BLAINE -- For much of the track and field season, Justin Grunewald hadn't been challenged.
The Brainerd Warrior distance runner rarely faced top-flight competition and often lapped runners in regular-season meets. That changed in the 3200-meter run at the Class 2A state track and field meet Friday at the National Sports Center.
Grunewald faced defending state champion, and Stanford bound, Garrett Heath of Winona, as well as Notre Dame recruit Jake Watson of Stillwater.
Grunewald, who will run for the University of Minnesota next year, rose to the challenge. He executed a perfect race plan and finished second to Heath with a time of 9:08.16. Heath won with a time of 9:06.10.
Grunewald shattered the Warrior school record of 9:24.5 set by Kori Kuhn in 1997.
"Justin has a God given talent," Warriors coach Rod Reuer said. "He took himself to another level (Friday). Everything he's done and everything he's achieved, he deserves because he's worked so hard for it."
This was Grunewald's and Heath's fourth straight year of competing against each other at state in the 3200. The two also raced against each other in cross country, where last fall Heath won the state title and Grunewald finished fifth. The two battled again Saturday in the 1600.
At last year's state 3200, Grunewald got boxed in and finished a disappointing ninth. This year Grunewald went out fast on the start, overtook Watkins for second place with four laps to go and matched Heath stride for stride.
Heath made his move on lap seven, but Grunewald answered by not letting him get too far ahead. It was only in the last 80 meters that Heath widened his lead over Grunewald.
"I knew that (Heath) could out kick me," said Grunewald. "We went out quick at the start and I thought I would've been more tired at the end but I felt really fresh. If I would've had a little more speed in my legs I could've stayed with him at the end. It's hard to run that kind of time and finish second but I'm happy with it. I couldn't have lost to a better runner."
Warriors distance coach Dave Herath knew that in order for Grunewald to place high he'd have to run a flawless race. As he's done all throughout his career, Grunewald followed Herath's plan.
"Justin dropped just a staggering amount of time," Herath said. "We'd been training at a 9:04 pace and if he could do that he could run 9:08, so he was right on. The race went exactly like we hoped it would. When Heath moved Justin moved.
"Justin's just a good kid that's done everything asked of him and more. You want good things to happen to good kids and it worked out perfectly for Justin."
300 hurdles -- 1-Lawrence Lipsey (Bloom. Kennedy) 38.91, 9-James Strand (Brd) 40.88
3200 run -- 1-Garrett Heath (Winona) 9:06.10, 2-Justin Grunewald (Brd) 9:08.16
400 dash -- 1-Heather Dorniden (Rosemount) 55.87, 11-Ashley Schmolke (Brd) 58.43
Long jump -- 1-Beth Zimmer (Willmar) 17-4 1/4, 13t-Missy Eiesland (Brd) 15-10 1/4.
Next: Finals, 9:30 a.m. Saturday at National Sports Center, Blaine
The surprise of the day came from Warrior James Strand. The sophomore finished ninth in the 300 hurdles with a time of 40.88 and qualified for Saturday's finals.
"James knew he'd have to run his best race of the season in order to place high and move on to the finals," Warriors hurdles coach Toni Kreigel said. "His focus was his best quality (Friday), he was ready to go."
Strand came a long way to make his first trip to state. He sat out all winter with a broken ankle and entered the track season in less than stellar shape.
"This has been a dream come true for James," Kreigel said. "He's worked so hard to get where he is and if he can run a clean race (Saturday) and not twist then he could drop even more time and have a great finish."
The Warriors girls had a disappointing day. Senior Missy Eiesland, seeded second in the long jump, failed to make the finals and placed 13th with a jump of 15-10 1/4. That was more than two feet short of her seed jump of 17-11.
"Missy just couldn't get on the board," Warriors long jump coach Kris Smith said. "Having a good first jump is important for her because she gets her adrenaline going. It might have been a little harder for her to come back in her final two jumps."
Senior Ashley Schmolke missed the finals in the 400 dash despite running a career best 58.43.
"Ashley really had a great race," Warriors girls coach Geri Skogen said. "She ran out hard with the leader. You can't control your competition but you can control what you do and Ashley ran a great race."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5865
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