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Card boys ready to battle the best

Junior Colton Sailor runs toward the finish line at the Lions Meet of Champions on October 5. Sailor was the second fastest finisher for Alexandria at the Section 8AA meet. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria boys’ cross country team has seen the progression that every coach, no matter what the sport, wants to see from a team throughout a season.

The Cardinals lost to Central Lakes Conference front-runner Willmar in a meet earlier this fall. They responded by coming back in the CLC meet to beat them for the team championship. They then took the momentum from that and ran their best race of the season at the Section 8AA meet in Detroit Lakes. Their reward? A trip to the state tournament at St. Olaf College this Saturday after taking second at the section meet last Thursday.

“There was not a boy that wasn’t feeling really good,” head coach Mark Nelsen said of his guys going into the section meet. “Having come off the conference meet with a solid team race, and also going back to September, [Detroit Lakes] is such a difficult course and we ran really well on it in early September. All of those things together instilled a lot of confidence for the coaches and the runners.”

The Cardinals ran with that confidence as they finished with three individuals in the top 20. Alexandria finished with 94 team points. That was 14 points better than third-place Willmar and 21 points off of first-place Bemidji.

Aaron Runge led the way with a seventh-place finish on the 5K course in 16:58.4 to qualify individually for the state meet. Colton Sailor was 16th in 17:33.3. Trent Piepenburg took 19th in 17:39.9, Austin Thom was 25th (17:48.9) and Jimmy Pfeffer rounded out the Cardinals’ top five in 27th place in a time of 17:51.5. Brandon Jerde (32nd, 17:55.5) and Wesley Graves (56th, 18:41) rounded out the lineup for Alexandria.

“It’s by far his best race,” Nelsen said of Runge. “Last year, he came on at the end of the season, and he set a goal that he wanted to be an individual qualifier at state. We talked about it during the season. For him to put together that race; he beat some kids he hadn’t beat all season long. That’s a pretty solid group of individuals who are going down to the state meet for our section, so that was a great race for Aaron.”

Nelsen talked early in the season about how much work this group put into their off-season conditioning. They have seen it pay off late in the year. Now Alexandria will get the thrill of racing against the top teams in the state.

Six programs that were ranked in the top 10 of the October 21 Minnesota High School Cross Country Coaches’ poll qualified for the state meet. Included in that are the top-four ranked programs in Hutchinson (4th), Stillwater (3rd), Edina (2nd) and Wayzata (1st).

“You want them to enjoy it because that’s what it’s about for high school athletes, is trying to get to their state tournament,” Nelsen said. “We want them to enjoy the experience…but it would certainly be special to be a top-10 team down there and that might be a legitimate goal for them to aspire to.”


TEAM SCORES – 1. Bemidji, 73; 2. Alexandria, 94; 3. Willmar, 108; 4. Moorhead, 124; 5. Little Falls, 145; 6. Rocori – 164; 7. Monticello, 170; 8. Sartell, 202; 9. Detroit Lakes, 249; 10. Brainerd, 266; 11. St. Cloud Tech, 300; 12. Fergus Falls, 302; 13. Becker, 322; 14. Sauk Rapids, 391; 15. St. Cloud Apollo, 396; 16. Thief River Falls, 419

ALEXANDRIA – Runge – seventh, 16:58.4; Sailor – 16th, 17:33.3; Piepenburg – 19th, 17:39.9; Thom – 25th, 17:48.9; Pfeffer – 27th, 17:51.5; Jerde – 32nd, 17:55.5; Graves – 56th, 18:41

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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