Forest Lake girls’ cross country head coach Eric Kaluza seemed a little more laidback following a Section 7AA title at Princeton Golf Course last Thursday, where his squad defeated 15 other schools.
“Winning kind of does that,” Kaluza said, jokingly. “It relaxes you.”
Kaluza has until Saturday, Nov. 3 to enjoy the win, That’s when his girls will represent Forest Lake in the Class AA state tournament at St. Olaf College in Northfield as the No. 11 team in state.
Paving the road to state last Thursday amid the 34-degree air and mud-riddled ground was eighth-grader Allison Bartlett. She claimed fourth place with a time of 15:07 while ninth-grader Emma Benner crossed the finish line two seconds later in fifth place.
Both Bartlett and Benner defeated Noelle Olson of Big Lake, the No. 13 runner in state at the time, who finished in 15:28.
“I can’t say it enough how fantastic it is to have that one-two punch with Allie and Emma,” Kaluza said. “Those two are outstanding and really deserve every accolade they get.”
Seventh-grader Caroline Schoessow continuted to climb the ladder with a 13th-place finish at a time of 15:45.
“I’m very proud of her,” Kaluza said. “Especially when she just started learning how to race. She’s just that good and easy to coach. She trusts you so much, and her ability to be coached is just fun to work with.”
Eighth-graders Maria Valentin and Isabel Leininger took 16th and 17th at 15:56 and 16 minutes flat, respectively, while fellow eighth-graders Miranda Overland and Abbie Asperheim took 28th and 59th to round out the seven-member lineup.
This finish marks the fourth state qualification in five seasons for the Rangers under Kaluza, the only coach dating back to 1978 to take the Rangers to the state meet. But Kaluza maintains that the success has little to do with his coaching.
“They’re telling me what to do, and most of the time I’m standing around just cheering,” Kaluza said. “This is their program, not mine. I’m replaceable.”
The growing number of girls joining the Forest Lake cross country program may dispute that, but for now, Kaluza said his girls will focus on the state meet by continuing their 35-mile-a-week running routine and enjoying the training leading up to Saturday’s race.
“We have fun,” Kaluza said. “Hard work is not fun, but we make it fun.”
The Rangers will showcase the result of that hard work at the state meet, which takes place at this Saturday.