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Interest explodes in cross country at New Richmond High School

A pack of New Richmond runners splash down the Kinnickinnic River during the annual River Falls Extreme Meet last Thursday. (Photo by Bob Burrows)1 / 3
A New Richmond runner splashes his way through one of the river crossings during the annual Extreme race at River Falls last Thursday.2 / 3
A New Richmond runner takes a leap of faith, diving into the river during the River Falls Extreme Meet last Thursday. Photo by Bob Burrows3 / 3

When Tiger coach Beth Kelly had more than 50 runners out for the cross country team in 2012, she thought she'd never see interest like that again in the program.

Imagine the surprise she got when 69 kids joined the team this year.

With 37 boys and 32 girls, the Tiger cross country program is exploding like never before.

"It's a good problem," Coach Kelly said. "I remember when I thought it would be good to keep five kids from every grade. Now we've run out of uniforms and warmups."

And these numbers were accomplished with small groups of seniors. There are just three senior boys and three senior girls on the roster. For the boys, there are large contingents of juniors and sophomores, while the girls have swelling representations from each of the three lower grades.

The new influx of athletes has added to already highly competitive teams. The Tiger boys return five of the seven runners who earned the Middle Border Conference championship last year. Already this year, two newcomers, Brennan Roby and Nate Mortensen, have pushed their way into the varsity seven. Returning from last year's conference championship lineup are Jack Utzman, Bailey Wilson, Austin Haseleu, Erik Gilkison and Luke Miller. Also competing for spots on the varsity are Sam Charbonneau, Zach Schoepke and Aaron Anderson, along with several others. Sam Krueger is another contender, but is dealing with shin splints.

Injuries is one of the major concerns for the coaches because the boys are so eager to run.

"They're so driven and motivated, we have to hold them back because we don't want the injuries," Kelly said. "They've run more mileage as a varsity (over the summer) of any year."

Kelly said the boys have learned to channel their competitiveness differently since middle school, when most of them began running. At the middle school level, they competed against each other. Now they're learning to compete together as teammates, with topping the opposing teams as their focus.

While the boys have returned nearly everyone from their lineup from last season, the girls team has much more of a rebuilding job in front of them. Senior Maddie Kelly, who placed third in last year's conference meet, and junior Kennedy Kling, who placed 10th at the conference meet, are the only Tigers returning from the squad that earned New Richmond's sixth straight MBC girls championship.

Senior Audrey DeKock and junior Andrea Meisner are team members who also saw significant time in the varsity lineup last year.

"That would be great to continue," Coach Kelly said of the string of conference championships. "But we'll need a lot of young girls to step up."

With so many runners on the team, girls are popping up to show they are ready to take on that challenge. Runners like Mallory Kelly, Harley Leavens, Emma Kling, Lexi Brown, Kanya Dewire, Mikayla Gefeke, Meghan Watkins and Alli Hamholm have quickly proven that they are contenders for the available spots in the varsity lineup.

"Our room to grow will come from the freshmen," Coach Kelly said of the nine ninth graders on the roster.

The trio of Maddie Kelly, DeKock and Kennedy Kling have been elected captains for the team. This is no small accomplishment. The Tigers have a process based on 15 qualities that decides who the captains are each year.

With both Tiger squads being defending MBC champions, Coach Kelly said the goal is to repeat both of those championships. She said that will be especially difficult for the girls, with Osceola returning a talented team led by MBC individual champion McKenzie Fortier and Micki Gearin.

The WIAA tournament series has been tough sledding with the Tigers competing in Division 1. The coaches believe the Tiger boys should be able to improve on their 10th place finish from last year's sectional meet. The Tiger girls placed ninth in the sectional meet last year and their also hoping to see improvement this year.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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