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Yellowjacket XC teams sweep Section 8A, primed for state meet

Lizzie Fudge, left, and Brynnan Covington led the Perham girls to the Section 8A championship. Photos by Robert Williams/FOCUS

BAGLEY — Like the Heart O’ Lakes Conference races, both Perham teams went into the Section 8A meets knowing they were not only the heavy favorites, but would win.

Running in such positions, as members of both teams have done for much of the year, causes the need for other goals besides the status quo. Perham is going to state. That is an automatic with this core group of runners.

The boys enter this weekend’s state tournament ranked No. 1 in Minnesota Class A and No. 4 in Division II nationwide, led by Keeghan Hurley the No. 1 ranked runner in Class A.

The girls head to St. Olaf with the No. 3 ranking in Class A and an all-time high national ranking of No. 6, according to the power rankings of

One boon for the girls’ finish was the surprising defeat of Trinity at River Ridge, the No. 2 ranked Class A team, who lost a state qualifying finish in a sixth-runner tiebreak in Section four.

That loss technically moves the No. 3 Yellowjackets into the No. 2 position heading to state behind No. 1 Annandale.

Both teams are familiar with the Section courses at Bagley. In a change from the past few years, the sun was shining and there were no snowflakes to be seen Friday afternoon. There were, however, winds gusting near 40 mph. A fitting weather pattern for teams planning on blowing the competition away.

Other than teammates and Park Rapids’ top runner Isaac Overmyer, Hurley had little competition other than the four-wheeler in front of him leading the runners and the course record. As the four-wheeler pulled off the course, literally caught by Hurley, the Perham senior sprinted to the finish line alone with the course record in a time of 15:35.

Hurley has won every race this year but the Roy Griak Invite at the University of Minnesota where he finished sixth in a huge group of the best runners in the Midwest. His senior season has been remarkable.

8A Champion Keeghan Hurley, left, and Jayden Cullen.

“Finally, when I broke away I just kind of relaxed and got into the groove and just kept going and it ended up being a good day,” Hurley said. “I’m very happy. It’s been a phenomenal season between the team and me doing great individually. It’s really been a blessing. It’s exactly what you want your senior season to be. All my dreams are coming true.”

Overmyer, who has stuck to Hurley at a couple of meets this year, did his part to ensure there was no Yellowjacket sweep and perfect score for Perham by finishing in second place 36 seconds behind in a time of 16:11.

Overmyer’s finish was three seconds in front of Perham’s No. 8A runner Jayden Cullen who led Hurley on a fast pace through the early portions of the race. Cullen has been the team pacesetter for two seasons. He likes to get out fast and finished strong in a third place time of 16:14.

The winds did little to hamper the Perham pack. Cullen was followed by No. 6A Billy Beseman in fourth (16:31), Ben Sullivan in fifth (16:47) and Chris Knutson in sixth (17:11) all accounting for the first place 19 points.

Kanyon Edvall placed 11th overall in 17:35 and Leighton Covington was 13th overall in 17:43 putting more than half of the top 13 places all Yellowjackets.

A dominating performance. The race was over at the starting gun regardless of conditions. It would have taken some kind of supernatural anomaly to keep Perham from heading to the state meet firing on all cylinders. The Yellowjackets defeated their nearest competitors, the Roseau Rams, by 60 points 19-79.

The girls were in a similar situation with Roseau and Park Rapids both threats due to their top runners, but both teams were in a race for second place. While they may have top runners, they cannot match the complement of Perham’s pack.

Perham’s top runner Brynnan Covington gassed herself trying to go for the individual victory.

“First time this year Brynnan has taken a chance to go try and take the lead,” Head Coach Jeff Morris said. “Those are the things you want to willing to take some risks.”

The girls Section 8A individual race was up for grabs. The top eight runners finished within 20 seconds of each other.

Eighth-grader Ellie Nelson, of Roseau, won the race in the only time short of 16 minutes 15:51. Park Rapids’ freshman Lydia Kantonen was runner-up in 16:02, followed by Perham’s Lizzie Fudge who used her tremendous kick at the finish line to slip by a fading Covington in fourth place. Fudge finished in 16:04 and Covington crossed the line after a brave effort in 16:06.

8A Champion Ellie Nelson

Fudge has made a distinctive effort to finish strong this entire season and her sprints to the finish line stand out against the competition.

“I always try to finish hard and if I don’t finish hard I feel like I didn’t race as well as I could have,” Fudge said. “Even when I’m hurting and sometimes barely breathing, I just kick all the way until the end and tell myself, ‘the faster I run the faster I’m done.’”

Marissa Carlson of Bagley/Fosston, Megan Danielson of Frazee, Megan Olson of Park Rapids and Frazee’s Ellie Morgan rounded out a top eight pack with the latter two runners finishing in 16:11.

Perham defeated Park Rapids by 10 points 46-56. Roseau was a distant third with 95 points.

Scoring for Perham besides Fudge and Covington in third and fourth were Jenna Wegscheid in 12th, and Sydney Karels 13th overall.

