. 2 runner Natalye Quam (46th at sections) and Madelyn Banks (100th) and Grace Beebe (112th) graduated from the starting lineup.
Sortland was third in the section behind the duo of Grace and Lauren Ping of Cotter, who are a junior and freshman, respectively this season and finished 1-2 at state.
Sortland is the defending Hiawatha Valley League champion. Z-M/K-W placed sixth out of nine.
The boys side lost two of its top three runners from a team that was 14th out of 22 at sections and seventh out of eight in the HVL.
K-W athlete Tyler Ryan was a blessing to the program in 2018. The newcomer was unable to play baseball in the spring for risk of reinjury. He was a natural, leading the team by cracking 19 minutes to finish 56th at sections.
Payton Liffrig, who was 79th at sections at 19:39.6, also departed.
Those two were the elder statesmen on a group that ran four middle schoolers in the top six.
Eighth-grader Preston Ohm is one of the fastest in his grade and expects to lead Z-M/K-W in 2019. He placed top 10 at this year’s Hayfield invitational and was joined at the hip with Ryan to place 58th at sections at 18:59.2.
Freshman Kayden Rodrick has stepped up into the No. 2 slot early on and is well under the 20-minute mark. Sophomore Blake Lochner is a candidate to get under 20. Junior Parker Miller, freshman Miles Berg, freshman Sam Knowlton and freshman Ryan Lexvold are all bunched together in the 21-minute range.
Little separates the JV from the middle to the bottom of the varsity lineup, giving girls and boys head coach Brad Smith options as the season goes on.
Will Grimsrud is the lone senior on the team.