Unlike the boys' cross country team, the Staples-Motley Cardinals girls' team may have a more difficult time capturing the state title at the Class 1A meet, which is scheduled 10 a.m. Saturday in Northfield.
The Cardinals finished the season as the top-ranked team in Class 1A but have faced a mountain of adversity lately.
Top runner Brittney Brenny has been out with two stress fractures and won't be able to run at state. Amanda Reichel missed the Section 6 meet but may be back for the state meet.
Even though S-M faces an uphill climb to win its first state championship, don't tell the Cardinals that because they believe they not only are they running great right now, they are also running with passion.
"The girls have had the best season I've ever seen," Cardinals coach Gene Mattila said, "from either a boys' or girls' team since I've been here. When they lost Brittney Brenny they could've folded, but they didn't, and they stepped it up to another level.
"The girls could finish anywhere from first to sixth. We're not making excuses, though. They still believe the championship could be theirs but things will have to run almost perfectly for them to accomplish that."
Two-time defending state champion New London-Spicer, Canby/Minneota, United South Central, St. Cloud Cathedral and Paynesville should vie for the championship and it could come down to which team runs close to a perfect race.
"The girls' opportunity to win the state championship is just as good as five other teams," said Mattila. "If we were healthy, we would be a dominant team."
The Cardinals will be led by Hannah Landecker, who was ranked in the top 10 in 1A for much of the season and also finished 10th at last year's state meet. Running alongside with Landecker are Steph Jares, Liza Milless, Courtney Robinson, Kayla Smith, Kelsey Griffith and Amy Bernstrom. Mattila said the wild card will be whether Reichel will be able to run or not.
"Amanda has been practicing for the last few days," said Mattila. "She's our wild card. If she looks like she can run on Saturday, then I'll let her go."
Two other area runners who will shoot for an individual championship are Jamie Talberg of Pierz and Kim Beaman of Crosby-Ironton.
Talberg competed last year and earned all-state honors, finishing in 22nd place. With another year of running experience under her belt, Talberg will look to crack the top 10, a goal well within her reach.
Beaman, who finished in 53rd place last year in her first state meet, should have a shot at breaking into the top 25, as long as she runs within herself.
"Kim popped a really fast race at Becker," C-I coach Roger Twigg said. "If she believes in herself, then a top 25 finish is possible. But she has to learn to race at this level and needs to get a few things done so she can do that. She also has to set the race up to take advantage of things for herself. She just needs to race her race to have any amount of success."
Even though Mattila knows his girls' team is in for a battle, he believes this year's squad has been the best he's coached.
"I think this is the best season we've ever had," Mattila said. "They've stepped up and have just been phenomenal. The kids really raised the bar where it needed to be."
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