“It was nice to see Jenna Wegscheid step up big,” said Morris.

The duo finished five seconds apart in 16:29 and 16:34.

Caitlin Covington had Perham’s final scoring finish (16 points) in 17th place overall in a time of 16:44.

Covington’s finish was possibly the most important for the Yellowjackets. After the first four finishers completed the course for both teams, Perham held a one-point lead 30-31. By placing 17th overall for 16 points, compared to the fifth Park Rapids runner, Madison Steffel in 26th place (25 points), much of the spread in the final 10 points between the two teams came down to a gutsy performance by a seventh-grader with a name recognizable to any recent Perham cross country fan.

In a few years, Caitlin Covington will be leading the girls’ team continuing a family tradition. In her first varsity section meet, she sealed the win. Covington’s 16:44 time was a near half-minute faster than Steffel’s to clinch the victory for the Lady Jackets.

Perham’s sixth and seventh runners finished in a senior pack of two. Mary Riestenberg and Racole Karels were 34th and 35th overall with times of 17:57 and 18:03.

The girls race saw the worst of the wind as runners finished the opening straightaway and made the first turn back toward the course they were blasted by the strongest gust of the day. Some of the lighter runners were visibly moved by the wind. Conditions tempered a bit 30 minutes later for the boys’ race but intermittent and unexpected gusts occurred during both races.

The Perham boys are the defending Class A state champions and defending Division II national champions and have every opportunity to carry both of those titles a second straight season. They enter the state race as heavy favorites in their 13th straight appearance.

“Team-wise, there is always an underdog that comes up,” Hurley said. “Anything can happen. That’s where if teams get too cocky or arrogant about it you get upset. We are coming in with the mindset that we have to do everything we can to get there.”

If Hurley takes the individual championship, this year’s team will do the practically unthinkable by topping the efforts of last year’s squad.

“I’m not going to let anyone have that chance,” Hurley said. “This is my year.”

The team state championship will be the third in four years for Perham with wins in 2010 and 2012. 2011 was the year Perham lost to St. Cloud Cathedral by one point. Everyone on this team remembers that finish. Perham also had runners-up finishes in 2008 and 2009.

The girls can make it an even more special trip to Northfield if they can win the school’s first-ever state title. Perham’s prior two best finishes came as runners-up in 2008 and 2009.

“My expectations for the girls are we’re going to win it all,” Fudge said. “I want to win it as much as all the other girls. They all want it just as bad.”

“There are about six or seven teams that are really good and we’re right there,” Morris said. “We’ve got to close better than we did today.”

The State Class A Cross Country meet will be held Saturday, Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minn. The girls race at 1 p.m., boys start at 2 p.m.

The top two teams advance. Park Rapids Area will join the Perham girls from Section 8A, while Roseau will appear with Perham in the boys’ race.

Section 8A Results
Girls team (Place, School, Points): 1. Perham 46; 2. Park Rapids Area 56; 3. Roseau 95; 4. Warroad 143; 5. Pequot Lakes 148; 6. United Norht Central 163; 7. Staples-Motley 168; 8. Frazee 213; 9. Wadena-Deer Creek 223; 10. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 245; 11. West Marshall 312; 12. Pine River-Backus 332; 13. East Grand Forks 337; 14. Pillager 346.

Individual top 10: 1. Nelson (ROS) 15:51; 2. Kantonen (PR) 16:02; 3. Fudge (PER) 16:04; 4. B. Covington (PER) 16:06; 5. Marissa Carlson (B/F) 16:07; 6. Megan Danielson (FRA) 16:09; 7. Megan Olson (PR) 16:11; 8. Ellie Morgan (FRA) 16:11; 9. Lindsay Fast (WAR) 16:23; 10. Ellery Overmyer (PR) 16:25.

Other Perham finishers: 12. Wegscheid 16:29; 13. S. Karels 16:34; 17. C. Covington 16:44; 34. Riestenberg 17:57; R. Karels 18:03.

Boys team (Place, School, Points): 1. Perham 19; 2. Roseau 79; 3. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 101; 4. Park Rapids Area 129; 5. Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal 156; 6. Frazee 178; 7. Pequot Lakes 179; 8. Staples-Motley 185; 9. United North Central 257; 10. Pine River-Backus 306; 11. Bagley/Fosston 314; 12. East Grand Forks 321; 13. Warroad 344; 14. Pillager 421; 15. Lake of the Woods 431; 16. Trek North 475.

Individual top 10: 1. Hurley (PER) 15:35; 2. Overmyer (PR) 16:11; 3. Cullen (PER) 16:14; 4. Beseman (PER) 16:31; 5. Sullivan (PER) 16:47; 6. Knutson (PER) 17:11; 7. Tyler Erickson (ROS) 17:16; 8. Weston Nelson (ROS) 17:21; 9. Dylan Olson (HUH) 17:27; 10. Stephen Plopper (S-M) 17”31.

Other Perham finishers: 11. Edvall 17:35; 13. Covington 17:43.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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