PERHAM - Saturday morning in Northfield, Minn. will bring the culmination of the collective mindset of a group of runners who have had one goal in mind since last year's state meet.
In some ways, it's a quest for redemption for a boys cross country team that has had a calendar year to digest the smallest margin of defeat possible in the biggest meet of the year.
"I have been waiting for this weekend since last year's defeat," Brady Speicher posted to Twitter Thursday evening.
Speicher is not kidding.
The St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders, last year's state champions by one point, return to do battle with the Yellowjackets in front of what will be a frenzied and loud cast of thousands waiting for the two teams to duel for the Class A title.
Perham enters the state meet holders of the No. 1 ranking in Class A the entire season. Right behind them have been the Crusaders at No. 2.
The state cross country meet begins as a serious stampede and ends in a dead sprint through a throng of bellowing fans. Only one team gets the last laugh.
The uphill backstretch to the finish line is a raucous ending to 5,000 meters of what can appear serene from a distance but is all business during the race.
There are no smiles from runners mid-race. Faces are stern and jockeying for position and keeping one's pace are forefront and noticeable on the consternated mugs of all the runners.
Perham has defeated the Crusaders in each of their prior meetings this season, but one would be hard-pressed to find that in the minds of the runners.
All season, during interviews with members of the Perham boys' teams, one phrase begins each time I have pressed them to maybe brag it up a bit.
"We have to respect our opponents."
That is what I hear every time from each individual.
The closest I have come to getting a, "we blew everyone away," from any member of the team that has dominated their races up to this point was Nick Carignan's, "We had fun."
This dichotomy of consideration and humor posits a unique perspective on a team that could boast about a pile of regional, state-wide and national accolades:
A No. 1 DII national ranking, which, if held on Saturday, will garner a national championship from Xcnation.com.
A No. 23 ranking in the nation from MileSplit's National Cross Country Rankings, joining No. 8 Stillwater High School as the only two Minnesota schools to make the poll.
Four Perham runners have been ranked in Minnesota this year. The entire team was all-conference and all-section.
An 11th straight year at the state meet in which the team has finished first or second eight of 10 visits.
It goes on and on.
Yet, the Perham boys team responds to all of this and the pressure of being expected to win a state title, the school's fourth, with humility and a sense of humor.
There is no better showcase for such enthusiasm than Perham's Journey to the Top, a mildly self-deprecating and funny team video released in October.
Nerves may be present at the starting line in St. Olaf. The state meet may present one finish line this year when all seven Perham runners don't finish in the top dozen.
However, if the team performs as expected, as they have all season and are able harness the drive that has been in them since their last state visit, the laughs and more than likely, another crazy video, will be released depicting what they have striven for all of 2012.
The team's fourth Minnesota Class A Cross Country championship title since 2006.
The team can, perhaps, let out some deserving pride and enjoy the laughs all the way back to Perham to their welcome party Saturday evening, 8 p.m., at the high school.