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Cross country: Young Knights enjoy their taste of state

The Knights take off at the starting line in the state meet. The boys team finished eighth overall. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)1 / 3
Bryn Fernholz (left) and Teagan Nelson recover after their race at the state meet at St. Olaf College. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press) 2 / 3
The West Central Area girls cross country team finished 15th overall in the state meet at St. Olaf College. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press) 3 / 3

Last year, the West Central Area cross country teams contended with 90 degree heat for the state meet.

It was a completely different story on Saturday with highs in the upper 30s and a wet and muddy course at the state meet at St. Olaf College.

The girls earned a 15-place finish and the boys had an eighth-place finish through those cold conditions.

This was the third year in a row competing at the state meet for the boys. The girls finished 15th last year as well, making this their second consecutive trip to state.

"It's definitely a tough course," freshman Bryn Fernholz said. "It has it's challenges but we tried to just push through and make the best of the situation."

The girls were in 10th place at the one mile mark, then dropped to 11th at the second mile mark. The scores for the 10th and 15th place slots were separated by just 15 points.

"It could have gone either way," WCA coach John Van Kempen said. "We competed pretty much the way we expected. Looking at the results, everyone was within striking distance of moving up a few places."

Eighth grader Lexi Bright finished first for the Knights in 39th place overall in 19:58.05. Fernholz, sophomore Teagan Nelson and Ella Van Kempen were a minute behind in 103rd, 109th and 110th place overall with times of 20:49.08, 20:54.05 and 20:54.05, respectively.

"It helps seeing your own teammates or people you've raced against to kind of push us through," Nelson said. "The uphills had downhills after it so you get something afterwards. Because we've been here, you know all the nooks and crannies where you can get a faster route."

Kennedy Porter was 160th in 22:07.01, Steph Toms was 172nd in 23:24.02 and Carly Steiner was 174th in 27:00.00.

The boys team held the sixth place through the first two miles, dropping to eighth place in the last mile.

"It felt pretty good. Better than I was expecting, to be honest," sophomore Jacob Bright said. "The first year, I didn't know what to expect. The start is always kind of hectic but this year I knew what to expect."

Bright finished ninth overall in 16:18.05.

"Jacob ran a strong race right from the start," J. Van Kempen said. "He got a good jump and maintained his position throughout the race."

Jacob has led the Knights with many top 20 finishes this season. At the Section 6 meet, he finished second overall in 16:51. With two years left in the Knights' program, there looks to be more state appearances for him on the horizon.

"I want to keep improving," J. Bright said. "Just try to keep improving my time and become a better runner."

Jack Van Kempen finished 70nd in 17:21.09. Eighth grader Kade Runge was close behind in 91st place in 17:33.03. Kyle Schill finished 121st in 17:56.06. Kaleb Getz was 134th in 18:08.07, Alex Salwasser came in 149th place in 18:22.00 and Reubens Swanson was 158th in 18:41.07.

"We are still young," John Van Kempen said. "Youth doesn't always translate into a better team the following season but the foundation is certainly there for us to make another run at the state. In addition to being young, they also bring a lot of experience in some pretty big and important meets."

The Knights had four new racers on their team this year, so they assumed it would be a rebuilding year, J. Van Kempen said.

"It's really been an exciting season," Fernholz said. "We've kind of been the underdogs lately and we've pulled through."

The Knights punched their ticket for the state meet with two runner-up finishes in the Section 6, Class A meet in Long Prairie for the boys and girls.

"It's been a fun season and we believe we are well respected amongst single A schools," J. Van Kempen said. "What we have going for us is that each person has a sense of accountability to each other. Everyone has their job to do in order for us to finish well as a team. There is a certain sense of trust once the race begins that you know your teammates are trying their hardest and that you owe it them to try your hardest too."

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

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