Ask head coach Dave Herath the difference between Brainerd Warriors' girls cross country teams the last few years and this year and his answer is explicit.
Top three runners Anna Gessell, Rebecca Yeh and Megan Holmes, all seniors, have been bothered during their careers by various health issues. This fall, for the most part, all have been healthy.
"The difference, without a doubt, is health," Herath said. "I don't know that we were missing a girl for any reason, that transitioned to practice too. It's not like they were hurt, but able to run in practice. Our other teams were strong teams, ability wise, but they just couldn't stay healthy throughout an entire season. Without a doubt we could have had a long run here (of state teams) if we were able to stay healthy."
What: State cross country meet
Where: St. Olaf College, Northfield
When: Girls, 2 p.m. Saturday
Herath said another difference was that this year's group, which includes Allison Kosobud, Maria West, Lydia Herath, Abby Selisker, and alternates Sarah Yeh and Michaela Quast, set state as its goal last spring and trained all summer.
"My daughter maybe put on the fewest miles and she had over 150," Herath said. "That's commitment. This is a weird sport. Your season reflects on what you've done in the offseason. Very few kids come in having done nothing and succeed ... particularly with girls, the competitive level has really increased."
Herath believes his three seniors have an opportunity to earn all-state honors (top 25 finish).
"They've set their goals high and they are legitimate," he said. "That's where they should be running."
Members of the Brainerd Warriors cross country team that will run in the Class 2A state meet Saturday include, front: Sarah Yeh (left), Michaela Quast. Back: Maria West, Abby Selisker, Rebecca Yeh, Anna Gessell, Megan Holmes, Lydia Herath, Alli Kosobud.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Gessell has emerged as the team's top runner, winning the Roger Twigg Invite at Ruttger's and recording the fastest time in program history (14:43.73) at the St. Cloud Tech Invite. She placed seventh at the section meet, Yeh eighth and Holmes ninth.
"I think we have as strong a 1-2-3 punch as anybody in the state," Herath said. "You need five girls to really compete, all seven of ours have all year, and I have no doubt that will continue. Our 4-5-6-7 group, if they can run a little bit faster, five seconds may be (passing) 10 to 15 runners."
Herath believes Brainerd, ranked 12th in the final Class 2A poll, has a shot to finish higher at state than its ranking.
"I spent a good chunk of the weekend looking through previous year's state results," he said. "Plugging times into past state meet races we believe we're a top six team, hopefully even higher. The girls have set their goals high.
"Looking at the times they've been running, and where that traditionally finishes, the girls thought, 'We have more in us, coach.'
"We're going down there to compete. Anna and Megan have been there a couple times, several others are rookies, but we've been to every kind of meet. That's why we go to the Griak (at the University of Minnesota). This will be a smaller meet than that.
"Section 8 is a powerhouse. Monticello beat us by 32 points (in the section). They're the second-ranked team in the state. There were five runners ranked throughout the season individually from our section. Our top girls know what it's like to be at the front of the pack. What we need to do is fill in the pieces with our younger girls."
The Flyers' Preston Zimny secured Section 8-2A's final state berth with a 10th-place finish in the section. The junior won the CLC championship this season.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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