John's Journal
No Matter The Conditions, Washburn’s Covert Wins11/5/2017
NORTHFIELD – On the warmest day of the cross-country season as well as the biggest day of the country season, Minneapolis Washburn junior Emily Covert proved herself to be the best in Minnesota.

Covert, who placed eighth at state last year, captured the Class 2A title Saturday on a gloomy, chilly damp day. That provided a nice bookend to her previous 2017 signature victory at the late-September Roy Griak Invitational, where she won against a field of runners from across the country.

The Griak was held in sunny, hot and humid conditions, making for a rugged race. Covert wasn’t deterred, winning with a seven-second margin over 2015 Class 1A state champ Grace Ping of Winona Cotter; Farmington’s Anna Fenske, the 2016 Class 2A state champion, was third at the Griak.

Covert was the strongest runner again Saturday at St. Olaf College, finishing more than four seconds ahead of Fenske, now a freshman. Sophomore Emma Atkinson of Wayzata was third, followed by Edina senior Emily Kompelien and Lakeville South sophomore Brianne Brewster.

“I was feeling really good,” Covert said. “I knew we were set up for a good time because those runners are so strong. I just wanted to stick with them and hold throughout the race. It felt like my race. I felt like I was running my own race.

“Griak was a lot warmer. I feel like I have to prepare myself for these conditions with my warmup and everything. It did give me confidence, but I knew that Anna Fenske would be right there with me, and everyone else.”

Fenske’s time of 17 minutes, 34.8 seconds was faster than her winning time from a year earlier (17:41.5), but she couldn’t push past Covert.

“One of my goals was to defend the title, which didn’t happen, but Emily’s a really great runner so I’m happy with getting second,” Fenske said.

This is the third year that girls have run 5,000 meters (moving from 4,000 in 2015), and Covert’s time of 17 minutes, 30.1 seconds was the fastest over that distance in those three years at state.

In the team competition, Atkinson’s finish helped Wayzata end Edina’s two-year reign as state champions. The Trojans had a team score of 51 and Edina was second at 72, followed by St. Michael-Albertville (102), Willmar (144) and Forest Lake (150) in the top five.

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One More Step: Wayzata’s Hussein Reaches The Top11/5/2017
NORTHFIELD -- Wayzata senior Khalid Hussein took the biggest single stride of his cross-country career Saturday, running to the Class 2A boys state championship one year after placing second on the 5,000-meter course at St. Olaf College.

Hussein’s time of 15 minutes, 22.6 seconds was nearly 20 seconds faster than his time in 2016, and it gave him a nine-second cushion over Roseville junior Acer Iverson, who was second. Rosemount junior Luke Labbatt burst free from a pack at the finish to claim third with a half-second margin over Andover senior Tom Brueckman.

“My legs felt good, my body felt good,” Hussein said, shivering just a bit. “The cold doesn’t affect me in races, just after the races.”

He said he struggled with a knee injury during the spring track season, which made winning a state title one year after placing second even sweeter.

“It’s been a great journey,” he said. “I was kind of injured in track season but I managed to get healthy for this cross-country season. I was trying to get my knee right. It’s all thanks to my coaches and my family.”

Iverson made an even bigger leap from 2016, when he finished 20th at state. He stayed with Hussein most of the race.

“I carried the speed out as long as I could as we wrapped around back to the finish, but somewhere in there he found that chase energy, I guess, and got me,” Iverson said. “I definitely wanted to finish first, but I’m happy to be second.”

Wayzata also took home the boys team title for the second year in a row. The Trojans had a score of 37, with Stillwater second at 79, followed by Edina (107), White Bear Lake (136) and Mounds View (193) in the top five.

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Wolfgram Repeats As 1A Cross-Country Champion11/5/2017
NORTHFIELD – One of the four races during Saturday’s state cross-country championships held just a little more intrigue than the others. The Class 1A girls field was led by two previous state champions; they led the pack to the finish, with a young upstart carrying a familiar last name also in the mix.

Tierney Wolfgram, a freshman from Math & Science Academy in Woodbury, won the championship for the second year in a row. Finishing directly behind Wolfgram were sisters from Winona Cotter. Seventh-grader Lauren Ping was second and freshman Grace Ping – the 2015 state champ – placed third.

The Ping family lived in Utah last year before returning to Winona. When Grace won the 2015 state crown, she was pegged as a threat to match the five titles won by Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley’s Carrie Tollefson from 1990 to 1994. Her season in Utah ended that possibility, but now Wolfgram – with two state titles already and three seasons to go – could match Tollefson’s record.

