XC team efforts sprint into the wind at Perham Invite
PERHAM - Minnesota weather has fluctuated of late but has had little effect on the improving consistency that is the No. 1-ranked Class A favorites for the state cross country title.
The Yellowjackets defended home turf running into a gale of wind and rain to blow away the competition Thursday at the Perham Invitational.
Keeghan Hurley led Perham, as has been the case all season.
Hurley won the race and broke the course record on a day when weather, alone, should have safeguarded the record.
"I didn't think it was that bad, actually, I thought it was good," Hurley said.
The same cannot be said for all the Perham team members.
"It flat-out sucked," said Brady Speicher.
Hurley and Speicher finished one-two and led the entire race together.
When asked what or who pushed Hurley the most during the race, Hurley smiled, paused, pointed at Speicher and said, "He did."
Only Park Rapids' Isaac Overmyer kept the Yellowjackets from a sweep of the top six spots.
Hurley's record-setting time of 16:00.2 set the bar as high as possible.
Speicher was second in 16:18.3; Billy Beseman third in 16:21.9; Overmyer fourth, 16:25.8, and Jayden Cullen and Dalton Dahms fifth and sixth, 16:28.5 and 16:42.1, respectively.
Kevin Lachowitzer held the former course record in Perham at 16:00.24, according to a report by LakesAreaSports.com's John George.
Over the course of the season, the Yellowjackets' improvement has been notable, even to the casual fan.
This team runs races together in a pack at the head of the race and that mentality started in the off-season, perhaps at the very conclusion of last season's runner-up finish at the state meet.
Perham is hungry for titles, local, conference, section, statewide and have gained the attention on a national-level deserved of such a consistent program.
"I think the difference for the guys is what they are doing in practice and what they did this summer," Head Coach Jeff Morris said. "It is not just about winning meets; it is really about seeing how good they can be. So, I have preached at practice and this summer that when it comes race time we are going to run fast because we are prepared, not because of the conditions or how talented we are, but because of what we do everyday: we get together as a team. Sure talent, conditions, and all that has its place, but ultimately our greatest strength comes from our work together as a team when it is just us and no fans."
Another dynamic duo on the team is the pairing of junior Jayden Cullen and sophomore Billy Beseman. Both have received individual state rankings this season and for good reason.
"Billy and Jayden have no fear, they respect their competition, but I can say with confidence they don't fear a jersey, a position, or the competition," Morris said. "They just compete. That is why you will see a Billy and Jayden say, 'hey lets go mix it up with the top ranked guys.' It is so much fun to watch them.
"As for Keeghan and Brady, I would say wow great 1-2 punch, but it is more accurate to say we have a 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 punch," said Morris.
While only the top five spots are counted in this race, Perham's top seven all finished in the top 16.
Nick Carignan was ninth in a time of 16:51.1. Ben Sullivan was 16th in 17:39.9.
Sullivan's finish was better than the fastest finisher of six other teams, half the field.
Home course or not and combine the less than ideal weather conditions, dominance knows no stopping when it come to how this team races.
"I will certainly say the when you look at our team it is easy to talk about a Brady or a Keeghan, but people underestimate the difference Nick and Dalton make for our team. They would be the No. 1 and No. 2 runners on almost any other team in class A. Nick has been such a positive leader and is really starting to establish himself as a guy who will challenge the front of the pack. Nick really brings a lot of chemistry to the team. Dalton is what I would call the ultimate team first guy. Nothing matters to him more than seeing the team do well. The last few races have been tough for Dalton not running as well as he would of liked, but Dalton really celebrated with the team even though he was quite disappointed individually. So (Thursday), for Dalton, was huge, his first time breaking 17:00 in tough conditions, and then having a huge finish to his race. Dalton needed this and our team just got that much stronger with his breakthrough."
Perham's score of 17 total points from the places of their top five was well-ahead of second-place Moorhead's 64. Pelican Rapids finished third with 112.
"I cannot say enough about this team, they have became more than a sports team," said Morris. "They are really a family; they help will each other's homework, hold each other accountable out of school. It is so cool. The same is true for both the boy's team and girl's team. If there is drama, the captains confront it and deal with it with high expectation, but also show mercy to their teammates. This season is flying by and without a doubt this is the reason why."
The girl's team has run under the radar this year, perhaps a bit overshadowed by the boy's team's notoriety, but the Lady Jackets have continued the steady progress and consistency laden in the winning past that has led to this point in the season.
The team finished second to Moorhead, but far out in front of any section competition. The girls have a firm grasp on making their own trip back to the state meet this season.
"The girls ran so much more confident yesterday," Morris said. "It was not a perfect race strategically for us, but our competitive effort was definitely there. Our pack of five looked really tough. The girls have to work on right away this Tuesday at conference asserting (themselves) earlier in the race. The first 800 they just need to be confident enough to be right up front. Our pack of girls will be very intimidating by the end of the year if they do this."
Brynnan Covington, Sydney Karels and Ciarrin Covington continue to give Perham great consistency up front.
Karels made one of the first real challenges to Brynnan Covington, from inside the team this year.
The duo finished together in 10th and 11th individually with a minimal time difference of Covington's 16:00.6 to Karels' 16:02.0.
Moorhead's Taylor Jassen won the race in 15:14.3. Jassen got out quick and stayed there the length of the race.
Teammates Mallori Johnson, Mackenzie Kelly and Avery Selberg gave the Spuds a sweep of the top four positions.
Ciarrin Covington finished 16th in the race continuing a season of consistent top placings for the Lady Jackets.
"Ciarrin has been the leader for these girls all year in workouts and practice and our other captains (Tanya, Kellyn, and Racole) have really brought this girls team together. Some of the best senior leadership our girls program has had."
"With Lizzie Fudge, Racole Karels and first year runner Maren Anderson starting to break through it just gives us that much more depth," said Morris.
Fudge finished 20th, Racole Karels 22nd and Anderson battled down the stretch to a 28th spot.
Mary Riestenberg, 34th, has been solid in the top seven and will definitely mix it up over the next few meets.
The Perham girls are the favorite in this year's section and after a section runner-up finish last season have a return to that title to garner soon in the coming weeks.
Warroad's top four will likely post the greatest threat in the section race.
Moorhead is a class above in AA and makes the Perham girls' finish all the more impressive.
"(It) gives us some pretty good confidence heading into conference. We will get to see Warroad at conference and also Roseau who has got a pretty solid team. All the teams in our conference for girls are pretty solid this year, so the girls will definitely have to keep the level of intensity where it was (Thursday) and then fix some things strategically.
The Heart O' Lakes Conference meet is next Tuesday at Arvig Park in Perham.
Weather is predicted to be balmy with temps near 50 degrees and sunshine, compared to Thursday's bluster.