Entering the state cross country meet, Naomi Landecker of Staples-Motley is ranked No. 2 in Class 1A.
That may be one ranking too low.
The Cardinals' junior, who finished fourth at state last year, is coming off her fastest time of the season, 14:15 at the Section 8-1A meet.
"Naomi has a good chance of being the individual state champion," Cardinals coach Bruce Fuhrman said. "She's a talented athlete, who works very hard in practice. She understands her success comes from above and this is the gift she brings to her team."
Landecker leads the S-M girls' team to its seventh consecutive state meet. The Cardinals placed fifth last year.
Fuhrman believes the girls' team, ranked third, has a shot to capture the title.
"This team may be one of the best we've had in a few years," he said. "They have worked very hard in practice and know what it takes to be a winner. They're a close-knit group, and that's a huge component of their success this year."
The Cardinal boys' team, ranked 10th, is making its 13th consecutive state trip, 32nd in all.
It finished second in Section 8-1A. Fuhrman said that section is considered by many to be the toughest in the state, with Perham and Warroad having been ranked 1-2 most of the season.
"We're peaking at the right time and this also may be one of the best teams we've had in the past few years," Fuhrman said. "Our front runners, Jordan Bendson, Josiah Fuhrman and Josh Ulring, have been outstanding as of late and our other runners score extremely well, which gives us a chance to win."
Staples-Motley girls: Naomi Landecker, Emma Pogreba, Natasha Wenzel, Rachel Amiot, Kaytlin Roth, Emily Fuhrman, Katlynn Ulring
Staples-Motley boys: Jordan Bendson, Josiah Fuhrman, Josh Ulring, Brandon Sterriker, Ken Suzuki, Isaac Fuhrman, Josh Freese
Season of firsts for PL
The Pequot Lakes boys' team, led by section champion Clayton Foster, qualified for its first state meet. Freshman Kylie Beltz became the first Patriot girl to earn a state berth.
The Patriot boys finished third three straight years in 8-1A before being shifted to 7-1A this year.
"We were always kind of the bridesmaid," Pequot coach Jon Dale said. "We were always knocking on the door, taking third. We thought we had a really good chance this year if we stayed healthy."
The Patriots have won nearly every meet and have been led by Foster, who missed all-state honors by one place (he was 26th) last year.
"Clayton has experienced it and knows what it takes," Dale said of the junior captain. "He leads the team in practice. They have really accepted him. He's a great leader and has taken them under his wing. He wanted the team to go more than himself, and they've followed."
Dale hopes Beltz follows Foster's trend. Foster went to state twice as an individual before the team qualified to go with him.
"Kylie is exactly the same kind of person," Dale said. "In school she's a good role model, a straight-A student. She's very motivated."
Pequot Lakes boys: Clayton Foster, Kellen Braren, Silas Lydeen, Adison Runberg, Jake Braam, Jonas Dale, Jacob Headlee
Rangers raring to go
Senior Molly Nixon and junior Stacey Gustafson are the only Crosby-Ironton girls with state experience. Gustafson had qualified four times, including 2004 with the team.
"This will be a learning experience for the girls," C-I coach Kristine Andersen said. "They're a young team. All seven running at the state meet will be returning to the team next year so the future is looking bright."
C-I seniors Peter Vukelich and Keegan Leonard qualified for the individual boys' meet. Vukelich was 31st last year in his third state trip. His goal is all-state (top 25).
"This goal should be attainable because he has been running well and is now an experienced and confident runner," Andersen said.
This will be Leonard's first state meet. He missed qualifying last year by one place.
"Keegan has been thinking about going to the state meet since last year," Andersen said. "He has kept focused on his goal all year. His hard work and diligence has paid off."
Crosby-Ironton girls: Molly Nixon, Alisha Moritz, Stacey Gustafson, Christina Mapson, Kirsten Midthun, Marie Abear, Lisa Borden, Kristine Gustafson, Shelby Vukelich.
W-DC's Asfeld returns
Cory Asfeld will make his second state trip, while teammate Kelsey Browne makes her state debut.
"Cory made it to state last year but, as is often the case, did not run his best being there the first time," W-DC coach Terry Olson said. "He's running faster this year and has found that getting out a little slower allows him to finish much stronger.
"At the section meet Kelsey came from 13th place to 10th in the last half-mile to qualify. She is also running faster than last year. If she runs the same as sections she could finish in the top 50."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 855-5861.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.