“My race strategies are just to run,” Wolfgram said. “I always say that I run my races backwards, starting out way too fast and then slowing down. But in this race I think I did pretty even splits, which was good.

“It feels really good. I’ve really worked this season and my work has paid off. The beginning of the season wasn’t going how I wanted it to go, but I really just started visualizing and that really helped me.”

The biggest surprise in Saturday’s race was Lauren Ping finishing ahead of her older sister. Lauren had never beaten Grace before.

“She’s just always been a good runner and I’ve always wanted to be just as good as her,” Lauren said.

Grace Ping said she has been dealing with health throughout the fall season.

“I’ve had a pretty frustrating season just because at the beginning I had gotten my ferritin (a protein that stores and releases iron) checked and it was low. And then I got that up and my (right) leg started hurting. It felt better today so hopefully I can be healthy for postseason (national) races.”

Perham won the team race with a score of 86, edging Winona Cotter (87) by a single point. Next were Annandale (131), Stewartville (137) and Fairmont (165) in the top five.

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Two For Two: Steiger Edges Dahlberg In Class 1A Rematch11/5/2017
NORTHFIELD – Matt Steiger of Le Crescent and Declan Dahlberg don’t compete against each other until the state cross-country championships, and for two years running they have put on quite the dramatic finishes.

Last year, when they were juniors, Dahlberg and Steiger careened toward the finish line together before Dahlberg leaned forward to win the Class 1A title by two one-hundredths of a second ahead of Steiger.

In the rematch Saturday at St. Olaf College, the same two runners went stride for stride over the same home stretch. This time, Steiger won the sprint to the line by eight-10ths of a second over Dahlberg. (Photos from 2016, left, and 2017, right.)

Afterwards, they leaned on each other and expressed complete respect for each other.

“There’s one thing: sprint as hard as you can,” Steiger said. “Don’t leave anything out there.

“I just kept working hard throughout the season. Make sure you do the workouts, get enough recovery and then put it all on the line in this race.”

In the understatement of the day, Dahlberg said, “It was a good finish. It’s happened before, and they kind of go either way.”

Perham won the boys title (as well as the girls title) with a team score of 188. Next were St. James (148), Mankato Loyola/Cleveland (154), Lac Qui Parle Valley (172) and North Shore (175).

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In A Game Of Inches, Totino-Grace Comes Out On Top11/2/2017
When the boys soccer teams from Totino-Grace and St. Thomas Academy played to a 2-2 overtime tie in the final game of the regular season, a tone had been set. When they met at U.S. Bank Stadium Thursday morning to decide the Class 1A state championship, the rematch was almost as close as the original.

Totino-Grace (19-1-1) claimed its second state title with a 1-0 victory over the Cadets (16-2-3), with the goal coming on a header by Steevenson Lamarre off an assist by Collin Matzoll eight minutes into the game. And that, as they say, was that.

“Noel and I were talking before the game,” said Eagles coach Bill Vance, referring to Cadets coach Noel Quinn. “I said that sometimes the state tournament is the great equalizer. Which means it’s harder to score and to find those moments. If you score the first goal and the opponent doesn’t score, you’ll win the game.”

St. Thomas Academy, which was trying to win a second consecutive state championship, finished with 13 shots on goal to 10 for the Eagles. The shutout went to Totino-Grace keeper Philip Ronza; he and STA’s Jack Killian each had three saves.

“Totino-Grace defended really well and they put a lot of players in and around their box,” Quinn said. “It’s just the way it goes sometimes in a final, everybody’s a little tense. We needed something to go our way and it didn’t happen.

“Obviously (the season) was great. We were in the final for the second year running and we wanted to win the whole thing again. We won our conference and we won our section, we wanted to win the final. It’s a great season.”

Vance said, “It’s a game of inches. Today, St. Thomas Academy didn’t get some of those inches and Totino-Grace did. It was exciting. It wasn’t pretty but we feel great to come out with the W.”

--Wells Fargo All-Tournament Team: Chameng Xiong, St. Paul Harding; Silas Hess, Bemijdi; Chris Cerda, Sander Diaz, Worthington; Mooday Wah, Kevin Ortiz, Austin; Lonyjera Okal, Spencer Overturf, Guyvenson Mohs, Orono; Christian Babo, Alex Tsobanakis, Logan Davis, St. Thomas Academy; Amanuel Bird, Herbert Endeley, Collin Matzoll, Totino-Grace.

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