One piece of the puzzle was all the Brainerd Warrior girls' cross country team needed to complete its lineup this year.
Only one runner graduated from last year's team that placed 12th in the state meet.
The element Brainerd sought turned out to be seventh-grader Jenna Dean, who has developed into one of the Warriors' top runners as they head to state 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Dean raced to a seventh-place finish in the section after finishing sixth in the conference race a week earlier.
Warriors coach Dave Herath said a change in Dean's race strategy has reaped dividends, vaulting her into Brainerd's top three with AshLeigh Hakes and Audree Goodew.
"In the last several meets before the conference Jenna charged out the first 100 or 200 meters and was killing herself," Herath said. "We forced her to run a bit behind AshLeigh and Audree, and her times dropped drastically."
The Warriors have run as a pack all season. Their top five runners crossed the finish line in the section before an any opponents' second runner.
Final state coaches association rankings
Class 2A girls
1. Lakeville; 2. Minnetonka; 3. Dover-Eyota/St. Charles; 4. Eden Prairie; 5. Hopkins; 6. Prior Lake; 7. White Bear Lake; 8. Owatonna; 9. Edina; 10. Brainerd; 11. Mounds View; 12. Big Lake
1. Elizabeth Yetzer, Lakeville; 2. Lisa Waananen, Maple Grove; 3. Marie Borner, Park of Cottage Grove; 4. Katie Anderson, Blaine; 5. Allison Liewen, Minnetonka; 6. Ladia Albertson, Stillwater; 7. Natalie Yarbrough, Eastview; 8. Molly Lehman, Minnetonka; 9. Kari Higdem, Willmar; 10. Dana Peters, Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo; 11. Nicole McCann, Owatonna; 12. Shannon Bergstedt, Hopkins.
Brainerd won seven of 10 races this fall, including section and conference titles. The Warriors were third in two races and 16th in the huge Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota.
"It's just a great, solid group of girl runners," Herath said of his team that also includes Jenna Roberts, Ashlee Schmolke, Carissa Schmidt and Ali Parsons. "They don't get flustered. They pull each other along.
"We had some flipping and flopping going on during the season. It was not that anybody was off, it's that someone was stronger. That's how close they are. We hope that propels them to a high finish at state."
Hakes, Dean and Goodew also qualified for state as individuals.
"That hasn't happened for a long time," Herath said, "and our fourth and fifth runners were one or two spots off. Looking at previous state results, our goal, whether or not we attain it, is to come home with a trophy, which is top three. Again, you can run your best and still be sixth. We've set our goals fairly high and hope we attain those."
Hakes, a sophomore, has been the leader of the Warriors' pack, complemented by Goodew, a senior.
Hakes was fifth in the section, just eight seconds off the pace, and third in the conference.
"AshLeigh was our No. 1 runner in all but one meet," Herath said. "That's a big deal on this team. They're all top 10 all-time for us as runners. For her to lead the pack has been great."
Goodew was ninth in the section and fifth in the conference.
"Audree ran a solid race in the section," Herath said. "I probably messed her up more than anybody. She was ready to take the lead at the mile mark. I told her to wait. She nodded her head and waited. She said she got in a wait mode and waited too long."
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