Ranger fans were torn last Thursday after the Forest Lake boys’ cross country team broke its five-year streak of qualifying for state, while senior captain Jacob Jankowski won the section crown individually.
With only two teams, Elk River and Chisago Lakes, advancing to state, the Rangers ended their season by placing third at the Section 7AA title meet at the Princeton Golf Course.The lone runner to represent Forest Lake at St. Olaf College on Saturday will be Jankowski, who captured first-place finish with a time of 15:56 on the 34-degree day.
Jankowski raced head-to-head with the state’s No. 7 runner at the time, Steven Cotter of Andover, but pulled away by two-tenths of a second in the full-on sprint down the homestretch.
According to head coach Deno Johnson, Andover came in with a two-man strategy to limit Jankowski by pushing Andover’s No. 2 runner, junior Chris Meados, hard in the beginning to increase Jankowski’s pace and wear him down before the final stretch. But Jankowski refused to take the bait.
“He was really patient,” Johnson said. “To see him dig deep like that, to man up and stick in the screws and hold Cotter back like that? Just outstanding. He gets an A-plus-plus on performance, great stuff.”
Not only did Jankowski earn top honors on the frigid day, he set a new course record with his 15:56 time.
Forest Lake’s No. 2 runner, Tommy Babcock, missed, qualifying for state individually by just six seconds, but finished 13th at the section meet as the second-fastest ninth-grader with a new personal-best time of 17:03.
Sophomores Leo Hipp, Riley Schilling, Quinn Duffy and eighth-grader Candido Sanchez stuck together as a pack throughout the race, taking places 30-33, respectively, within four seconds.
Duffy raced for his overall personal-best 17:39 while Sanchez set a new Forest Lake record for fastest time as an eighth-grader at 17:42. Hipp placed in the top 30 despite losing his shoe around the one-mile mark, and finishing the slick course, muddy from an earlier snowfall, with just one shoe.
While the Rangers won’t be advancing, the squad raced for its best average time of 17:11 at the section meet, despite losing senior co-captain Jack Ebel and sophomore Rowan Hume to injury earlier this fall. This was Ebel’s sixth year in the program and a key runner for the Rangers this season at the No. 2 spot.
Forest Lake this year had two team victories: the opening invite in River Falls and the St. Francis Invite.