By Nick Beversdorf
Merrill Cross Country had their first invitational yesterday at Minocqua Winter Park, facing not only the other teams but the heat, humid weather, mosquitoes, large looming hills, washed out lanes and the athletes themselves who, in the words of head coach Graig Hoffman, “wondered why they didn’t run just a little more over the summer.”
Merrill faced off against Lakeland, Mercer, Mosinee, Phelps, Rhinelander and Wisconsin Rapids-Lincoln. Lakeland took first for both boys and girls with 23 and 35 team points, respectively. The Merrill girls placed fourth out of five finishing teams with a team score of 89 (Mercer did not have enough finishers to score) and the boys finished fifth out of five teams with a team score of 104 (Mercer and Phelps did not have enough finishers to score).
Despite the scores, there were many bright spots in the individual times. Sophomore Dalie Thomas placed ninth out of the 71 female runners with a time of 24:55.9. Senior Deanta Saunders wasn’t far behind, placing 13th with a time of 25:38.6.
“Our girls proved that we can compete with some of the best runners from the North,” comments Hoffman. “Medal winner Sophomore Dalie Thomas did an outstanding job of keeping focused and trained on finishing within the top 10. Not far behind was Senior Deanta Saunders, who shows great promise this year. Hunter Zecca, a real spark in our running program, finished third for the BlueJays (26:48.7) and was being chased by Junior Lily Reimann (27:24.7) and Sophomore Sophie Priebe (27:48.6). Additionally, our sixth runner is a new runner to the program, Freshman Anne Herdt (28:31.2) who ran a really nice solid run who was nearly caught by our ‘sprinter specialist,’ Autumn Schenzel (28:40.6).”
For the boys, Senior Nathan Koch placed 15th overall and first on the Merrill team with a time of 21:05.8. Right behind him was Senior Andrei Heisinger with a time of 21:11.4.
“Our boys ran first and proved that they can compete with veteran and newcomer runners,” adds Hoffman. “Nathan Koch literally ran the race of his life, collapsing at the finish line. Close behind was Andrei Heisinger, who may have held back too much during most of the race.
“Sophomore Stephen Koch (22:13.3) ran a solid race with newcomer Sophomore Ethan Halfman (22:30.5) showing great potential. Our fifth runner, Sophomore Ethan Bares (23:24.3) closed in at the end to finish our top five for scoring. Right behind him were some fresh, new faces of Ethan Cordova and Jacob Novitch and Alik Berreth. We know we’re young with some scattered veterans, so ‘pack running’ will be an essential part of our program to keep all of our athletes within close proximity to help each other out.
“The race was more than just a race, it was an extreme workout for boy and girls and it is the most challenging 5K run for our team when looking at our fall schedule. It’s a good ‘eye-opening experience’ for our runners,” stated Hoffman, “and I couldn’t be more proud of their efforts.”
The next invitational for varsity cross country will be on Thursday, Aug. 25, 10 a.m. at Rhinelander High School. They will be running against Rhinelander, Wausasu East and West, Antigo, DC Everest, Goodman-Pembine, Northland Pines, Phelps, Three Lakes, Laona-Wabeno and Crandon.