PREVIEW: Forest Lake cross-country

Regan Duffy

Runners aim for state return

2016 was an outstanding season for the Forest Lake girls and boys cross-country teams. Both squads qualified for their respective state meets – the girls finished sixth and the boys placed 13th.

The girls bring back six of the seven runners who ran at state, positioning themselves as a favorite to make a return trip.

“I know that all the other teams are thinking that we’re the favorites, but we’ll see,” girls head coach John Fick said.

Junior Regan Duffy finished 15th in the state race last year and is figured to be a top-10 runner this year. The other returners are freshman Amelea Hauer (56th), senior Caroline Schoessow (60th), eighth-grader Ava Wilson (63rd), eighth-grader Annabelle Stang (163rd) and junior Jesseca Overland (166th).

The girls will open their season at St. Olaf on Aug. 31, in a meet where entries are unlimited, allowing every runner to challenge for a spot in the early-season varsity lineup. Potential contenders include seniors Chloe Foster, Jessica Nieters and Jenna Parent and seventh-graders Ellie Hanowski and Jordan Parent.

Other prominent races on the schedule include the University of Minnesota’s Roy Griak Invitational (Sept. 23), the Swain Invitational in Duluth (Oct. 7) and the Suburban East Conference meet at Tanners Brook Golf Course (Oct. 17).

Fick considers these meets secondary to the Section 7AA championship at Cloquet (Oct. 26).

“All these other meets, in my opinion, are nothing but training,” Fick said. “It would be fun to run well at Griak, but otherwise, all I care about is sectionals.”

The top two teams at sectionals move on to state. The girls have advanced each of the last seven years, a streak that includes five straight section titles.

Charlie Babcock

The boys were something of a dark horse at sectionals last year, nabbing a berth to the state meet by finishing second behind Cloquet.

Unlike the Lumberjacks, who graduated four of their seven state runners, the Rangers return their entire varsity squad from a year ago, positioning themselves as tenative early favorites to win the section title.

Paul Kendrick, the longtime track coach at Forest Lake, has taken over the boys cross-country team on an interim basis to fill a last-minute vacancy. Kendrick had previously led the cross-country team from 1993-1999.

“We have some strong leaders who are seniors, and those guys have high expectations and they feel they can be one of those top 15 teams in the state,” Kendrick said. “It’s a matter of keeping them healthy and doing the right training.”

Seniors Spencer Kotys, Ryan Mead and Will Valentin ran on the state squad last year. Adam Stenning was an alternate on that squad, but finished in the No. 3 slot at the Rangers’ first meet of 2017, a dominating victory over 11 other teams at the Academy of Holy Angels on Aug. 26.

Junior Charlie Babcock won the individual title in that race, covering 3,000 meters in nine minutes, 59 seconds. He finished 43rd at state last year, and also qualified to the state track meet in the 1600 and 3200.

“Charlie wants to take that next step,” Kendrick said. “He has aspirations of running at the collegiate level. He’s a focused and determined runner. He lives a very disciplined life for a young man his age, and it shows as he continuously makes progress and gets better.”

Junior Andy Haines, sophomore Isaiah Zak and freshman Drew Sampson are the other returners from the state squad. With no graduates, competition is likely to be fierce for varsity spots this season – top contenders to move in could include junior Mathias Waskey, sophomores Jeremiah Vanacker, Austin Sievers, Nick Parent, Ethan Erickson, Beck Pope and Dylan Kinny, freshmen Quinlan Bonnett and Ben Anderson and eighth-grader Nick Bartlett.

“We have an outstanding group of young people and I’m excited to work with them,” Kendrick said.