At one of the biggest cross country running stages in the Midwest, the St. Croix Central Panthers put together a performance worthy of applause.
Competing in the Maroon race at the Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota on Saturday, the Central girls placed tenth among 48 teams from all around the Midwest. There were more than 400 girls competing in the race, yet Central was able to have four girls place in the top 100. That was topped by senior Liv Moll. Moll proved she deserves to be considered among the premier runners in the area by placing 13th in the race.
Panther coach Bill Emery was joyous over the performances.
"They exceeded my expectations," he said.
Joining Moll in the top 100 were Sydney Carlson in 66th, Marie Hamlin in 82nd and Claire Moll in 88th. Mya Kizer was the fifth Panther to reach the finish line, placing 114th. Mariah Withuski ranked 156th and Liberty Grant ranked 162nd. The Panther girls beat top area programs like Menomonie and River Falls. The Panthers had six girls finished before Ellsworth's first runner was able to finish.
The high school races Saturday were reduced to two miles because of the intense heat.
Emery said both the Panther teams were concentrating on aspects of the race instead of the final results. The goal was to have the Panthers learn how to run in a crowd and deal with the tightly compacted spaces in a race like this. Emery said there were runners who discovered that it was nearly impossible for the entire race to stretch out to a full stride because space would not allow it.
While this was a landmark result for the Panther girls, Emery said the most important month of the season is still ahead.
"I don't want to be bold, but I don't think this was their best day," Emery ventured, saying the girls weren't overly expressive about the finish. "They're pretty constant and pretty focused on where they want to go."
The Panther boys also put together a strong performance, placing 28th in the boys Maroon race. The Panthers were able to get four runners among the top 150 finishers. Senior Will Spitzmueller led the way by finishing 104th. Cougar Holder was 108th, Erik Collins 141st and Spencer Goodwin 146th. Rounding out the varsity seven for the boys were Josh Burgess in 208th, Micah Larsen in 238th and Derek Rock in 280th.
Emery said the boys and girls shared the same approach for this meet. Both teams have veterans who have been through races of this magnitude before, but both lineups also include freshmen who were seeing this level for the first time. The fact that a freshman was the second Panther to finish in both races (Carlson and Holder) shows the young Panthers ran without any fear.
The weekend holds two events for the Panthers. They will compete at the New Richmond Invitational on Saturday. That's followed by a run at the Hayward Invitational next Tuesday. The Hayward course is the site for this year's Division 2 sectional meet.