State Cross-Country: Runners-up with heads held high
NORTHFIELD -- St. Cloud Cathedral and Perham held the top and second ranking in Class A cross-country polls for the final five weeks of the season and both schools ended the season like an exacta bet, Cathedral in first and Perham second, by the slimmest of margins -- one point.
The Crusaders totaled 72 places to Perham's 73.
"This is, by far, the closest one I've coached in," Head Coach Jeff Morris said.
While not the ideal finish for the Yellowjackets, a team of underclassmen earned a level of respect they did not always receive during the season.
"Coming into this week, people weren't really pegging us," Morris said. "'Perham's good but we don't think they can win it' was the buzz around the state."
Not having a senior on the team and losing four members from last year's state championship team appeared as possible justification for the doubting of the Yellowjackets.
However, their second place finish is more than enough to put the Crusaders, and the rest of Class A, on high alert for next season.
The Yellowjackets return the entire squad next year, plus transfer standout Keeghan Hurley, who put up top team times from the junior varsity level, as he waits out a year of eligibility.
His addition to the team next season will make a great team virtually unbeatable and primed for a return to the top spot in the state.
"(Hurley) was a huge part of our team this year in practice and everything and we're looking forward to next year," Brady Speicher said.
Speicher speaks with a calm voice and leads with a big one on the racecourse. Quietly, over the course of the season, it was evident who was going to be the first Yellowjacket across the finish line.
"Once you get to state you try to have the best strategy you can, but once the gun goes off, all you're worried about is getting to the line first," Speicher said.
Which is exactly what Speicher did at St. Olaf, battling in a group of five runners to the line for a top-10 podium spot.
Romeo Benish, of Proctor, ranked #3 in the state, nosed out Speicher for the final podium spot in tenth by eight-tenths of a second.
"The whole race was intense and the last 50 (meters) was just a war out there," Speicher said. "Every man for himself."
Perham missed the title by one point. Speicher missed the top-10 by one place by less than one second. In a sport that can make points seem less than relevant at every race, there were small numbers that made big impacts all over the state finals.
In many cross-country races, points can seem rather innocuous, as most meets are decided by far more than a single point. For instance, Perham garnered the Section 8A title over D-G-F by 40 points.
However, the state meet is a different animal. The sprint down the stretch to the finish line can be the difference in winning or losing. The first turn coming out of the start is a melee of elbows and cramped space at full-speed.
Through all that, Perham put out their best efforts and came away with their heads lowered but held high after the shock of the final tally began to wane.
"We had probably the best effort we've had this season," said Speicher. "St. Cloud was the better team today and we just have to keep our heads up and congratulate them."
"If it's going to be an epic battle, like that, I want it to be that way," Morris said. "If we're going to lose, let's lose that way."
Making the biggest step, behind Speicher's lead, was ninth-grader Billy Beseman. Beseman improved over the season finishing in scoring position but moving up the team ladder the bigger the races got.
Beseman was the fourth Jacket to cross at sections, fractions of a second behind Dalton Dahms.
Saturday afternoon, he finished second on the team behind Speicher with his biggest effort of the season, especially, as a freshman, to take 23rd overall and 12th in team place standings.
"It was really special to me to see these guys believe and dream and lose four guys from last year and have four guys never run at this meet before and almost win it again," said Morris.
Speicher and Beseman gained all-state honors for their top-25 finishes.
The final three of the scoring five members were the same names as all season: Nick Carignan, Jayden Cullen and Dalton Dahms.
Their consistency was the backbone to Perham's success this season. Juniors Carignan and Dahms, along with Speicher, came to this year's meet with experience from last year's state championship team.
Cullen, a sophomore, like Beseman, made steady improvements all year challenging the three juniors for the top spot. The fact that a battle of that nature is going on inside the team is indicative of how formidable the Yellowjackets will be next year when Hurley makes that inner-team battle even more intense.
To say Perham is the favorite to win state next season is no overstatement.
Chris Knutson and Mark Huebsch finished 77th and 105th overall, also important finishes.
Whereas only three Jackets went to state with experience this season, next year, including Hurley, Perham will have eight seasoned runners.
The meshing of next year's team starts in the coming weeks as Hurley is officially added to the team at post-season regional races coming up in the quad-state area.
"We didn't really get a lot of respect this year," Morris said. "But I've told these guys, 'when we run like we can, we're going to be really tough to beat.'"
The state meet final results prove Morris' words far more than his statement. Perham was really difficult to beat and that task will be even more strenuous on opponents next season.
Class A State Cross Country Boys Team Results
Saturday, Nov. 5. St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
1. St. Cloud Cathedral 72
2. Perham 73
3. Minnehaha Academy 132
4. Blake 137
5. Crosby-Ironton 168
6. Waseca 194
7. Albany 237
8. Redwood Valley 238
9. Mesabi East 252
10. Otter Tail Central 260
11. Mora 262
12. Plainview-Elgin-Millville 263
13. Martin County West 277
14. Luvurne 282
15. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 297
16. Winona-Cotter 304
Place (Team Placing) Name Time
11. (4) Brady Speicher 16:33.7
23. (12) Billy Beseman 16:51.1
29. (14) Nick Carignan 16:59.8
33. (16) Jayden Cullen 17:02.7
51. (27) Dalton Dahms 17:19.9
77. Chris Knutson 17:37.0
105. Mark Huebsch 17:58.3