In one of the closest team finishes ever, the Big Lake boys varsity cross-country team won its third consecutive Section 5AA title at Princeton last Thursday.
The Hornets needed to make every step count, and at the end of the 5000-meter race, Big Lake had edged Monticello by two points and Becker by three.
After a hectic start where runners from all 11 teams jockeyed for position, Big Lake’s top two runners, Jack Leuer and Owen Layton found the front of the pack. They started to gradually pull away from the rest of the field at the halfway mark, then increased their lead over the final 2500 meters and finished with no other runners in sight.
Leuer took individual honors, winning in 15:50.2. Layton followed a few steps behind in 15:56.2.
Almost 50 seconds later, Chris Falk of Monticello crossed the finish line in third place in 16:43.3, edging Becker’s Parker Spindler by a step. Then coaches and spectators watched as runners sprinted the final 100 meters trying to pass their competitors to the finish line.
It was so close, no one was sure which team had won - or finished second. The final tally: Big Lake 51, Monticello 53 and Becker 54. The Hornets and Magic both advance to the state meet.
In addition to Big Lake’s top two runners, the rest of the team ran outstanding races. The next three Big Lake finishers were Gavin Flavin (14th, 17:32.3), Judd Layton (16th, 17:35.3) and Trent Erickson (18th, 17:37.4). Had any of those runners been passed at the finish, the final team standings would have changed.
“This group of three is one of the biggest reasons this team was able to compete for the conference and section titles,” said Coach Todd Trutna. “Nobody in this group was in our top nine last year, but they all made a great commitment to improve that started last cross-country season, through track and into summer training.”
Big Lake’s David Guyse (25th, 17:55.1) and Gavin Vold (31st, 18:29.2) rounded out the team’s seven runners and finished ahead of at least 40 to 50 other runners.
“Some look at the sixth and seventh runners as superfluous, but having David and Gavin finish as well as they do allows them to get in front of other teams’ top five,” said Trutna, “which adds to their team score. We have had a few meets come down to one or two points.”
For the girls, seventh-grader Greta Layton is headed for the state meet after placing eighth in 20:35.1. She is the first Hornet on the girls team to qualify for the state meet since Noelle Olson in 2012. And what makes her accomplishment so great is the fact that she started the season running on the middle school team.
“Greta has had an incredible season, learning on the fly how to run the 5K distance,” said Coach Trutna. “Each race she has gotten a bit better at pacing and her results speak for themselves.”
Junior Campbell Slattery ran another strong race to get under the 22-minute mark and place 25th in 21:42. Senior Emilee Doperalski was close behind in 32nd place in 22:31.
“Both Campbell and Emilee had a strong end of the season and helped give this team a lift,” said Coach Trutna.
Even with the wet course, Brynn Scheer improved her time by over 30 seconds from when the team ran the same course a few weeks ago to finish in 64th. Raina White improved by over a minute to finish in 68th.
“Each race these two get more confidence, it’s a shame the season can’t just keep going for them,” said Coach Trutna.
Rylie Ostrom and Alayna Boe finished 66th and 67th respectively.
“Both runners have battled injuries all season, and they were not at 100%, but they battled all race,” said Coach Trutna. “It’s the part of cross-country that a lot of spectators may miss, just how gritty and determined some of these runners are.”
The team finished seventh in the 11-team field.
The boys varsity and Greta Layton advanced to the Minnesota State Championship Friday at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights.