Every year, it seems as if I leave the state track meet with a similar thought: There is an unending supply of great stories that come out of this event. As I sit at home on this Saturday night, trying to do justice to what took place this year, I have decided to focus on three stories.
One concerns a familiar name to track fans, one is about a newcomer who burst on the scene Saturday and then shared a very special moment with her father, and one is about a team that said goodbye to its coach as he shipped off for an overseas military deployment just days before the state meet. Here are a few memories that were made Saturday at Hamline University’s Klas Field …
THE SUPERSTAR FROM BAGLEY/FOSSTON
In 2008, a ninth-grader from Bagley/Fosston raised some eyebrows by winning the Class 1A girls triple jump. She also placed second in the 200 meters and fifth in the high jump that year. Her name was Analisa Huschle, and on Saturday she completed one of the most remarkable careers in Minnesota high school track history.
Analisa won the long jump on Friday, and on Saturday she captured gold medals in the triple jump, 100 and 200. That gave her an astounding career total of 10 state championships, including four in the triple jump. She helped Bagley/Fosston win the 1A team championship in 2009, and they shared this year’s title with St. Peter.
After she had that 10th gold medal placed around her neck, I asked Analisa about her day, her weekend and her high school track experiences.
“I feel amazing,” she said, which was also a fine way to describe what she has accomplished. She said four state titles this weekend “was my goal, but anything could have happened.”
Analisa is soft-spoken – especially with the media – and rarely shows any emotion. But her emotions surfaced at least twice Saturday. The first moment came when her time of 24.68 seconds in the 200 (her final event) was announced. Upon hearing her time, she stopped in her tracks, put her hands on top of her head and had a look of amazement on her face (right).
“I was really surprised when I got that time, because I felt really tired,” she said. “But I guess it didn’t matter."
As she talked about the final day of her high school career, Analisa became a little teary-eyed. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” she said. “It was perfect. My career has been amazing.”
Nobody will argue with that.
THE NEWCOMER … AND HER DAD
As the Class 2A girls 1,600-meter race unfolded Saturday, most fans expected to see Jamie Piepenberg of Alexandria and Maria Hauger of Shakopee battle to the finish. They are well-known names in cross-country as well as track, and they finished first (Piepenberg) and second (Hauger) in Friday’s 3,200.
I was standing near the finish line Saturday. As the runners came down the home stretch, a man standing behind me shouted over and over, “Christina! Christina! Christina!” And sure enough, the winner of the race was Christina Monson, a sophomore from Albert Lea. The man was her father, Maurie Monson.
Christina had finished third in Friday’s 3,200, a good distance behind Piepenberg and Hauger (a year ago she also placed third in the 3,200, with Hauger and Piepenberg finishing 1-2). But she outkicked them and everyone else in Saturday’s 1,600. And when she jogged over to the fence and hugged her dad as they both cried … well, that was easily the most memorable single moment of the weekend for me.
“I’m overwhelmed right now,” Maurie said to me. “I can’t believe it.”
He told me that the Albert Lea coaches had convinced Christina to change her strategy for the 1,600. Her normal plan has been to go out hard from the start, take the lead and hope to hold off the field. But her coaches said she couldn’t do that with Piepenberg and Hauger. They were just too strong, and she needed to run a tactical race.
“It was so hard for me to do,” a smiling Christina told me. “Usually I just go out and get the lead, because I feel confident there. I just go and that’s just how I run. They told me today, ‘You can’t let it all go right away because you have to have that energy at the end.’ I really had to hold back, which is a strategy I’ve never, ever had to do before.”
While Maurie was stationed at the finish line, Christina’s mom (Debbie) was on the backstretch as part of the family strategy. “He’s always at the finish line, making sure I’m picking up the pace,” Christina said. “And my mom is on the backstretch, telling me to relax.”
I asked her if she always hugs her father after races. She said, “If it’s a big one, I definitely do.”
And this was the biggest one of all.
RUNNING FOR THEIR ABSENT COACH
The Pillager Huskies boys ran at state without their head coach. Jim Bentson, who teaches high school social studies, also is a member of the military. He reported to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin a little more than a week ago, and later that same day the Huskies ran in the Class 1A Section 6 meet.
Wesley DeLong qualified for state in the 400 meters, and Sean Nokken, Devin Strack, Matt Neurerur and DeLong qualified in the 4x400 relay. Their coach is making his third overseas deployment with his National Guard unit; he will head for Kuwait, followed by time in Iraq and Afghanistan, assisting troops who are headed back to the U.S. Bentson is part of the 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery, a Minnesota Army National Guard Battalion headquartered in New Ulm.
DeLong finished fourth in the 400 Saturday and the relay team placed fifth. According to Nokken, “He called me yesterday and he said, ‘I know I can’t be there, but I just want you guys to run like I’m there.’Because every time we come around that last corner, he’s yelling at us. Our inspiration for the whole rest of the year is him, to make sure he stays safe.”
Since their coach left, the Huskies’constant companion has been a maroon flag that says “Pillager 1-125 FA,” signifying Bentson’s unit.
“Before he left, he just told us to be what we can be,” DeLong said. “The banner is in honor of our coach.”
DIET COKE UPDATE
--Special Commendation: As I wrote during the state softball tournament, I am absolutely not attempting to bribe anyone to supply me with Diet Coke. But nonetheless … when I arrived in the press box at Hamline on Saturday, Hamline sports information director and all-around wonderful person Stephanie Harris had six plastic bottles of Diet Coke sitting in a cooler of ice for me. I put down four bottles during the 12-hour day, and the remaining two were snatched up in a red-hot hurry when I offered them up inside the media work room.
--To see a photo of the Pillager relay team with their flag, along with lots of other photos from the state track meet, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
--Diet Coke Count: Four
BY THE NUMBERS
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