Cross country: Tough competition brings out the best in Alexandria boys
Alexandria senior Bennett Wirth didn’t hesitate when asked if Thursday’s home triangular with Willmar and Bemidji was the best competition the Cardinals have raced against this season.
“Definitely. An easy yes to that,” Wirth said. “We have two good teams here. We know we can’t be sitting on our heels. We got to be on our toes, we got to be ready to move. The coaches prepared us perfectly for that.”
The Cardinals were excited for the opportunity and raced well when faced with that challenge. Bemidji is the favorite in the Section 8AA field, and the Lumberjacks ran like it at the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center, finishing first with 25 points. Nathan Alto (16:21.2), Nicholas Youso (16:50.1) and Ethan Maish (16:53.7) finished 1-2-3.
Alexandria had three top-10 finishes to take second with 45 points. Willmar rounded out the field with 59 behind a fourth-place finish from Colin O’Farrell (16:53.8) and a sixth-place finish from Sully Anez (17:15.7).
It was a race with a lot of runners who pushed each other to post impressive times. Five different guys finished in under 17 minutes, including Alexandria senior Jacob Kleven who was fifth in 16:54.45. Junior Joel Brault was not far behind in seventh place with a time of 17:21.
“I usually start in the back of the pack and then work my way up after the first mile,” Brault said. “I was feeling pretty good throughout.”
Wirth and Brault were running right next to each other through much of the race before Brault had a little more kick in the end. Wirth finished eighth overall in a time of 17:25.5.
“I don’t like it when he beats me, but it’s something to push me and keep me going,” Wirth said with a smile about running with Brault. “Coach always says get out fast but not too fast. I think I executed that perfect today.”
Senior Cameron Hochsprung was next in line for Alexandria in 11th place (17:44.5). Sophomore Harrison Greathouse rounded out the team scoring in 14th place (18:13.5), and Nathan Klimek (17th, 19:10.6) and Landon Runge (19th, 19:19.3) finished off the top seven. Freshman Cameron Simon (19:19.99) and sophomore Luke Panther (19:40.55) also ran varsity.
Brault called this race an opportunity to build some confidence with one of the best teams in the section in town. Head coach Travis Hochhalter believes the boys are trending in the right direction, and Thursday’s showing was another step forward.
“I was impressed. They gutted it out,” Hochhalter said. “You’re talking about a top-eight team in Bemidji. They’re talented. They have (Nathan Alto) who is way out in front, but each of our Alex kids went after a blue or white jersey. They competed. They went out a little quick, but I was impressed with the way they held it and they still had finishes.”
If the Lumberjacks are the favorites in the section, Alexandria wants to be running right within the top couple spots with them in a couple weeks. Fall sports teams should find out what a postseason might look like in the very near future, and Hochhalter is still holding out hope for an exciting end to the season.
There are creative ways coaches are thinking of trying to run championship meets in fields like the conference, section and possibly a state environment. Things like teams competing in small waves of three or four programs at a time have been tossed around. Whatever it takes to be safe while still giving kids the chance to compete at a high level.
“It gave me goosebumps just thinking about it now. It almost brings tears to my eyes because these kids deserve it,” Hochhalter said about both his boys and girls teams getting a postseason chance. “They put in so much work, and they don’t know. They don’t know what it’s going to look like, but they listen to their coaches.”
That positive mindset of the kids is leading to another big season for the Alexandria running programs. With good competition in place on Thursday, Hochhalter was thrilled to see his guys rise to the challenge.
“Cross country is one of those things where you want to beat your time, but it’s so fun when there’s people in front of you and you’re racing with them,” he said. “We do want to beat those teams. It brought out the best in our kids today.”