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Perham boys deliver the final punch

The Perham boys cross country running team poses with this Class A Championship trophy at St. Olaf College. Participants were, front row, left to right: Jakob McCleary, Owen Warner, Carson Speicher, Clayton Anderson, Brandon O'Hara and Bailey Evenson. Second row: coach Penny Birkeland, coach Brent Hanson, Gunnar Anderson, Isaac Scheidecker, Chase Belka, coach Kay Morris and head coach Jeff Morris.

All season long, Perham head coach Jeff Morris talked to the Yellowjacket cross country running teams about absorbing the punch delivered from their opposition. On Nov. 4, Morris changed the message to delivering the punch and the Perham boys did just that, securing the program’s sixth state championship and first since 2013.

The Yellowjackets finished with 118 points, while St. James Area finished with 148 points for second place. Mankato Loyola/Cleveland came in third, followed by Lac Qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd and North Shore.

According to Clayton Anderson, Morris’ message really hit home and got them excited before the championships began.

Brandon O'Hara

“When coach said that to us at the beginning of the race, it really got us fired up,” Morris said. “We got to the two-mile, everyone started picking off jerseys and moving up. We really excelled at what we wanted to do today.”

Anderson said it was redemption for the Yellowjackets, who finished second last year by six points to Mora. He said it was great to come home with the medal with the blue ribbon, instead of the red, signifying the difference between first and second.

“We knew what we had to do and run what we are capable of and really think about the team,” Anderson said. “We got out there and did what needed to be done. It was all about the team and leaving it all out there on the course.”

The boys finish was a sprint at the end with Matt Steiger upending the defending champion Declan Dahlberg at the line. Steiger finished with a time of 15.44.8, out-lunging Dahlberg, who ended with the same time. Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin’s Geno Uhrbom came in third, followed by Wabasha-Kellogg’s Nick Meyer and Lac Qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd’s Kesier Freetly, who came in fifth.

The Yellowjackets raced out to an early lead at the 1600-meter mark and stretched the lead out by the 3200 meter mark. The Yellowjackets maintained that lead in the final stretch, closing with a 30 point edge.

“Every guy just finished so well. Clayton didn’t feel well, but he closed so well,” Morris said. “We always talk about planning for that punch, but at the last mile I told them it was time to throw back and they did that. It was awesome to see Bailey Evenson, Jakob McCleary, Chase Belka and Isaac Scheidecker just finish so strong. Brandon O’Hara had a great race. He ran a solid race for us in the third spot.”

Speicher was the top finisher for the Yellowjackets, finishing 12th overall. He came in with a time of 16:25.4. It was a strong end for Speicher, who is the lone senior on the team. He was an alternate on the state championship team and Morris said he gave the team a huge presence up front for the Yellowjackets.

“There was a mix of emotions. I wanted to jump and down, scream and I wanted to cry. There were so many things going through my head and I didn’t know what to think of it all,” Speicher said of finding out they had won.

Speicher said it was really special to share this championship with his teammates. He said they shared every workout and every pain together.

“To have this moment, where it all paid off and we all looked at each other and we all deserved it,” Speicher said. “We all worked hard and we are all happy for one another. We can go home as a team and say everything we worked for we accomplished. If we would have lost, we would still be just as close to each other if we would have won.”

Isaac Scheidecker

Anderson followed in 31st place, ending with a time of 16:54.0. Brandon O’Hara followed in 55th place, ending with a time of 17:15.2. Bailey Evenson came in with a time of 17;21.8 for 69th place. Jakob McCleary ended in 78th place overall, finishing with a time of 17:25.6. Chase Belka finished with a time of 17:37.7 for 95th place. Isaac Scheidecker finished in 112th place, finishing with a time of 17:51.0.

It was a unique way for this group of Yellowjackets to etch their name into the record books. Evenson, McCleary, Belka and Scheidecker ran in their first state championships and came away members of the sixth state championship team.

“It’s really cool. Those guys have worked so hard,” Morris said. “This is a special group of guys. They are very charismatic and outgoing. They are not afraid to go out there and say this is what they want to do and then go out and do the work. These guys are very excited about the sport. We had four of them run their first state meet ever, so it’s cool for them to come in right away and be a part of that tradition and carry it on.”

Class A Boys Team Results

Perham 118, St. James Area 148, Mankato Loyola 154, Lac Qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd 172, North Shore 175, Jordan 184, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin 195, West Central 220, La Crescent 223, Staples-Motley 229, Mora 247, Mounds Park Academy 251, Heritage Christian Academy 264, Mountain Lake Area 272, RAACHE 323, Ada-Borup/Norman County West 351

Perham Individual Results

12 Carson Speicher 16:25.4

31 Clayton Anderson 16:54.0

55 Brandon O’Hara 17:15.2

69 Bailey Evenson 17:21.8

78 Jakob McCleary 17:25.6

95 Chase Belka 17:37.7

112 Isaac Scheidecker 17:51.0

Jason Groth

 Groth is a Minnesota Newspaper Association award-winning Sports Editor of the Perham Focus and the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Groth worked in Grand Rapids as the Sports Director at KOZY/KMFY radio for two years and prior to that he was the Sports Editor/Writer for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review for seven years. 

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