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|Paynesville Press - November 6, 2002|
First state team starts cross country tradition
In the fall of 1977 at Paynesville High School, cross country was still a minor sport, overshadowed by football, both in popularity and success. But that changed 25 years ago, when the boys' team from PHS ran to victory after victory and qualified for the state tournament. It was the first state appearance for the cross country team and only the second team appearance in school history, following the wrestling team, which made its first state appearance the winter before.|
"Everybody was football, football, football," said Larry Wendroth, a sophomore on the cross country team in 1977. "Then, after we started getting good, they gave us some respect."
Getting to state the first time is the hardest, said coach Darrel Carstens, who credits that 1977 team with starting the cross country tradition in Paynesville.
The varsity cross country members posed with their Section 5A runner-up trophy in 1977 after taking second behind Holy Angels and earning the school's first state appearance in cross country. Team members are: (Front) Kevin Linn, Larry Wendroth, Dale Burg, and Tim Warner; (back) Herb Berscheid, Greg O'Brien, Loren Wendroth, and Bill Hoeft.
"Once you get a tradition going, tradition builds more tradition," said Carstens.
The team in 1977 returned all its runners from the previous year. The starting seven were seniors Tim Warner and Kevin Linn, juniors Bill Hoeft, Loren Wendroth, and Greg O'Brien, sophomore Larry Wendroth, and freshman Herb Berscheid.
In cross country - where the team scoring is determined by adding the top five placings - a perfect score is 15, since no team can do better than have its runners finish 1-2-3-4-5. In 1977, Paynesville's squad had some outstanding scores. At a seven-team meet at NL-S, for instance, they scored 19, with Loren Wendroth first, Warner second, Hoeft third, and O'Brien fourth.
But they lowered that score.
In the District 20 meet that year, as subsections used to be known, the team had a score of 17, which Carstens believes is still the lowest of any team he has coached in 30 years. Loren Wendroth was first, Warner second, Hoeft third, O'Brien fifth, and Larry Wendroth sixth. On top of that, Kevin Linn was eighth, meaning the Bulldogs had six of the top eight finishers at the meet.
Cocky is the word that Carstens uses to describe that 1977 team. Though they were also hard working - as well as a bit mischievous - they were supremely confident, he recalled, expecting not just to win but to kick butt. The team used to take its trophies and run around the court at volleyball games.
"We had our fun, that's for sure," said Wendroth. "You have to. We knew when to be serious, though. We knew when it counted."
The team developed camaraderie that year by being friends outside of practice. "The team hung around each other all the time that fall," said Hoeft.
They beat two state-rated teams at a meet at Melrose, they defeated powerful Rocori for the conference title, and they rolled into the region tournament after that near-perfect score at the District 20 meet.
At that time, the regions were still divided geographically. This means that instead of each region having the same number of teams (as is done now), the regions in the more populated parts of the state had more teams. In 1977, Region 5 had 32 teams. Paynesville took second, getting edged by Holy Angels 60-61, but earning the school's first state berth in cross country.
"That was our big goal. We wanted to make it to state," said Hoeft.
The state meet that year was held on the University of Minnesota Golf Course. Ranked sixth in the state, but without state tournament experience, the Bulldogs got really fired up, started fast, and ran out of gas.
"If we would have quit at a mile and a half, we would have won it," said Wendroth, whose older brother Loren was also on the first state team. "We were so pumped up, being our first time down there and all. We just said, 'Let's go!' "
"Halfway through, we could have won," added Hoeft, who finished third for the Bulldogs, 23rd overall that day. Warner was 12th, and Loren Wendroth was 17th.
Despite not performing as well as they would have liked in 1977 and despite missing a return trip to state in 1978, when they had an off day at regions in Paynesville and finished fifth, that team helped establish the PHS tradition in cross country and running. "We got instant recognition and numbers (of runners in the program) skyrocketed," said Carstens of that first state team.
"That really helped (the sport) to grow," said Wendroth.
"It's something I never forget," added Hoeft, who remembers Carstens telling the team back then that the memory would grow fonder with age. "As time goes on," he admits, "I cherish it more."
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