Natasha Sortland (copy)

Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo cross country runner Natasha Sortland will defend her Hiawatha Valley League individual championship as a freshman in 2019. (Kenyon Leader file photo)

The fall prep sports season opens Aug. 12 when teams are permitted to begin practice.

The Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo cross country teams will first compete Aug. 29 at the St. Olaf High School Showcase.

Z-M/K-W claims the defending Hiawatha Valley League individual girls champion.

Here’s a look at how the HVL stacks up this season.

GIRLS

Teams listed in order of 2018 HVL finish

Stewartville

The Tigers didn’t have a runner finish in the top three last year, but their depth prevailed. Stewartville placed three in the top ten and were one of two teams to have all five qualifying scores place in the top 20. Its 51 points edged out Lake City’s 63. Stewartville has won four straight HVL titles and is the favorite again in 2019 as it returns its top five runners. Its top three will be seniors led by Kailee Malone who took fourth in 2018 (19:20.9) and was 47th at state. All seven starters from last year also return and were in the top 26. Mickie Tuseth, the 2017 Class A state coach of the year, returns as head coach.

Lake City

Can Lake City end Stewartville’s run? It will have a reasonable shot by returning its entire starting lineup. The Tigers will be led by freshman Jacey Majerus who finished runner up at the 2018 HVL meet with a time of 18:52.3. She was 21.8 seconds behind the winning pace but was 14.4 clear of third and 28.6 clear of third. Majerus placed 13th at state. At state, sophomore Mela Schmitz placed 45th, sophomore McKenna Beltz was 96th, eighth-grader Natalie Gates was 113th, senior Johannah Clementson was 126th, senior Brenna Nelson was 131st and senior Phebe Nelson was 133rd. All five of the Tigers qualifying scores finished in the top 20 and runners six and seven were close to contributing, placing 21st and 23rd out of 61 runners. Longtime head coach Howie Cook returns.

Rochester Lourdes

Lourdes finished third last year with 77 points. The HVL was very young last year as the Eagles are yet another team that returns their entire lineup. Senior Lauryn Renier took third at 19:06.7 and senior Meg Degen was fifth at 19:26.2. These two placed 21st and 52nd, respectively, at state. Six of Lourdes’ seven projected starters will be upperclassmen, so their experience could vault them up to a higher finish. It was the last team to besides Stewartville to win the conference in 2014. Pete Gilman returns as head coach.

Byron

A significant 34-point gap separated the Bears from third place as they finished with 111 points. Byron returns freshman Michaela Hamilton who led with a 10th-place finish at 19:55.9 and was 63rd at state. Two seniors depart including 11th-place finisher Hannah Higgins and the team’s fourth finisher. Head coach Tom O’Leary returns.

Kasson-Mantorville

The KoMets took fifth with 122 points and two runners in the top 20. The future looks bright with six of seven starters back in 2019. Junior Tiana Wiebke led with a sixth-place finish at 19:31.5 and was the fastest runner in her grade level. Jared Pittman returns as head coach.

Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo

One of the state’s top runners, Natasha Sortland, is back to defend her throne. As a middle schooler, Sortland placed runner up in seventh grade and breezed to the title in 2018. She completed the Hok-Si-La Park course in Lake City in 18:30.5 to win by 21.8 seconds. Sortland was the top HVL runner at state, placing eighth overall and second in her grade. Z-M/K-W, which finished sixth with 147 points, loses the most starters of any HVL squad. Three graduated including the team’s second scorer, Natalye Quam, who placed 17th. Longtime head coach Brad Smith returns.

Pine Island

The Panthers finished seventh with 163 points but had plenty of separation from eighth and ninth place. Plus, Pine Island will have home course advantage at this year’s HVL meet held at Pine Island Golf Course. The Tigers return six of seven starters and are building around a sophomore class that goes five deep. Sophomore Brooklyn Horton led last year in 16th place with a time of 20:45.1. Amy Northrup returns as head coach.

Cannon Falls

The Bombers return five of their six starters from last year’s HVL meet where they took eighth place with 223 points. Cannon Falls does have to replace top finisher in 28th place, Sophie Epps (22:05.5). Ben Schopp returns as head coach.

Goodhue

One of the HVL’s smallest schools struggled to field the depth to place high in the HVL. The Wildcats took ninth place with 257 points. Its seven starters all finished 43rd through 61st in 2018 led by freshman Alex Bien (23:09.7). The top six finishers return. Caitlin Ternes returns as head coach.

Reach Sports Editor Mike Randleman at 507-333-3119 or on Twitter @fdnmike.

Sports reporter for the Faribault Daily News. Graduated from Iowa State University in 2016. Originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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