BEMIDJI -- There was a little more waiting that went into the crowning moment for the Bemidji High School boys cross country team Thursday at Greenwood Golf Course.

By the end of the day, the Lumberjacks learned they had claimed the Section 8AA team title, their 17th in program history and first since 2016.

“I’m very, very proud of the efforts of our team. I was very impressed,” head coach Ryan Aylesworth said. “There’s a lot of pressure with having a section meet on your home course in front of your fans and you’re one of the top seeds going in. There’s a lot of pressure with that, and I was very happy with how the boys were able to go out, battle, execute and get the job done today.”

BHS didn’t have only a team title to celebrate.

Nathan Alto’s time of 16:29.3 could not be beat as the BHS senior garnered the individual section crown, the first by a Lumberjack boys runner since Sam Carlson won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

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“He’s just been so consistent all year,” Aylesworth said. “He’s a great kid, great leader, hard worker, just like all the boys. I’m very happy for him to get a section title.”

The meet was run under an unusual format compared to most years. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, four sessions were held throughout the day with no more than four teams competing at the same time.

BHS raced in the second session at 1 p.m., but then the waiting began. The team went their separate ways and, after the final session’s times were posted, learned that theirs were good enough for first place.

Bemidji’s Nathan Alto runs ahead in the Section 8AA boys cross country meet on Thursday at Greenwood Golf Course. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji’s Nathan Alto runs ahead in the Section 8AA boys cross country meet on Thursday at Greenwood Golf Course. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“It was weird because you’ve watched your race, watched another race and then you’ve got to watch two more races,” Aylesworth said. “You just had to wait and see and look and figure out what you could figure out. … I haven’t gotten to see them in person since they won the title officially. It’s a little bit different, but still happy with how things went today.”

Nicholas Youso (6th, 17:02.4) and Ethan Maish (8th, 17:07.5) joined Alto in the top ten. Carson Maish (18th, 17:32.8) and Josef Lalli (20th, 17:35.3) also finished among the top 20 to round out Bemidji’s top five. Also competing were Brooks Matetich (24th, 17:41.2) and Isaak McDonald (39th, 18:10.5).

BHS tallied 53 points for first, just ahead of second-place Alexandria’s 64. Brainerd (108), St. Cloud Apollo (113) and Sartell-St. Stephen (127) rounded out the top five.

The Jacks finished first in every meet they competed in this year.

Alto strung together a series of dominant performances throughout the season. He placed first in six of seven meets, and came in second in the one outlier.

“It was a unique year because we were kind of limited in the amount of teams we were able to see in the year because of the restrictions,” Aylesworth said. “But we’re very happy. We saw some quality teams and were able to race really well consistently.”

Normally after a section win, Bemidji would start preparing for the state meet, but that won’t be the case this fall as the Minnesota State High School League opted to not conduct post-section competition because of the pandemic.

“It adds more value to it in the fact that you were able to win a section title, you were able to end your season on a win,” Aylesworth said. “The boys would have liked to have had a chance to see what they could do against some other competition -- there’s a lot of really good teams in the state -- just to see where they stack up. But they’re very, very happy to have had the opportunity to have a section meet and go out and try to achieve the section title.”

The Bemidji girls will compete in the Section 8AA girls cross country meet on Friday, Oct. 16, back at Greenwood Golf Course. The Jacks will run in the final session at 5 p.m.

Team Results

1-Bemidji 53; 2-Alexandria 64; 3-Brainerd 108; 4-St. Cloud Apollo 113; 5-Sartell-St. Stephen 127; 6-Monticello 130; 7-Willmar 171; 8-Becker 191; 9-Rocori 192; 10-Little Falls 310; 11-Detroit Lakes 337; 12-Fergus Falls 344; 13-Foley 362; 14-St. Cloud Tech 367; 15-Moorhead 437.