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Cross country: State culminates a strong season for Alexandria

Runners Lauren Maras (left), Bethany Miller (middle) and Aleah Miller (right) smile after their race at the state meet. The girls finished 12th overall. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)1 / 5
Blake Johnston finished the state cross country meet in 17:54.4. The boys team placed 11th overall. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)2 / 5
Keaton Gruber3 / 5
Kyle Vandertuin (left) Nolan Christensen (right) race in the state cross country meet on Nov. 4th. The Alexandria boys cross country team finished 11th. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press) 4 / 5
Aleah Miller recovers after the state meet at St. Olaf. Aleah was the second Cardinals runner across the finish line. She finished in 19:26.3. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press) 5 / 5

The Alexandria cross country teams are no strangers to the state meet so they knew how to prepare. They ran through the cold, the mud, the state meet pressure and hilly conditions for a 12th place finish for the girls and an 11th place finish for the boys.

"There's a lot more people. A lot more noise," senior Keaton Gruber said. "Our team just tried to not worry about it. To treat it like any other race. Try not to get caught up in the moment. Try to run really smart."

Gruber finished 16th overall in 15:58.4, nearly a minute faster than he ran in the Section 8, Class AA championship meet. It was a fitting way to cap off the career of Gruber after a standout season.

"I was really happy with this year," Gruber said. "The last couple of years didn't go very well. I ran a lot smarter this year."

At the one mile mark, the Alexandria boys team was in 15th place. They pushed it to 14th in the second mile, and surpassed three more teams in the final third of the race for their 11th place finish, just five points behind 10th place Forest Lake.

Senior Jackson Wichtendahl was second for the Cardinals, crossing the finish line in 57th place overall in 16:28.2. Senior Nolan Christensen finished 121st in 16:59.9, and senior Kyle Vandertuin was 126th in 17:06.3.

Juniors Jack Englund and Patrick Chromey finished 143rd and 156th, respectively, with times of 17:22.1 and 17:34.5. Senior Blake Johnston finished 170th in 17:54.4.

The girls team trailed in last place for the first two miles. In the third mile, they kicked it in gear and passed four teams for their 12th place finish.

Sophomore Bethany Miller was the first across the finish line for the Cardinals, earning a season best time. She finished in 50th place in 19:18.07. Her sister, eighth grader Aleah Miller, was close behind in 62nd place in 19:26.3.

"The mile always goes out really fast. People are out to the 400 really fast, out to the 800 really fast," Bethany Miller said about the course. "After the mile, people start coming back. I ran a pretty smart first mile so I was able to catch a lot of people in the second."

Caitlin Bright was 119th in 20:11.5, Heavyn Bordak 130th in 20:16.5, Lauren Maras 161st in 20:59.4, Stormy Hegg 162nd in 21:01.3 and Ella Sorensen rounded out the lineup in 174th place in 21:23.8.

The young girls team doesn't have any seniors running this year but they finished with confidence and they're a very tight knit group of runners, B. Miller said. The boys will graduate five seniors this year, changing the landscape of their team significantly for next season.

"Our time gaps have gotten a lot smaller throughout the season," B. Miller said. "We haven't had that in a while."

Several of the Alexandria runners will compete at the Nike Cross Regionals Meet in Sioux Falls on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11th and 12th.