STAPLES -- For the last five years the Staples-Motley Cardinals boys' cross country team has enjoyed the recognition of being ranked No. 1 in Class A.
Now, it's the girls' turn.
The Cardinal girls' team has not lost to a Class A opponent this year. On Oct. 6, at the Alexandria Lions Invitational, the Cardinals finished second behind Chaska. They won the Sauk Centre Invitational Oct. 3 by 14 points. In that meet, Brittany Brenny won the event with a time of 15:26.
But individual honors aren't what the Cardinals are about. In fact, if they could, all six individuals would cross the finish line hand-in-hand.
"This is a team," said Brenny. "Sometimes we get mad if another team member beats us, but it's not the kind of mad that, 'I don't like you anymore.' We're just mad at ourselves because we want to run better and help the team."
S-M's leading finisher has changed as much as the color of the leaves this fall. Liza Milless led the Cardinals at the Staples Rotary Invitational. Hannah Landecker led them at the Myron Ahle Lucky Lindy in Little Falls, the Jaguar All-Terrain Challenge in Bloomington and the Princeton Invitational.
"That's what we want," said Landecker. "We all want everyone else on the team to beat us because that will just make the team better."
S-M coach Gene Mattila has a stable of runners to choose from.
Brenny, Landecker, Milless and Steph Jares are S-M's top four runners, but Mattila isn't afraid to plug anyone into his lineup. In fact, he's changed it at almost every meet.
The ability to mix and match different runners into his lineup has helped S-M obtain its No. 1 ranking. Yet, it's a ranking the girls really don't care about.
"The rankings aren't as big a deal as they appear to be," said Jares. "Last year our guys were ranked No. 1 and the fifth team beat them at state.
"We were ranked sixth and all of a sudden we're ranked No. 1 so it's not really a big deal."
This fall, S-M has won at Moorhead, Eveleth-Gilbert, Staples and Princeton. Its three second-place finishes were at Jamestown, the Lucky Lindy and the Jaguar All-Terrain. Each of those second-place finishes were behind a Class 2A school.
The Cardinal girls started making noise two years ago. Brenny, Milless and Jares were seventh- and eighth-graders, but had a strong role model in Amanda Hoffert.
"It was fun with her," Brenny said of Hoffert. "She made things different. If you look at the guys, it's totally focused. On the bus they're silent. With us, yes, we're focused, but we tend to put fun into it.
"During practice we would play games and she made things go by faster."
That year, Hoffert went to state and many believed the whole team would go along. It didn't happen as the Cardinals lost at the section meet.
Mattila is known for his difficult workouts with the boys' team and doesn't tone them down for the girls' team.
While most teams are tapering off for sections, the Cardinal girls are still running many miles.
"They're hard," Jares of the workouts, "but I guess that's what makes us strong. Even before a meet, while other teams are tapering, we're still doing 12 miles a day and all these other things."
Don't look for the Cardinals to fade into the sunset for a while. Jares is the elder of the team and she's only a sophomore.
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