RED WING — It’s a new era for Red Wing cross-country. Not only is there a change in how races will be handled under COVID-19 guidelines, but the team lost its three-time state entrant Grace Johnson to graduation and will be ushering in a new pair of head coaches.

On the coaching front, the team will be in good hands as Sheena Tisland and Katie Rausch were named co-head coaches a few weeks before the season began. Both were previously assistants under Jesse Nelson — Rausch for six years and Tisland for four. And although the unique nature of running a cross-country season amidst the pandemic may seem daunting for first-year head coaches, the pair said it’s been helpful to have been with the team in the past.

“We work well together because we’ve been working together this whole time,” Tisland said.

“We just kind of both went and did our thing and everything is getting covered. It’s really nice,” Rausch added. “She leads the practices usually and I like to do the stuff behind the scenes. I’m good with organizing.”

Having that yin and yang between the two is certainly a benefit in the topsy-turvy landscape of coronavirus. Cross-country is certainly not immune to the changes that came with the pandemic. Everything from the number of runners allowed for each starting wave — 25 — to the starting boxes — now spaced 10 feet apart — has evolved with time. For now, spectators will be allowed at home meets as long as they stay away from the athletes, starting and finish areas, and remain socially distant from each other as well.

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“The biggest challenge has been trying to figure out the new guidelines with COVID and how that affects our meets, how that affects our bus rides and practices,” Rausch said.

Wingers perform well at first meet

At Red Wing's first meet of the season Thursday in Albert Lea, the team had mixed results as the girls won by a large margin while the boys were in the opposite position.

In the girls' race, the Wingers finished with 17 points, 24 better than Albert Lea did. Red Wing also had the top four runners in the race — Addie Fjetland took first in 23 minutes, 37.6 seconds, followed by Nora Hanson (23:40.3), Audrey Lahammer (24:41.6) and Annika Johnson (25.40.8). Other runners scoring for Red Wing were: Tori Leitner (seventh, 27:20.8), Morgan Hadler (eighth, 27:22.4), and Morgan Hanlin (13th, 29:16.4).

The boys' team faced much stronger competition as the Wingers scored 39 points, 21 behind Albert Lea. Red Wing was unable to get a runner to crack the top-3.

Aaron Freier was the top Winger with a fourth-place finish (21:08.7). Behind him were: Andrew Farrar (sixth, 21:53.0), Nathan Farrar (eighth, 22:58.1), Soren Toegel (ninth, 23:28.4), Jacob Zawislak (12th, 24:33.2), Nathan Shannon (14th, 25:10.5), and Isaac Ward (17th, 27:50.5).

Looking ahead

Rausch and Tisland said that this year’s team will be unlike those in the recent past; meaning the varsity lineup will be reliant on underclassmen to perform well. With that expectation, however, comes the experience backing that same group of young runners.

In a typical year, Red Wing’s strongest performers have been the juniors and seniors and neither coach sees that as necessarily being the case this fall.

“We have a lot of kids who have run before, but a lot that are young,” Rausch said.

Although the expectation is of young runners having some of the best times this year, the juniors and seniors are no slouches.

“They are awesome and great leaders, so it’s kind of an interesting mix,” Tisland said.

Specifically, Tisland and Rausch have their eye on the growth of Serenna Snider, Tori Leitner, Annika Johnson, Audrey Lahammer and Addison Fjetland for the girls’ team, and Andrew and Nathan Farrar, Aaron Freier, Cade Wallin and Soren Toegel for the boys' team.

Season schedule

Red Wing will run a conference-only schedule this fall. Below is a look at the upcoming schedule. All meets are subject to be postponed or canceled if pandemic circumstances or weather warrant that. For each meet, the boys’ team will begin at 3:30 p.m. whereas the girls' event will begin at 5 p.m.

  • Tuesday, Sept. 1, vs. Rochester Century

  • Tuesday, Sept. 8, at. Austin

  • Wednesday, Sept. 16, at Northfield

  • Thursday, Sept. 24, vs. Faribault and Rochester Mayo

  • Thursday, Oct. 1, at Winona