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CROSS COUNTRY: Bemidji boys return to state for second straight trip

The Bemidji boys cross country team captured the Section 8-2A championship last week and will be shooting for a top-five finish at Saturday’s state meet. Among the Jacks who have been paved the way for success is Caleb Appleton, right. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — For the second consecutive season, the Bemidji boys cross country team is headed to the state meet Saturday at St. Olaf.

After experiencing the school’s first taste of the state meet since 1998, the Lumberjacks are determined to achieve a top-five finish and return with a banner to hang in the school gymnasium.

“Hopefully we can get in the top five because we have yet to put a banner up in our gym,” senior Evan White said.

“I expect a top five finish so we can get a banner in the school,” fellow senior Seth Neubeck added.

The seniors who are returning from last season know how important last year’s experience is as they prepare for a second state tournament as a team.

“Us knowing the course will help a lot,” Neubeck said. “Now we will know the harder parts in the course where we will have to be really tough mentally.”

“Last year we went as a team, which was pretty cool since I was on my own the year before,” senior Sam Carlson said. “We had the whole team come back this year and repeat as section champs and we all know what to look for and what to expect this time around.”

Even Cody Freyholtz, who traveled to the state tournament as an alternate last season, feels more prepared heading to St. Olaf on Saturday.

“I was an alternate last year, but I still got to travel with the team so I saw the course and know what to expect,” Freyholtz said.

Aylesworth also knows how helpful reaching the state tournament last season was for the boys, because it helped them prepare for their senior year.

“Seeing what it took to reach state last year was very important,” Aylesworth said. “They knew what was expected of them and they rose to the occasion.”

Although the group of five seniors will be running for Bemidji for the final time this weekend, they all expressed how they hope their leadership will lead to future success for the program.

“The biggest thing for me is just trying to motivate the underclassmen,” Carlson said. “I just want to demonstrate success on the varsity team and show the underclassmen what can be done.”

“With a lot of kids graduating, we have a lot of young kids that will have to step up in the future,” Freyholtz continued. “Our group of seniors hopes to help them be ready to have similar success next year.”

“I try to be there for the younger guys,” senior Thomas Revering added. “The seniors before us shared their love of the sport with the freshmen, so we might as well do the same.”

With two consecutive state tournament appearances for the boys and the girls team making its first state tournament appearance in nearly two decades, the Bemidji cross country program certainly looks as if it is heading in the right direction.

“It is huge,” Revering said of both the boys and girls team making state. “Anytime you can have both the boys and girls team have this kind of success in the same season, it is a huge step forward. Seeing how both teams have made significant strides over the last few years, more kids will be likely to go out for the sport in the future.”

“It is a huge step forward for the program,” Freyholtz added. “It is pretty rare for both the boys and girls teams in a program make state in the same season.”

The Jacks will begin their race at 11 a.m. and Aylesworth believes that a banner is within reach.

“If our guys can duplicate what they have done in some of our better meets, we have a pretty good chance of placing in the top five,” Aylesworth said.