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CROSS COUNTRY: Jacks send boys team, girls duo to St. Olaf

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji High School boys cross country team missed out on the Class AA state meet for the first time in six years a season ago, but this year, the Lumberjacks are once again headed to St. Olaf College, along with Regan DeWitt and Gwen Youso for the girls, to compete against Minnesota’s best on Saturday, Nov. 3.

“The moment we got the results from the section meet last year, I think all of the returning guys, underclassmen, we knew that next year we needed to go as a team,” said senior co-captain Riley Berg.

“Last year at the section meet, the boys performed well,” BHS head coach Ryan Aylesworth said. “It just wasn’t our day and a couple of other teams were able to make it, so I was very, very happy for the boys this year with all the work they put in. (Being) able to get a state berth and compete well at the section meet, it meant a lot to them and it meant a lot to me to see them be able to do that.”

Berg, one of two Lumberjacks – and the only returning runner – who competed at the state meet individually last year, said he can use his experience to give him an idea of what he can do to improve on his 105th-place time of 16:54.9 this time around.

“Last year, it wasn’t my best race,” he said. “I did all right, but I definitely learned a lot of things about racing with such a big and competitive pack and where I needed to be at what points in the race in order to be more successful this year.”

In the order of their finish at sections, Bemidji’s state runners include junior Gage Mostad (sixth, 16:59.9), Berg (seventh, 17:01.5), sophomore Nicholas Youso (ninth, 17:05.9), sophomore Ethan Maish (17th, 17:20.7), senior co-captain Zac Fouquerel-Skoe (21st, 17:25.5), freshman Isaak McDonald (30th, 17:45.5) and freshman Seth Lindgren (49th, 18:12.6).

Sophomore Nathan Alto and freshman Bryce Kondos will serve as the team’s alternates at the meet.

“Their goal is to hope to each individually improve upon what they’ve done this year and try to put that all together on the same day,” Aylesworth said. “If we’re on, we could have a very good day and place very well. If we’re just having an average day, then we’re going to move down because the field is extremely competitive this year on the top end and all the way through. It’s one of the strongest fields that I remember in recent memory, so we’re shooting for a high placing and just kind of see where that gets us.”

Mostad, Alto and Fouquerel-Skoe have also experienced the St. Olaf course, running for the Bemidji boys team in 2016 when it finished fifth.

On the girls side, DeWitt, an eighth grader paced the Jacks’ pack at sections with a 13th-place time of 19:57.1 at sections, followed by Gwen Youso, a junior, in 15th (20:00.0)

“It was very cool to see not just one, but both of our top two girls make it, get to qualify and go down there and race together,” Aylesworth said.

“I’m hoping that they can run to the potential that they see for themselves. They put in a ton of work, they work really well together, they have good attitudes. If they can go down there and have a good day for them and just kind of see where that places them in the field, I’d be extremely proud of that.”

The Lumberjacks will have a pep rally at the end of the school day today before heading to the cities the morning of Friday, Nov. 2. On Friday, they will head to the course to get a feel for how it’s laid out before attending the state meet banquet. The race itself starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, for the boys, with the girls to follow at 11.

“It’s great, it’s rewarding and it’s always just fun,” Berg said. “That’s always the goal since the beginning of the season is state, and it’s just always good to be there.”