Two weeks ago, the Magic lost their first cross country meet in nearly two years. They weren’t about to let another streak slip away on Thursday.
On the strength of four All-Conference individual performances, Monticello won their fifth straight Mississippi 8 Conference Championship.
For much of this year, things have seemed nearly as easy as they were last year when the Magic cruised through every meet, including the state tournament. In the last couple of weeks, the sledding has gotten a bit tougher. A third place finish at Alexandria Oct. 6 represented Monticello’s first loss in a Minnesota State High School League meet since the 2010 season. Thursday, they faced a much tougher test at the conference meet than they have the past two years when they won with just 20 and 16 points respectively (15 points is a perfect score).
But in the end, the Magic’s top runners were strong enough to carry the favorites past a relatively strong St. Michael-Albertville team. Led by Mariah Betzler finishing in second-place (14:32) and Amber Seidenkranz finishing third (14:35), Monticello scored 35 points, finishing 13 ahead of the second-place Knights.
“It’s really special, because this is the sixth year in a row,” said Betzler. “It means a lot that we could come back and do it again.”
Betzler has been one of the biggest reasons that the Magic have been able to match their success from last season. As the 2011 season wound down she had started to make her push toward the top of the Magic hierarchy. This season, she has done nothing but continue that ascension. Thursday she was just two seconds away from an individual conference championship.
“I was very happy,” said Betzler. “I’ve always wished to place well, and it’s good to see that happen.”
One of the best things the Magic team has going for it is a friendly rivalry between Betzler and Seidenkranz that has pushed both of them to success this year.
“It’s great to have her pushing me, and I can push her,” said Betzler. “We can both use each other to achieve our goals.”
Thursday, they knocked a team goal off the list by winning the conference championship. They were aided by a mixed bag of teammates, some that have been there before and some that haven’t.
Brooke Rasmussen (15:30) and Krista Steele (15:48), two returning state tournament runners, helped boost the Magic by running to seventh and tenth place finishes respectively. Both of those runners earned All-Conference honors.
They were followed by freshman Anna Fasen (16:13), sophomore Patty Bray (16:15) and eighth-grader Alexa Yeager (16:49). Fasen and Bray each earned All-Conference Honorable Mention with their thirteenth and fourteenth place finishes. Yeager finished in twenty-fifth place.
After having a roster that didn’t change for two straight years of meets, it’s been a bit of an adjustment for the Magic as their sixth and seventh runners have changed from week to week and meet to meet. But, not all is different.
“It’s been different because it’s a new team,” said Betzler. “It’s very different having different people. But it’s the same because we’re working just as hard and we want to win just as bad.”
Their next big chance to win will come Oct. 25 when they head to Bemidji for their section meet. The Magic will be a favorite, but they’re set to face some stiff competition. Monticello is currently the ninth-ranked cross country team in the state. Section 8AA is also home to the tenth-ranked team Willmar, and the eleventh-ranked team Moorhead.
So now, Monticello will turn their focus to that meet, as the defending state champions will look to make their fourth straight state tournament appearance.
But first they were going to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and an incredibly dominant run that has led to five straight conference championships.
“It feels great knowing that all of our hard work is paying off and that it’s all worth it,” said Betzler.