In late September 2015, the Edina High School girls cross-country team finished second in the top high school race at the Roy Griak Invitational, hosted by the University of Minnesota. The winning team from Naperville North in Illinois had a team score of 77 and the Hornets were next at 142.
Yes, that’s a 65-point gap. But placing so high among 49 of the top teams from across the country was a big step for the Hornets. And it vaulted them to history a few weeks later when they won their school’s first state cross-country championship.
Edina owns more MSHSL state titles in all sports than any other school and it isn’t close. The Hornets finished the 2015-16 school year with 125 state championships, followed by Blake with 64, Apple Valley with 60 and Stillwater with 59.
In girls sports alone, Edina owns a state-best 67 state titles. The cross-country team rolled to the Class 2A championship last November at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The Hornets’ team score of 68 topped second-place Marshall’s 76.
And here’s the kicker: The Hornets had exactly zero seniors among the seven athletes who ran at state last year. The crew consisted of two freshmen, one sophomore and four juniors. And here’s the double kicker: The top returning runner in Class 1A transferred to Edina this fall.
The Hornets have not been defeated in an MSHSL event since the 2015 Griak, including a 43-point victory over second-place Mountain View, Idaho, in this year’s Griak. And yes, they are absolutely the undisputed team to beat in 2016.
The newcomer is Morgan Richter, now a freshman. She placed second at state in 1A last year behind Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping, who moved to Utah over the summer. Richter was the Hornets’ No. 2 runner (placing 14th) at the Griak this season behind senior Amanda Mosborg, who placed seventh. The other runners were freshman Sadie Schreiner (17th), sophomore Maria Rickman (25th), senior Anna Hage (50th), senior Hannah Mitchell (56th) and senior Tate Sweeney (70th) in a field of 448 individuals.
“It’s just really cool to be up on that stage, you have the trophy with Roy Griak’s picture on it,” said Edina coach Matt Gabrielson. “And it’s not outlined in silver, it’s outlined in gold. It was a really big deal for us.”
The Hornets continued their winning ways at Tuesday’s 28th annual Victoria Lions Invitational in Chaska, with Richter finishing second behind Farmington eighth-grader Anna Fenske. Mosborg was fourth, Rickman eighth, Schreiner ninth and junior Emily Kompelien 16th for a dominating team score of 39 (Hage was 17th and Mitchell 36th). Second-place Eden Prairie had a team score of 102.
After claiming last year’s state championship and the Griak title this year, the Hornets know that focusing on the too-distant future – such as the 2016 state meet – may not bode well for success.
“In some ways it’s too easy to think too far in advance,” Sweeney said. “That’s why one of the things we like to focus on is making sure we are in the moment and on the day of the race we’re thinking of the race we’re at. If we’re focusing only on the state meet, then we won’t give our all the rest of the season. It’s a process. You have to start from day one and build up. That’s what we’re doing.”
Leadership from the team’s seniors – what Gabrielson called “great leadership” -- is an important part of the story this season.
“There are six or seven seniors who have been here for five or six years and four of them are captains,” he said. “They’re all leaders in different ways. Tate is a vocal leader. Amanda leads by example, she’s quiet. Hannah is the statistics geek and keeps us informed of what’s going on. Brynn (Liabraaten) is sort of, ‘Let’s get down to business, here’s what we’re going to do.’ It’s nice to have that mix.”
Is there pressure on the Hornets? No question. They recognize it and almost relish it.
“I think there is for sure pressure and we know there’s a target on our backs,” Mosborg said. “But we’re trying to not get comfortable and always know that there are people who can be a threat to us. We try to race every day like we don’t expect to win or like we don’t have an advantage.”
Sweeney said, “I think the idea of pressure can scare some teams but for our team, when we went into the season, one of the goals we pointed out right away was we want to be state champion again. So I think this whole season has been about pushing ourselves in every race.
“We try to treat every race like it could be the state championship and work hard every race. So far it’s been pretty good for us. The pressure will always be there and we’ve always had girls who have been in the top part of every race. We’ve always had to deal with pressure but I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job so far.”
In Class 2A girls rankings by the state cross-country coaches association, Edina is No. 1 ahead of No. 2 Willmar and No. 3 Wayzata. Individually, Mosborg is ranked No. 2 behind Minneapolis Washburn sophomore Emily Covert, Richter is No. 4, Schreiner is No. 6, Rickman is No. 9 and Kompelien received honorable mention notice.
Gabrielson said the athletes didn’t all perform as well as they could have on Tuesday, and that was part of the post-race discussion.
“We learned a lot from today,” he said. “I think some of the girls let the rankings and things get to them a little bit today. We talked about that afterwards and I think we learned something from that. That’s not what we’re focused on. We’re getting focused on getting the best out of ourselves every day. And we didn’t do that today because we were so focused on the external.
“I think the team is on the cusp of greatness and I think they know that. And I think they recognize that we need to focus more on what we’re here to do rather than what other people are expecting us to do.”
BY THE NUMBERS
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*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 2,822
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