Somerset cross country team find its championship form

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The Somerset cross country team was able to bask in a joy last Thursday that the program hasn't seen in a decade or more.

The Spartans earned the first team meet championship in many years when the Somerset girls raced to victory in front of their home fans at the Spartan Invitational last Thursday. The Spartans also won both individual championships in the meet, with senior Ben Schmitt taking the boys championship and freshman Erin Huerta winning the girls championship.

Somerset was one of five teams in the meet, along with Middle Border Conference counterparts Ellsworth, Prescott and Baldwin-Woodville, and Spring Valley from the Dunn-St. Croix Conference. Somerset's boys also performed quite capably, finishing in second place.

Somerset coach Abby Christensen said she'd been so busy concentrating on the individual plans for each of the Spartans that she never gave any thought to winning a team championship. She said it wasn't until the middle of the boys race, which was run first, that she saw how well the team was doing and thought the girls might have the chance for a win.

The thoughts of victory were spurred on even more by Schmitt. He battled Ellsworth's Addison Peters for the lead for much of the race. But in the final half-mile, Schmitt pulled away to win with an 11-second margin.

"Ben has improved so much," Christensen said. "He had to race (to get the win). He was working incredibly hard."

Ellsworth won the boys title with 31 points, with Somerset taking second with 48 points. Somerset had a very solid top five with Zach Maitrejean placing fourth, Thor Sanders seventh, Tyler Hantsbarger 11th and Alex DeGeest 24th.

Then the girls took the course, and Huerta took center stage. Within the first half-mile, Huerta had pulled away from the pack and she ran alone through much of the race. She won in 22:44. Prescott's Amanda Auleciems was second in 23:38.

Somerset's pack of juniors Kristen Vensland, Brycen Chladek and Liv Hoff ran together again, finishing in sixth, seventh and eighth. Freshman Anna Bartig was the Spartans' fifth runner, improving by more than a minute over her previous race time to place 15th.

Christensen said she was especially happy for the trio of juniors, because of the work they've done in their three years, to bring the team to this level. And in one meet, Christensen said the whole focus of their careers has changed.

"It's all the sudden become a team sport for them. It was all so exciting. The whole night was a high, based on Ben and Erin and the girls team," Christensen said.

The Spartans resume their schedule this Tuesday by racing at the Rice Lake Invitational. They then go nine days between races, before competing at the Durand Invitational.