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St. Croix Central girls will run at state cross country as a team for first time on Saturday

St. Croix Central’s Olivia Moll (1207) looked strong and confident throughout the sectional race. She went out with the leaders and stayed there, placing third.1 / 5
St. Croix Central’s girls knew the importance of every place at the sectional meet. Here Mariah Withuski and a Northwestern runner gave everything they had in a sprint to the finish line during Friday’s race. 2 / 5
St. Croix Central senior Michael Sauer ended a stellar cross country career with a strong performance at the sectional meet.3 / 5
Foreign exchange student Margaryta Chuloy has been a key ingredient in the Panthers’ success. She was the team’s third finisher at the sectional meet.4 / 5
St. Croix Central's Will Spitzmueller (1215) and Somerset's Seth Erickson (1184) near the midpoint of the sectional course at Rice Lake last Friday.5 / 5

One of the most remarkable one-week transformations in area high school sports in years was achieved by the St. Croix Central girls cross country team.

The amazing effort, led by junior Olivia Moll, has earned the Panthers their first trip to the WIAA State Cross Country Championships in program history.

The Panthers were able to qualify for state by placing second in the sectional race. They only missed the sectional championship by two points, finishing with 86 points, compared to 84 points for sectional winner Northwestern.

Moll may have been the individual story of the sectional meet. Eight days earlier, she collapsed at the Middle Border Conference championships. While every Panther parent, coach and fellow runner watched with her with concern, Moll ran with steely determination. She ran with the lead pack from the start and never flinched, taking third place in the sectional race.

But it wasn’t just Moll who earned the team the trip to state. It was a huge in-race adjustment made by every member of the team that earned the team its trip to state. Panther coach Bill Emery was stationed at the 1.5-mile mark. At that point the Panthers were running fourth and he let the girls know who they needed to pass to move up to second place.

Over the next mile, the Panthers went to work. They passed packs of runners, putting themselves in position to secure second place. Over the final stretch of the race, they not only maintained their positions but continued to move up in the pack.

The girls didn’t have to wait long to find out the results. The girls team results were the first announced and when “runner-up, St. Croix Central” was announced, it set off a jubilant celebration among the Panthers.

“It was amazing. I’m still in awe,” Emery said of the charge made by the girls to earn the trip to state.

Claire Moll was the Panthers’ second runner, placing 14th. Foreign exchange student Margaryta Chuloy placed 19th. Mariah Withuski moved up to 22nd and Courtney Carlson placed 28th for the top five Panther finishers at the meet.

Emery said the flat, weaving course at Rice Lake worked in the Panthers’ favor. He said the girls could see ahead to the runners they needed to pass and the sight lines helped them to gauge the pace they needed to get the job done.

The girls celebrated the accomplishment with a team taco party the night after the meet. Emery said he wanted the girls to enjoy the moment before turning their focus to the state meet. He said the goals for the state meet will be a team discussion. Emery used to volunteer at the state meet when he taught at Auburndale, so he’s familiar with the course. None of the girls have run at state before, so Emery will prep them on the rugged course which he calls “deceptively difficult.”

While the girls stole the show on Friday, the Panther boys also had a very strong day. The Panther boys placed sixth, with every one of them running a personal best time.

Senior Micheal Sauer was the Panthers’ top finisher, placing 21st in 18:02. He was followed closely by a pack of teammates, with Will Spitzmueller placing 24th, Derek Rock 26th and Erik Collins 29th. Riley Hackbarth was the Panthers’ fifth runner, placing 47th.

The boys team has a bright future. Sauer, a four-year varsity runner, is the only senior among the top seven Panther boys.

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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