Wayzata boys, Eden Prairie girls lead contenders
Eden Prairie boys also survive tough 6AA, Edina doesn't; Lakeville North girls will also fight for #1
Mellon, Guidinger lead individual contenders
Preview by Bryan Borgy
Minnesota’s three best boys teams were in one section. Unfortunately, one has to stay on the sidelines, literally or figuratively, and watch this weekend.
Coming into the state meet, the Boys AA field will be without HL#6 Edina, arguably the 3rd best team in the state. Only two teams qualify out of each section and Edina was beaten by HL#2 Wayzata and HL#3 Eden Prairie in the tough 6-AA.
Obviously, then, the Boys AA team race looks to be between Wayzata and Eden Prairie. These two teams have squared off plenty throughout the season and Wayzata has been on the winning end each race. Defending state champion Wayzata is led by two returning all-state runners in seniors MN#9 Jeremy Drenckhahn and MN#12 Danny Ducharme. Eden Prairie, making their 7th consecutive state meet, has a team that in any given race, one of their top 5 runners could be their #1. They are usually led by seniors Bobby Davis and Abdi Abditon.
At the section race, Wayzata's spread was 16 seconds and Eden Prairie was at 12. The race between these two teams will be tight from the first runner to the 7th runner. It wouldn't be a surprise if the race came down to who has the best 6th runner.
Following these two teams, there appears to be a tight battle for the next 3-5 spots. MN#4 White Bear Lake appears to have a great shot as their 1-5 spread is near 40 seconds. They are led by senior Bill Struntz. Another team to look out for is MN#5 Moorhead. They have one of the best 1-2 punches in the state with MN#7 sophomore Lukas Gemar and senior Jakob Lindaas.
MN#6 Owatonna is very similar to White Bear Lake as they have a strong front runner in MN#10 Jacob Bastyr and a tight pack closely behind. A dark horse to look out for is MN#7 Forest Lake. They have just come onto the Minnesota radar in the past couple of weeks and are led by seniors Nate Moen and Zach Waldoch.
On the individual side, there appears to be about three to five runners who could take home the title. Coming into the meet as MN#2 is Zach Mellon of Buffalo. Mellon, known for his tremendous 1:48.64 800 speed, has yet to lose to a Minnesota runner all season. If he is near the leaders in the last 800, it's hard to see anyone outkicking him. The top returning runner from last year is MN#3 Mahad Hassan of Willmar. Since recovering from an early sickness, Hassan has only lost to Mellon since early September.
The second returner from last year's state meet is Robel Kebede of Minneapolis South. Kebede has had a strong season, being no worse than the 2nd MN finisher at any meets. The fourth contender appears to be Alexandria's MN#4 Drew Paradis. Being sick for half the year hampered many of his races in the season, but now recovered he made a statement with a 15:28 at his section race this past week.
A dark horse to watch out for is Minneapolis Southwest senior Dylan Cheever. Cheever came out of nowhere at the section 6AA meet to win by 0.1 seconds over Robel Kebede. Whether Mellon or one of the others takes the title could depend on what kind of pace is set, with a slow pace seeming to allow the Buffalo senior the best chance to use his kick, while the others may need to run the kick out of him early to give themselves the greatest hope.
Just as with the boys race, the girls race appears to be a two-team battle between Heartland powers HL#3 Eden Prairie and HL#4 Lakeville North. The two teams haven't battled each other this year and each team has its own strength.
MN#1 Eden Prairie is loaded at the front with three returning all-state runners in senior Cassy Opitz (MN#3), and sophomores Allie Rudin (MN#8) and Megan Platner. Their 4th runner, Megan Lawton, is only a few seconds behind the top three as well. Their fate could be decided by who their 5th runner is and how close she can be to the top four.
MN#2 Lakeville North is also loaded with talent and experience, as it is Lakeville's 4th straight year making it as a team. They have been led by 8th grader Taylor Perkins for most of the year and have great leadership in seniors Michelle Volz and Solange Miller. Eden Prairie could put three girls in front of Lakeville's first, but Lakeville's tight spread could make up the difference on Eden Prairie's #5 runner.
A dark horse team to win it could be HL#10 Minnetonka. At sections, they placed second behind Eden Prairie. They have a strong top three in seniors Emily Meese, Melissa Valle and sophomore Megan Bailey.
After these three teams, it is unclear how the pieces will fall together. There is MN#4 Woodbury and sectional foe MN#5 White Bear Lake, who battled to a 1-point difference at sections. The teams are exact opposite as Woodbury is a pack team, with a spread of 20 seconds at section 4AA last week. They are led by sophomore Lauren Domski and senior Carrie Lang. White Bear Lake on the other hand has one of the best 1-2 punches in the state with seniors MN#4 Katie Moraczewski and MN#11 Rachel Drake.
The most interesting team in the field is MN#6 Prior Lake, who lost their top two runners, (Meghan and Sarah Heuer to US#5 Geneva, IL) and yet have rebounded back with their great depth and have a shot at cracking the top three.
There is one word to describe the girls individual field and that is deep! Last year's state champion, Laura Hughes, returns but isn't even ranked in the top 12!
There are two undefeated runners in the state. The first is MN#1 junior Claire Guidinger (Winona), who placed 52nd at last year's state meet. She has cruised to victories race after race and looks to finish the year unbeaten. The other undefeated is MN#2 freshman Jamie Piepenburg (Alexandria). Both of these runners get out hard and keep picking up the pace.
A senior who has something to prove is last year's second place finisher and MN#3 Cassy Opitz of Eden Prairie. After being sick earlier in the year, Opitz has steadily improved over the past few races into what could be this year's state champ. Another senior, MN#4 Katie Moraczewski (White Bear Lake), is coming off a 4th place finish at last years state meet and is another feasible option to take the title. To show how deep the field is, of last year's field, 59 of the top 64 girls return for another trip to the state meet!