Nov. 4—WILLMAR — A top-three finish at the Class AA state tournament.
That's the expectation Willmar head coach Connor Haugen and junior captain Hannah Quinn have for the Cardinals' girls cross-country team on Saturday.
"I am expecting top three. I know we didn't have our best day at sections,"
Haugen said of Willmar's second-place finish behind Alexandria.
"Heading into the state meet, we're going to be more rested."
Willmar finished nine points behind Alexandria with 57 points at the Section 8AA championships on Oct, 27.
While the placing came as a disappointment, the Cardinals have another shot at Alexandria and more at state,
a place where Willmar took second in 2021
"We definitely have to be ready to race," Quinn said. "If we can all run really well and put it all together — which we haven't done this year — I think it's definitely possible (we place highly)."
As for the Cardinals' girls, they are peaking at the right time.
Five of their seven varsity runners recorded their season-best or personal-record at the Central Lakes Conference championship or the Section 8AA championship.
Sophomore Lauren Eilers, Willmar's top runner ranked No. 6 in Class AA, tallied her season-best time of 18 minutes, 40.9 seconds at sections. Lauren's sister, Erin, also tabbed her season-best of 19:13.8 at the CLC championship.
But the Cardinals' late season success doesn't stop at the Eilers sisters.
Junior Madi Engstrom and seventh-grader Sophia Negen ran bests at the CLC championship. Engstrom ran a season-best 20:35.6 and Negen had the best run of her career with a time of 19:56.5. Freshman Leah Eystad also reached her personal-best in 21:22.3 at sections.
"To get that top-three or that second spot, it would be everybody having a day at once," Haugen said. "That hasn't happened this year yet, we just need the stars to align for that."
Quinn and her junior teammate, Jaidyn Flolo, round out Willmar's lineup. Quinn and Flolo each ran their personal-record times of 19:51.3 and 20:53.7 at the Rocori Invitational on September 22.
Haugen sees Quinn and Negen being the key runners in the Cardinals' success.
"We need Hannah to be fully rested, so that she can run what she can," Haugen said. "She's one of those girls that runs so hard in practice that sometimes it impacts her meets. We need her to be in a good spot."
As for Negen, she has improved drastically throughout her seventh-grade season.
Negen's best two races this season have been the two most recent, including sections. Her sections time was 1:28.3 seconds faster than her first meet this season.
"She works really hard at practice. Being a seventh-grader, she knows how to race," Quinn said. "It's really impressive."
The No. 4 ranked in Class AA Cardinals' girls will look to string their performances together when the Class AA cross-country state meet gets underway at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The Cardinals' boys have two individuals who qualified for the state meet — sophomore Sully Anez and junior Fathi Dubet.
Anez, who ranks No. 3 in the state for Class AA, will make a push for a state title.
He finished fifth in the state with a time of 16:07.97 in 2021
Anez has ran two races this season in under 16 minutes, most recently running a 15:51.4 at the Section 8AA championship.
"I've been running with Sully since we were in middle school," Dubet said. "He can win this. ... He has a big heart and he knows what he's got to do."
Haugen believes the state title is up for grabs between four runners: Anez, Alden Keller of Breck, Sal Wirth of Annandale and Emmett Gerres of Belle Plaine.
"It's going to be an intense race," Haugen said. "It's going to be those four and anybody who's gutsy enough to try to be up there."
A runner that has not ran competitively since eighth-grade, Dubet joining Anez at the state meet comes unexpectedly. He earned the last individual qualifying spot with a time of 17:24.6 at sections.
Dubet's goal is to crack the top-25 at the state meet.
"We're just super excited for him to be there," Haugen said. "At the beginning of the year, he was nowhere near where he was in eighth-grade. He's finally working down to good times and placings to get to the spot he's dreamed of. It means the most that he's seeing all the hard work he's putting in pay off."
Anez and Dubet will look to leave a mark at the 2022 Class AA state cross-country championship at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Olaf College following the girls' race.
Paynesville/Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa sophomore Madi Wendlandt qualified for the Class A state championship after taking seventh at the Section 5A championship.
Two runners from Minnewaska — junior Maeson Tank and freshman Lauryn Ankeny — are joining Wendlandt at the state meet. Both runners earned a spot in the top six for individuals on non-qualifying teams at the Section 6A championships.
The Class A state cross-country meet begins with the girls' race at noon followed by the boys' race at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Olaf College.