XC girls post best finish in program history
The Ranger cross country girls surprised themselves at the Class AA state meet on Saturday with a fourth-place finish, the best in Forest Lake school history.
The Rangers also caught off-guard the seven teams ranked ahead of them going into the race at St. Olaf College, including the third-ranked East Ridge squad, which finished fifth behind Forest Lake by two points.
“It really was a surprise,” head coach Eric Kaluza said. “I thought we had done really well, then to find out a half hour after the race, it just blew my mind. I was ecstatic and so proud of what they had done.”
Leading the pack for the Forest Lake team was eighth-grader Allison Bartlett, who finished 25th out of the 174 runners with a time of 14:47 in the 4K. Ninth-grader Emma Benner placed 34th at 15-flat, while seventh-grader Caroline Schoessow finished in 50th and first in her age group with a time of 15:08.
“Caroline stepped it up big time,” Kaluza said. “She ran fantastic and is starting to key off of Allie and Emma. We know who the frontrunners are, but I could see Caroline getting into that No. 1-or-2 conversation. And I know Allie and Emma would be more than happy to have that company up front.”
Eighth-graders Isabel Leininger and Maria Valentin rounded out the five-member score with a 99th-place finish at 15:31 and 106th-place showing at 15:34, respectively.
“Izzy and Maria work well together and ran fantastic while sticking together,” Kaluza said. “They are getting better and better and it wouldn’t surprise me if we could take another 10-15 seconds off their time. They understand it’s such a key role at the four, five, six and seven positions, and they are going to be up there even further next season. That’s my job to push them to get there.”
Eighth-grader Miranda Overland took on the course while still battling a tendonitis injury, placing 169th at 16:33 while eighth-grader Abbie Asperheim finished in 17:24.
The Rangers had a spread of 46.5 seconds, showcasing their ability to run as a pack during the cool day in Northfield, and improving on the team’s spread of 52.2 and 10th place at last year’s state meet.
This was the fourth state appearance in five years for Forest Lake girls’ cross country. They finished 15th in 2008 and 16th in 2010.
Kaluza is the only coach to take the Rangers to the state meet.
“It’s definitely humbling and flattering, and I appreciate any accolades I get,” the sixth-year coach said. “But it has little to do with me because I don’t race. They run the race, and it’s a direct relationship to what they’re doing out there.”
Members of the Forest Lake squad plan to elongate their season a bit with a non-school-affiliated race this Saturday at the Nike Cross Nationals race in Sioux Falls. Kaluza said the Rangers will take a little time off after the South Dakota race, then pick up training again at the end of December.
With the stigma of times slowing as girls mature, Kaluza said it’s important that the Rangers keep working hard if they want to continue to improve. However, he also said that drive to succeed needs to come from his Forest Lake squad.
“It’s all about them,” Kaluza said. “If they don’t want it, then that’s their perogative. I don’t need it more than they do. It’s similar to music, the conductor directs and conducts the music, but it’s the players that get to play.”
With Benner being the oldest as a ninth-grader, the head coach said the young team can achieve a lot in the next few years by growing wiser as runners. An example is Shakopee senior Maria Hauger, who took first again on Saturday with a landslide victory at 13:42, her fourth consecutive state title.
After a strong season Kaluza hopes his girls will continue to aim high in their goals and learn a lot along the way.
“Success is definitely fleeting in sports and you learn a lot more from failure than you do in your wins,” Kaluza said. “So where we can improve on and shoot for again is the challenge of that conference title and that region title. For state, whether we are 16th or fourth, we just need to focus on getting there.”