The future looks pretty strong for the Prior Lake cross-country teams.
The Lakers will have nine runners competing in the Class AA state meet Nov. 2 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The boys squad will be there as a team for the fourth time since 2014 after its runner-up finish in the Section 3AA race Oct. 24 behind Eastview.
The Prior Lake girls have two seventh-graders competing, Layla Vennick and Maggie Hoen. They had four seventh-graders in their Section 3AA lineup and not one senior, finishing sixth in the team standings.
Last year, the girls were the section runner-up to qualify for state. The program had a dominant 12-year state run starting in 2001, going to state 10 straight years from 2003 to 2012.
Could the team be ready for a similar run in the near future? Brooke Everson was 23rd in the Section 3AA race, so the Lakers' top three finishes were seventh-graders (Vennick, 11th and Hoen, 17th).
The Lakers need to move up the rest of the pack next year to compete for a state team spot. The top two teams qualify at sections along with the top eight individuals not on the advancing squads.
Junior Olivia Zastrow (44th), ninth-grader Adeline Knutson (55th), junior Kate Kaisersatt (60th) and seventh-grader Kate Anderson (65th) also competed for the girls team at sections.
Juniors Gabe Smit and Kyle Nordling have led the Laker boys team the last three seasons. They both qualified for state individually the previous two years, and they were the team's top two finishers at the section race this fall.
Smit was second overall with a time 15:44.9. The school record is 15:39.0, which was set in 2015 by Colin Dwyer. Smit and Dwyer are the only two Lakers in program history to break 16 minutes in a 5,000-meter race.
Nordling was fifth at sections with a time of 16:04.3, so a strong run at state could get him under the 16-minute mark before his senior year.
The boys team also has a young, talented runner in eighth-grader Hootie Hage, who was the team's third-best finisher at sections, taking 14th. Five runners count in the team standings, and the Lakers' next two finishers were also underclassmen in junior Magnus O’Connor (15th) and junior Blake Vander Wiede (30th).
Juniors John Meagher and McKoy Ross also competed for Prior Lake at sections, finishing 33rd and 50th respectively. So, like the girls team, all seven of Prior Lake's competitors at sections were underclassmen.
The Laker boys were eighth in the state team standings in both 2014 and 2015 and finished 14th in 2017. The team will need to move up its fifth runner at state this time around to make a run at a top-five finish.
Smit has the potential for a top-10 finish. He ended up 22nd overall at state last year, while Nordling was 85th. In 2017, Smit was 69th, and Nordling was 147th.
In 14 state team appearances dating back to 1989, the Laker girls' best finish was in 2009 when they finished second. The program was fourth in 2005 and 2007 and fifth in 2006.
Other finishes for Prior Lake over the years include seventh in 1989; ninth in 2010; 10th in 1993, 2001, 2004 and 2008; 13th in 2011; and 15th in 2003.