The Rosemount Irish boys and girls cross-country teams came home with a clean sweep of section 3AA on Thursday, Oct. 26, at Valleywood Golf Course in Apple Valley. Both teams took first at the meet and qualified for the 2017 state tournament that will be held Saturday, Nov. 4, at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Boys run away with it
The Rosemount boys' team both figuratively and literally ran away with the section 3AA meet. They had two runners in the top-10 and four in the top-20 which helped them outdistance second-place Prior Lake by more than 30 points. This is an incredible eighth-straight year the Irish boys have qualified for the state tournament and their second-straight section 3AA title.
Junior Luke Labatte won the section race by more than 10 seconds with a time of 15 minutes and 49.4 seconds (15:49.4). Rounding out the top-5 was senior Spencer Schultz in fifth with a time of 16:31.4. Fellow senior Mark Biechler finished 12th in 16:48.0, while junior Danny Cox placed 18th (17:05.1). Junior Payne Freske took 23rd with a time of 17:10.2, freshman Elliott Nicholson finished 32nd in 17:25.1 and not far behind him was junior Jack Labatte in 37th (17:33.8).
Head coach Chris Harder said the Irish had control of the race halfway through and never looked back.
"We took control of the race at the midway point and extended the lead from there," he said. "Our guys ran a really disciplined, controlled race and then closed really well. The good part is we have more in us and we will need to extend more next week to be in the top-5 and challenge for the podium, which is the top-3. The guys were really fired up when they found out the girls pulled out the section title. That news reached them with just under 10 minutes before their race."
Girls edge out East Ridge
The Irish girls edged out East Ridge by one point to win the section 3AA championship and were just a few points ahead of Bloomington Jefferson, Visitation and South St. Paul. Harder said that this is the first section title and state appearance for the girls team since 2010, which was also the last time Rosemount swept both the boys and girls titles to go to state.
The Rosemount girls had all five of the scorers finish in the top-25 and their two pushers were not too far behind in the top-30.
Senior Dani Follett-Dion led the way for the Irish by taking 11th with a time of 19:47.0. Just four seconds behind her in 15th was freshman Abby McNeil (19:51.5). Senior Sydney Regalado (20:07.2) and freshman Avery Leppones (20:07.5) crossed the finish line nearly simultaneously and finished back-to-back in 21st and 22nd. Freshman Lucy Jagoe was not far behind in 24th with a time of 20:09.1, while sophomore Kate Beckwith took 26th with a time of 20:22.5 and senior Tess Grunklee placed 28th (20:31.8).
Harder also said that the Irish trailed Visitation and Henry Sibley with about 300 meters left in the race but managed to push ahead.
""The girls race was truly a team effort," he said. "We needed all seven to beat the other teams' top-5 runners in order to push their score higher. We literally didn't take the lead in the meet until the finish line and even then there were changes behind us that were out of our control. The girls really charged at the end and won the crucial head-to-head battles. Dani Follett-Dion went from 15th to 11th in the final 300 meters, Abby McNeil fought off a challenge and Sydney Regalado closed from 25th to 21st on the number nine fairway. Avery Leppones and Lucy Jagoe fought off challenges. The crucial sixth finisher Kate Beckwith beat East Ridge's fourth runner and seventh finisher Tess Grunklee beat East Ridge's fifth runner to win the section title."
Having both teams win section titles and qualify for state is a rare feat yet the Irish have achieved it twice now in the past decade.
"(It was) truly a team effort and we couldn't be more proud of their training efforts this year and willingness to prepare as a team," Harder explained. "We had a tight pack of about 22 seconds between our five scoring runners and our pushers came through three meets in a row. We needed the pushers to get second at the South Suburban meet ahead of Shakopee and Lakeville South, we needed to do the same at the junior varsity section 3AA meet to beat Roseville and then finally at the section 3AA state qualifying meet to beat one of the historically tight section finishes in history."