by Paul Rignell
When the Monticello boys cross country squad placed fifth at the annual Mississippi 8 conference meet Oct. 15, the Magic landed among a group of four teams, exactly where the runners and Head Coach Dave Wik expected them to be.
Well, in a sense.
“Unfortunately,” said Wik, “we just came out on the bottom rung of those four teams.”
The favored Knights from St. Michael-Albertville lived up to the expectations and took the conference crown on the Ponds course in St. Francis. After that, many coaches and other observers figured that the runners-up could come from Buffalo, Rogers, Chisago Lakes or Monticello.
In a conference that now includes 10 high schools for most sports (with an outdated Mississippi 8 name, not unlike college sports’ Big Ten Conference that has 12 schools this year and soon 14), the five boys cross country teams that comprised the top half of last week’s finishers offered no surprises.
The Magic will wait and work another year in effort to outrun fourth-place Rogers, third-place Chisago Lakes, the runners-up from Buffalo or even the champs from St. Michael-Albertville. “You always are hungry for more,” Wik said.
Monticello’s finish at St. Francis was somewhat reflective of the team’s earlier production this fall. “We have lacked confidence, because we have been a little inconsistent,” the coach added.
But at a point in the season when individual times can mean much more for some runners, the Magic again could compete with anyone when the Section 8AA meet takes place Thursday, Oct. 24, in Detroit Lakes.
The team’s leaders at the conference meet included senior Derek Secord, who placed seventh individually on the 5K course, followed by senior Oliver Winsor, finishing 14th, sophomore Andrew Mergen, coming in 18th, and sophomore Jacob Wilts, taking 20th and earning the last all-conference spot.
Wik noted Monticello and St. Michael-Albertville were the only two schools at St. Francis to place four all-conference runners.
AJ Abundez, a junior, rounded out the Magic’s scoring in 39th place individually. Their team total of 98 points was within 30 points of second-place Buffalo but nearly 50 behind the champions.
The Ponds course was new for a conference meet, as St. Francis is new to the Mississippi 8 along with Chisago Lakes, North Branch and Princeton.
All runners and their coaches were uncertain what to expect from the course as the meet followed some steady rains, though any mud or slick grass turned out to be non-factors. “Things dried out much better than I thought they would,” said Wik. “I was pleasantly surprised by the good condition of the course. It ended up being a beautiful day to run.”
Section 8AA runners will hope for the same cooperation from the weather when Detroit Lakes hosts this week’s meet for the first time in seven years.
The Magic will face odds there similar to the conference field.
Bemidji’s boys are the section’s defending champs, and they are heavily favored to repeat with that title. As for which other school among 15 could follow Bemidji for second place and earn the section’s other team trip to the Nov. 2 state meet, at St. Olaf College, “I consider that second position to be available (for Monticello),” Wik said.
Other top contenders should include Alexandria, Willmar, Moorhead and Little Falls, he added, and the Magic have run competitively this season with most of them.
Beyond the section’s top two teams, the first 10 individual runners from non-qualifying schools will also go to state.
Monticello’s Secord went to St. Olaf last year, joined there by Winsor who earned the section’s last ticket to state in 2012 by finishing 14th at the section meet. Wik said he expects the cut to fall near there again this week.