by Paul Rignell
The Monticello girls cross country team continued its dominance of the Mississippi 8 competition Oct. 15 by winning a sixth consecutive conference crown on the Ponds course in St. Francis.
Senior runners Amber Seidenkranz and Mariah Betzler, both of whom entered this season with state experience from 2012, led the Magic pack at the Ponds by finishing fourth and fifth among all conference girls, respectively, with times of 14:29 and 15:00.
But each of their teammates that day also ended the course within the next minute to place all Monticello girls among the Mississippi 8 meet’s top 20 finishers, meaning that each Magic runner earned all-conference honors.
The Magic have not met that feat often, and it could be a good sign for the next two weeks of races that when the program most recently placed seven girls among the all-conference leaders, in 2011, Monticello followed its conference title with section and state championships.
Head coach Gail Grieme noted that the Magic’s third through sixth runners at the Ponds last week all finished within seven seconds of one another.
Patty Bray, a junior, joined Seidenkranz and Betzler among the conference top 10 as she placed eighth at 15:30.
Leading the next 10 finishers were Monticello sophomore Anna Fasen in 11th place at 15:33, junior Krista Steele in 13th at 15:35 and senior Brooke Rasmussen in 14th at 15:37.
Bray and Fasen each ran their fastest times on a 4K course, Grieme said, while Seidenkranz matched a personal best that she had recorded at last year’s state title meet, the coach added.
A freshman runner for the Magic, Alexa Yeager, placed 19th in 15:55 at the Ponds for another personal best on the day.
Seidenkranz, Betzler, Bray, Fasen and Steele gave Monticello its runaway conference title score of 41, which was less than half of any total from a challenging team.
The runners-up from St. Michael-Albertville reached enough places to total 90, followed by Buffalo in third place among teams at 92. Rogers and Big Lake rounded out the front half of conference schools by totaling 107 and 130 team points.
Monticello will travel Thursday, Oct. 24, with 14 other schools to run against host Detroit Lakes in the Section 8AA meet. The top two teams there advance to the state meet Nov. 2 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Though the current Magic runners have met more goals together than previous teams, Grieme notes there is no guarantee Monticello will win or place second this week at sections where the strongest challengers should include Moorhead, Sartell, Willmar and Bemidji, she said.
Hosting its first section meet in several years, Detroit Lakes is known to offer more of a hilly course than what most of these students otherwise have run. “Everyone has to do it, though,” Grieme said. “Our girls are ready for the challenge.”
The top two section schools each will send seven runners to St. Olaf, while the section’s top 10 individuals from other, non-qualifying teams also make that trip. Betzler and Seidenkranz got their tickets to state last year that way, and Betzler ended up finishing ninth among all girls in Class AA followed closely by Seidenkranz in 12th place.
In the coming seasons, the Magic will miss their particular senior leadership but Grieme says the program is poised with youth to continue leading the Mississippi 8 for several years.
Among junior varsity competitors at last week’s conference meet, seventh-grader Madison McDermott and other newer Magic runners swept the first five positions for a perfect team title score of 15.
In another division that is reserved only for junior high or middle school runners, Monticello placed second among teams. “It is always important to have a strong JV program,” Grieme said.