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Paynesville Press - November 6, 2002

Young team grows through 2002 season

By Michael Jacobson

Paynesville's trip to state in cross country wasn't quite as smooth, quite as certain, as a year ago, which shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider that the team lost three of its top seven runners from the team that took second at state in 2001, including two-time state champion Jen Hess, who graduated.

"You can't lose the #1 runner in the state for two years and not feel it," said Rick Houske, an assistant coach for the Bulldogs for 23 years.

Without her, this year's team got much younger, with just one senior, Nicole Flint. Of the ten members of the team, nine are seventh, eighth, or ninth graders.

Team warming up But, according to head coach Darrel Carstens, Hess continues to be a role model, despite having graduated and running now on the varsity cross country team at the University of Minnesota. "The thing is the girls had seen enough of Jen to know what it takes," said Carstens.

The team warms up prior to the race on Saturday morning at St. Olaf College. The race featured over 150 runners on a cool, but sunny morning in Northfield. The team finished ninth out of 16 teams.

Hess, he said, showed the team real dedication, how to work hard, and how to set high expectations. "When you expect to do well, good things follow," Carstens explained. Those high expectations were tested this year more than in 2001, but the team kept its faith, said the coaches. "We knew we had the talent, but it was so uncertain," said assistant coach Todd Spanier.

In 2001, the girls' team won its first four meets of the season, defeating New London-Spicer, the defending state champion three times. For the season, the team won eight meets and took second three times, including at the state meet.

In 2002, the team didn't win a meet until sections. "We knew we had the possibility to run well, but we hadn't done it until sections," said Houske.

But the team - despite losing three runners, adding three new runners to its varsity lineup, and battling some injuries - kept its faith, the coaches agreed.

"The leaders of the team have set high expectations for themselves and for the team," added Carstens.

Throughout the season, the Dogs could see that St. Cloud Cathedral was going to be its top sectional rival. At the start of the season, Cathedral seemed to have a bit of an edge. The Crusaders won the NL-S meet in September, beating the Dogs by 50 points.

But the Bulldogs improved and gained ground. At their Koronis Invitational at the end of September, Cathedral edged the Dogs by only two points. Paynesville lost the conference title to Cathedral by two points as well. And the subsection title by five. "We knew they were going to be neck and neck," said Houske.

Carstens and the coaches targeted the team to peak at the sectional meet this year, which they felt they needed to do, because the Bulldogs needed to beat Crosby-Ironton and Rockford to get to state. "We had to peak at sections," Carstens said.

Tanis Beireis This was different from a year ago, when the Bulldogs were confident of finishing in the top two at sections (indeed beating Cathedral on a tie-breaker) and aimed to peak at the state meet.

Last year, Carstens explained, Paynesville and St. Cloud Cathedral were easily the best two teams in the section, and two teams advance, so the only question was whether they would be the section champions or runners-up. "It's been extra fun," he said. "I was happier to win (sections) this year than last year."

Eighth grader Tanis Beireis was the Bulldogs' third runner on Saturday, finishing 63rd.

At state, the coaches and team were hoping for a top three finish. Teams that finish in the top three earn a trophy and medals, which are presented on stage at an awards presentation following the race. But the team did not run as well as it had at sections and slipped to ninth.

While the state finish was somewhat disappointing, Carstens stressed the positives. He was proud of the team and all it had accomplished this season and enthusiastic what the young squad can do in future years.

"Our potential is a lot more than we've shown," said Carstens. "Because we're so young, we can still grow."

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