The objective was to scout the course where the WIAA Division 2 sectional meet will be run.
Bringing home promising team finishes was an added bonus for the St. Croix Central cross country teams at last Tuesday's Hayward Invitational.
The Panther boys and girls were among the top teams in the field of 22 teams at the meet held at Hatchery Creek County Park, where the sectional meet will be run on Friday, Oct. 20.
Central's boys won the meet with 78 points, with Northwestern in second place with 91 points. Northwestern was the sectional champion in 2016 and it didn't graduate a runner from that team. Central's boys also won the JV race at Hayward.
The Central girls placed second in their half of the meet. Hayward won the meet with 55 points while Central was in second place with 83 points.
Learning about the course was the objective on Tuesday. Good thing running a fast time wasn't the objective.
"They had three and a half inches of rain the night before the meet," said Central coach Bill Emery. "I think my team could have swam the course just as fast as they ran it."
The Central boys won the meet with exceptional depth. They didn't have any of the top nine finishers in the race. But the top five Panthers all placed between tenth and 22nd. The Panthers had all seven of their runners across the line before any other team had five finishers complete the race.
Sophomore Erik Collins led the Panthers boys by placing tenth and freshman Cougar Holder was 12th. Luke Mahady, Spencer Goodwin and Derek Rock also finished among the top five Panther runners. Rock shook off recent injuries for his best performance in several weeks.
"The boys ran exceptionally well in terms of running as a pack," Emery said.
Senior Liv Moll again was the top performer for the Panther girls. She placed second overall in the meet, trailing only Ladysmith freshman Erika Loe. Central freshman Sydney Carlson made another substantial improvement, moving up to sixth place in the results. Marie Hamlin, Claire Moll and Mya Kizer were also in the top five Panther finishers.
Emery said he expected Hayward to have an edge in this meet.
"That's why we were there, so we don't get beat by someone who knows the course better," Emery said.
The Panthers now turn their gaze to the 2017 Middle Border Conference meet, which will be run this Thursday at Prescott Intermediate School. The girls race will begin at 4:30 p.m., with the boys race starting at 5:15 p.m. The Panthers have high aspirations for this year's conference meet.
"They want to come home with hardware," Emery said. "The same with sectionals."