The Prior Lake girls cross country team has high aspirations this fall.
And why not? The Lakers return all seven runners from last year’s team that competed at the Class AAA state meet — sophomores Maggie Hoen, Layla Vennink and Sophia Basile and ninth-graders Sara Gastony, Keely Mohling, Isabelle Reinders and Talia Bushman.
The group ended up third in the state team standings behind champion Edina and runner-up Wayzata.
“Our hope is to be state champions,” said Prior Lake coach Dan Saad, who is in his 30th season leading the Lakers. “Competition in Section 2AAA will be tight again with Minnetonka and Edina, plus Wayzata in 6AAA. Our goal is to be close the gap between our top four runners and our (No. 5 through No. 7), qualify for state and be in the top three.”
Senior Aubree Taylor, junior Hannah Cook and sophomore Brooke Marquardt will also vie for varsity spots for the Lakers.
“Our strength is that we are returning four of the five school record holders in the 5,000-meter distance and they are in ninth and 10th grade,” Saad said. “The fifth is Mallory Stach.”
Stach was a five-time state qualifier for the Lakers, graduating in 2019.
Meanwhile, can junior Hootie Hage win a state individual title for the Prior Lake boys team? He ended up on the medal stand last year at state, finishing seventh in the 5,000-meter race at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Three of the six runners who finished ahead of Hage at state were seniors, while the other three were juniors, including Nick Gillies of Minnetonka who will be back to defend his title.
Hage was the only sophomore in the top 10 and one of only three sophomores in the top 20.
Hage was one of two Laker boys at state last fall. The other was junior Thomas Simmonds, who finished 93rd in his first-ever state appearance.
Simmonds and Hage will look to lead the Prior Lake boys this fall. The team finished fourth in Section 2AAA last year with the top-two squads making the state field, along with the top-eight individuals not on the advancing squads.
Sophomore Josh Cole, ninth-grader Joe Gannon and eighth-grader Dylan Tuschen are also back for the boys team.
The Prior Lake girls were section runner-up to Edina last year. That earned the Lakers their 14th official state appearance since 1989. The team’s best finish was 2009 when they took second.
The Laker girls were fourth in both 2005 and 2007 and fifth in 2006. Other finishes include seventh in 1989; ninth in 2010; 10th in 1993, 2001, 2004 and 2008; 13th in 2011; 15th in 2003 and 16th in 2018.
In 2020, the Minnesota State High School League did not have any state competitions for all fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, 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 and the Laker girls finished eighth.
Cross country went to three classes last fall where Saad was named the Class 3A Coach of the Year. He was the Class 2AA Coach of the Year in 2003.
Both Prior Lake teams will open the season Sept. 2 in the Irish Invitational, a two-mile race at Rosemount High School.
The South Suburban Conference Championships are set for Oct. 14 at Eagan High School. The Section 2AAA meet is scheduled for Oct. 25 at Gale Woods in Minnetrista.
This year’s Class 3A state competition will be Nov. 5 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.