NORTHFIELD -- Their fastest runner placed 33rd overall in the Class 2A state cross country meet Saturday.
But one of the most important aspects of cross country is to have depth and run as a pack and that's what the Brainerd Warriors exhibited on their way to a program-high runner-up finish at St. Olaf College.
Brainerd scored 108 points, six behind champion Lakeville. The Warriors' top five runners, whose times count toward the team score, finished in the top 29 places in team competition.
Seventh-grader Jenna Dean was the Warriors' fastest individual in 13th place in team competition. She was followed by Audree Goodew (15th), Ashley Schmolke (25th), AshLeigh Hakes (26th), Jenna Roberts (29th), Carissa Schmidt (40th) and Ali Parsons (90th).
"Starting out they were back there a ways," Warriors coach Dave Herath said. "They got a little frustrated, then they came on and kept coming and coming.
"(Assistant coach) Owen Trout and I didn't sleep much (Friday) night. We were talking about that this is such an awkward position because in our minds we're a state trophy team. We've never had that experience and how do you deal with that? The girls handled it just super."
Warriors senior tri-captain Ali Parsons didn't doubt the team had an opportunity to finish better than the previous program best, third in 1993.
"Our goal was to be top five," Parsons said. "It wasn't quite expected, but to be only six points out of first is unbelievable. When you think of how many teams are in the state, and how well we just did, it's unbelievable."
Senior Ashley Schmolke, another captain, agreed it was an unbelievable season.
"Being conference champions, section champions, and now we're second in the state, this year has been just amazing," Schmolke said. "We just have such an awesome team."
Audree Goodew, another senior captain, was almost speechless trying to explain her team's finish.
"We were hoping to get in the top three," Goodew said. "We were hoping we could pull off another section thing. To be six points out of first ... We thought Lakeville would crush everyone, and we were so close, which was awesome."
Herath said this was a special group, with no top-flight runner, but a group of girls who stuck together and watched good things happen when they run close to teammates.
"Not every group can bridge the age gap from seniors to seventh-graders," Herath said, "but they did. It's a confidence process. Between (assistant coaches) Carl Schirmer, Toni Kriegl, Owen Trout and myself ... We've known they would be good all year but they never had any clue."
Dean, a seventh-grader at Washington Middle School, probably has little clue how good she can be. She credited teammates for spurring her to the team's highest individual finish.
"The first mile I went out with AshLeigh because that's how we've been doing it," Dean said. "I felt great at the second mile so I wanted to catch up with Audree so I did. With about 800 meters to go I kicked it in because that's how I had been planning it, to leave nothing on the table so to speak. I passed quite a few people. It felt great doing that.
"My teammates pushed me a lot, and I pushed them. That's what counts."
Team scores -- 1-Lakeville 102, 2-Brainerd 108, 3-Eden Prairie 113, 4-Minnetonka 117, 5-Dover-Eyota-St. Charles 126, 6-Mounds View 189, 7-Big Lake 216, 8-Park Cottage Grove 230, 9-White Bear Lake 251, 10-Maple Grove 262, 11-Fergus Falls 274, 12-Henry Sibley 288, 13-Willmar 290, 14-Duluth East 297, 15-Prior Lake 315, 16-Mpls. Southwest 359
Individual champion -- Lisa Waananen (Maple Grove) 14:13
Brainerd individual results -- 33-Jenna Dean 15:15, 35-Audree Goodew 15:16, 54-AshLeigh Hakes 15:37
Brainerd team results -- 13-Dean, 15-Goodew, 25-Ashley Schmolke 15:36, 26-Hakes, 29-Jenna Roberts 15:43, 40-Carissa Schmidt 15:51, 90-Ali Parsons 16:42
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