Forest Lake competed at the state girls cross country meet in four of the previous five seasons. In general, the runners left pleased with the outcome on each occasion.
That fuzzy feeling did not follow the Rangers home from Northfield on Saturday, however, after the young-yet-experienced team took 11th in the 16-team state field.
“It was frustrating to not reap the rewards we thought we had coming,” said coach Eric Kaluza. “At state you have to bring your ‘A’ game every time. You can walk into a different meet and run complacently, but you can’t do that at state. It was a little bit of a shock.”
Wayzata dominated the field, winning by 97 points over East Ridge, Forest Lake’s conference rival.
The Rangers came into the meet ranked seventh and had five members of last year’s fourth-place squad in the lineup. But after a false start forced a re-start, the Forest Lake girls did not establish position toward the front of the pack. Kaluza could tell within a few minutes that his squad faced an uphill battle.
“You can’t have that at the state meet,” he said. “You have to be pushing the front.”
Emma Benner completed an impressive season with her best time of four trips to state. The sophomore ran the 4K course in 14:53 and took 30th, narrowly missing all-state honors.
She ran to the team’s top finish in each race this fall. Kaluza sees no reason her upward career arc cannot continue.
“She’s the perennial No. 1 runner; she loves it and just relishes the fact she can go compete,” he said. “She’s starting to learn how to win, and there’s a skill to be had in that.”
Eighth-grader Caroline Schoessow took 67th with a time of 15:22. Ninth-grader Allie Bartlett was 100th in 15:38. Ninth-grader Maria Valentin finished 128th in 16:02, and her classmate Amanda Forletti came in two positions and one second later.
Seventh-grader Jessica Overland (16:16) and ninth-grader Miranda Overland (16:29) rounded out the lineup.
With its top 15 or so runners being underclassmen, the team did not wait long to set the bar for next year.
“We talked about coming back here and working to get some hardware,” Kaluza said. “It’s going to take a monumental amount of work.”
For some girls, Kaluza plans to keep the system of training he implemented this year, while he will have the others go back to a more traditional system. Such individualized work will be a challenge, he said.
“One thing I wanted to see was progression, and now I have to take a look,” he said. “As coach, it’s on me for us not performing as well as we were capable of, especially after two real solid meets at conference and sections.”
Kaluza and the Rangers can take comfort that they will have the weapons to make a run at state again next fall.
“Depth is our key, it’s just that our depth has to shift (to faster times),” Kaluza said.