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CROSS COUNTRY: Bemidji girls back at state for first time since 1996

The Bemidji High School girls cross country team will represent Section 8-2A at Saturday’s state meet held at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Among the runners who have been among the team leaders this fall are (left to right) Atomic Thorson, Megan Serratore and Sadie Hamrin. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — For the first time since 1996, the Bemidji girls cross country team has reached the state tournament after a second place finish in the section meet last week in Detroit Lakes.

The Lumberjacks will continue their season 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Olaf in Northfield.

Despite not having any seniors, the team has made significant improvements after placing seventh in last year’s section competition. Head coach Ryan Aylesworth credits his three junior captains — Megan Serratore, Jenna Truedson and Amber Smith — for the team’s success.

“Last year was kind of a rebuilding year for us,” Aylesworth said. “Our returning captains did a great job of recruiting other girls to come out and stepped up the offseason training for the entire team. It has certainly shown this season.

“The captains have done an excellent job this season,” Aylesworth added. “Whether it is holding activities for the girls, helping organize practice or helping the girls improve their performance, they have all done a great job.”

Serratore said the young team showed its potential early on and did not let the inexperience become a hinderance.

“The girls cross country team has not made it to state since 1996,” Serratore said. “Coming into the season we had a great group of girls, however, we are a very young team.

“Our freshmen were focused and we actually won our first meet,” Serratore continued. “We knew from there that we would have a successful year.”

Truedson echoed Serratore’s words and praised the young team for its focus and determination.

“This is the first year where we have had every one on the team working very hard,” Truedson said. “Making it this far is a big improvement from the previous years.”

Truedson, who has experience competing individually in the state tournament, is the most experienced runner of the group and tries her best to share what she has learned.

“I try to help the less experienced runners by sharing what I know about the courses,” Truedson said.

Smith, like her fellow captains, admires the focus and determination of the young team and likes where the program is headed.

“All of the girls have been working hard and have never given up,” Smith said. “As a captain, I can truly say I am proud of how far we have come.”

The cross country program’s at BHS is headed in the right direction as the girls will join the boys, who appeared in the state tournament last season for the first time in over a decade, at Saturday’s state meet.

“Making it to state for both the boys and girls is a big thing,” Aylesworth said. “It shows the younger kids, all the way down to middle school, that they can contribute to the team in many ways. Even the kids who are not on varsity yet are constantly pushing the upperclassmen to keep improving and that helps the program.”

“I just hope everyone has fun,” Truedson said of the state-meet experience. “This is our first time as a team and hopefully, with everyone coming back, we will make it back there next year too.”

“If the girls run to their potential, we could have great results,” Aylesworth added. “For some of the girls, this will be their first experience competing at this level, but if they can use the experience they gained from some of our bigger meets, they can rise to the occasion and perform well.

“A top-five finish is definitely something we can accomplish.”