There’s some talent back for the Prior Lake cross country teams, but both Laker squads will face stiffer competition come sections.
Last year, the Laker boys were the unofficial state champions. The Minnesota State High School League did not have any state competitions for all fall sports.
So instead, the Twin Cities Running Club put on a Cross Country Showcase (an unofficial state meet) at Island Pine Golf Club in Atwater, where the Prior Lake boys won the title. The Laker girls finished eighth.
Both teams were also Section 3AA champions last fall.
On to this season, where the Prior Lake girls return their top six runners from sections last year in eighth-graders Sara Gastony, Isabelle Reinders and Keeley Mohling and ninth-graders Maggie Hoen, Layla Vennink and Annabel McCann. Ninth-grader Sophia Basile, junior Aubrey Taylor and eighth-grader Talia Bushman will also be in the mix.
On the boys side, sophomore Hootie Hage is the only returning runner who competed at sections last year.
Meanwhile, the MSHSL reclassified sections for all sports last April. Cross country went to three classes and both Prior Lake teams were placed in Section 2AAA with the likes of Edina, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Chanhassen, Chaska, Shakopee and Waconia.
In the girls preseason Class 3A poll, Edina and Minnetonka were ranked No. 1 and 3, respectively, while the Lakers were ranked No. 6, followed by Chanhassen at No. 9 and Eden Prairie at No. 12.
In boys Class 3A rankings, Edina opened at No. 2, followed by Minnetonka at No. 6.
Hage is ranked No. 2 in the state in the individual rankings.
Prior Lake girls coach Dan Saad said the next section will be very tough, but he’s hopeful his team can compete. In the South Suburban Conference, the Lakers were the only team ranked in the preseason poll.
“We are looking to challenge for our first SSC championship,” Saad said. “It would be great to follow up what the boys team did last year and win it all, but we have work to do to get past Edina and Minnetonka, who are now in our section.”
The Laker girls had a strong first meet Sept. 3, taking second in the two-mile Irish Invitational in Rosemount. They had three runners in the top seven to finish with 59 points. St. Paul Highland Park was first in the 21-team field (20), while Stillwater was a distant third (102).
Vennink led the girls taking fourth overall with a time of 11:52.4, followed by Mohling in sixth (11:53.5) and Gastony in seventh (11:53.8).
Baslie ended up 18th for Prior Lake (12:40.1), followed by Hoen in 24th (12:50.9), Taylor in 27th (12:54.2), Bushman in 47th (13:09.5), McCann in 53rd (13:21.9).
Hage won the boys race, finishing with a time of 9:52.9. He was 5.5 seconds faster than the runner-up finisher, Noah Breker of Robbinsdale Armstrong.
The boys ended up 14th out of 22 schools in the team standings with 333 points. Rosemount won the title (61), followed by Highland Park (105) and White Bear Lake (133).
Other finishes for the Prior Lake boys included senior Zach Johnson (35th, 10:48.7), sophomore Thomas Simmonds (52nd, 11:13.1), junior James Piper (122nd, 12:25.8), senior Tyler Schwen (123rd, 12:26.0), senior Isaac Barbato (128th, 12:46.3) and senior Jonah Kolsrud (131st, 12:55.9).
This year’s SSC Championships are set for Oct. 15 at Eagan High School. The Section 2AAA competition will be Oct. 26 at Gale Woods in Minnetrista.
The Class AAA state competition is scheduled for Nov. 6 at its annual site, St. Olaf College in Northfield.