A preseason prognosis of the Brainerd High School girls' cross country running team projected this as a breakout season for the Warriors.
The projection turned out to be on the nose as Brainerd won three regular-season meets and went on to qualify for its first state meet since 1992.
Brainerd will compete in the Class 2A state meet 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Five runners from last year's seventh-place section team returned this fall, including senior Rachel Lander, juniors Audree Goodew, Ashley Schmolke and Ali Parsons and freshman Jenna Roberts.
"I suppose some people were surprised," Warriors coach Dave Herath said. "The big difference is we had no significant injuries. Ashley Schmolke was out a little while, now she's back at full strength. Other than that, we haven't had many injuries.
"The big difference from the last several years is an infusion of confidence, which happens when you win a few meets to start the year. We've got kids running in front of the pack, but the big thing was getting them to a point where they believed in themselves. They reached that after the conference meet when they were third."
Freshmen AshLeigh Hakes and Carissa Schmidt complete the top seven runners on the roster with freshman Hanna Stadem the state alternate.
Herath said cohesion has been one of this team's assets.
"The girls have been just tremendous, which isn't easy when you run that many freshmen with that many older girls and there's not a sophomore to bridge the gap," Herath said. "The girls pulled together. That's largely responsible for why the end of the season was successful too."
Brainerd probably will be satisfied with a finish anywhere between third, where it placed in 1992, and 11th, where it wound up in 1991.
"We've been telling the kids they're kind of used to an order of so-and-so is first and so-and-so is second," Herath said. "At the section, that got flipped around a little bit. Ashley Schmolke was our fourth runner and AshLeigh Hakes ran an incredible race to be our third runner. At state we expect more of the same."
Herath said having three capable assistants is an overlooked ingredient of a state qualifying team. This is the second season one staff has coached both teams.
"This has been our best year as far as getting to know all the kids," Herath said. "Carl Schirmer, Owen Trout, Toni Kriegl and myself are four different personalities, yet we work very well together. All the kids have someone they can relate to. Different kids can gravitate toward a person they're comfortable with. That has been helpful. We all bring something to share."
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