The Perham Yellowjacket Boys Cross Country running teams are hoping their week of struggles is behind them and continued success is ahead of them as they head to St. Olaf College for the Minnesota State High School League's Class A Championships on Saturday.
"We are just super excited. We are coming off an awesome experience at the section meet," Perham Head Coach Jeff Morris said. "Both teams did what we wanted to do, qualify for the state meet, which was the goal. We had a lot of bumps and hiccups last week, but everyone was fired up and feeling better. Everyone is healthy today."
The Yellowjackets went through health issues, injuries and an equipment malfunction on the way to the Section 8A Championship in Bagley, Minn. Carson Speicher battled illness all week into the race and was disqualified after being helped across the finish line. During the race, Jacob Dickerson stopped to tie his shoe and eventually lost his shoe on the way to a second place finish. Also, during the week a member of the team suffered a minor ankle injury. Despite all of that, the Yellowjackets cruised to the title.
"For us to come out of that and come through the fire... now the mentality is 'we are ready to do what we know we can do,'" Morris said. "There is a mental game to it, too, though. They had a meet before that and I have to remind them who they are. The last week wasn't who they are, even though they ran well. We had some guys step up big. Aside from Carson (Speicher) getting disqualified, the other six ran great. We get Speicher back in there healthy this week. We just have to go out there and do what they were doing and just remind them of that. That's the mentality they need to have, and I think it is going to be awesome."
Dickerson led the charge for Perham, finishing second. Hunter Kjelshus came in fourth, while Clayton Anderson was fifth. Nick Listrom came in ninth, while Brandon O'Hara ended in 14th place. Adam Siira ended in 18th place overall.
"The main goal is to win state as a team," Listrom said. "State is a really big opportunity, especially for me, where it will be my first year running state ever. The main focus is the team. The goal is to win overall."
Listrom is one of four seniors on the Yellowjacket team, and he will be making his state meet debut on Saturday. He said he is nervous but pretty confident going into the race.
"We have a really strong team this year," he said. "This is the best I think we have ever run as a team."
Morris said the challenge for the Yellowjacket boys will be their race strategy. They have come out of the gates too fast or too slow at times. He said it has been a good learning curve for his team. He added the team dialed it in at the Perham Invite as well as the final regular season meet in Bemidji. He believes the table setter for his team was the Section 8A Championships.
'We just need to run our race, not anybody else's race," Listrom said. "I think we can win it as a team."
Hunter Kjelshus and Jacob Dickerson have run up front for the Yellowjackets during the season. The duo, along with the team's strong depth, has helped the team race to a No. 1 ranking in the state.
"I'm excited and I hope we do well," Kjelshus said. "The team did really well at the section meet. We have been working for that since the summer and put ourselves in the best position possible to go out and win."
The Yellowjackets have earned the top ranking in the state and have been at that spot for most of the season. They have competed with one of the toughest schedules, hoping to capture the program's sixth state championship.
"I think they know they are that team that can be up there again." Morris said. "When you have that mentality, you don't run scared. You go out and say, 'We are going to put this performance out there, and good luck to the rest of the teams trying to beat it.'"
This year's field features several familiar faces. It's something Morris said is good for building up rivalries. The defending three-time champion, Mora Mustangs, will return to defend their crown. West Central Area, Trinity School at River Ridge, La Crescent, Lake City, Pequot Lakes Minnehaha Academy of Minneapolis, Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, Ely and Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin will all return from last year's field.
La Crescent's Zach Emery will be back to defend his individual title in the Class A race. The tournament field will have seven returning individuals who finished in last year's top 10.
The boys cross country race begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.