REGIONAL- North Woods junior cross country runner Alex Burckhardt turned in an all-state level performance last Saturday in the Class A State Championship at the University of Minnesota’s Les …
REGIONAL- North Woods junior cross country runner Alex Burckhardt turned in an all-state level performance last Saturday in the Class A State Championship at the University of Minnesota’s Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights.
With 960 runners in three classes, 160 per race, toeing the start line and thousands of cheering spectators crowding the white-pennant-lined course, the atmosphere was electric. Sunshine and temperatures in the low-to-mid 40s were ideal, but the course not quite so much. For the first state meet run at Bolstad in 30 years, an early week snowfall had melted away, leaving the undulating hilly course soft and in some spots wet and muddy. The winding layout afforded spectators multiple views of races in progress, particularly for those willing to dash across greens, fairways, and roughs to different vantage points. The crowds were largest and loudest around the long downhill finish chute.
Burckhardt, running as part of the South Ridge Panthers team, entered the race as the 20th fastest qualifier, and that’s exactly where he ended up, clocking a time of 16:47.3. His top-25 finish, 24 places higher than last year’s state meet, earned him an all-state award certificate.
“Alex really closed in on the competition over the last mile,” said South Ridge Head Coach Jeremy Polson. “It was definitely a great race for a junior. He returns as the number ten (runner) in the state for next season.”
Qualifying for state as a team by virtue of their 7A sectional runner-up finish, the South Ridge boys featured two other North Woods runners on Saturday, seventh-grader Khalil Spears and sophomore Lincoln Antikainen. Spears, the only seventh grader to qualify for the race, turned in a time of 17:57.8, good enough for 103rd. Antikainen placed 134th with a time of 18:38.9.
“Khalil ran well for a seventh grader in his first state meet ever,” Polson said. “There aren’t many seventh graders in the country running at the level he is at. It is going to be exciting to see what the future holds for him.”
And the future looks promising overall for the South Ridge boys team, Polson noted.
“The boys team returns all of the scoring runners, so finishing 12th in our first-ever state meet was a huge accomplishment for the team,” he said.
The South Ridge girls won the 7A sectional title, and three North Woods runners led the way for the Panthers on Saturday.
Eighth grader Zoey Burckhardt emerged as a team leader after senior Evelyn Brodeen went down early in the season with an injury, and Burckhardt was the fastest Panther around the course on Saturday, finishing 54th with a time of 20:26.1.
That Brodeen made a return to the state meet after last year’s 16th-place finish was remarkable, given her six-week layoff from running due to her leg injury. In a gutsy performance, Brodeen turned in the second-best time for South Ridge, clocking in at 19:30.3 and 84th place.
“Evelyn stepped up and really ran well considering how little she has trained over the last couple of weeks,” Polson said.
Junior Addison Burckhardt ran shoulder-to-shoulder with Brodeen for much of the race and finished 87th with a time of 21:10.4.
The North Woods trio were the top finishers for the South Ridge team, which placed 13th. Thanks to their sectional win, the girls will get one more run this coming Sunday at the Nike Heartland Regional Championships in Sioux Falls, S.D., which features the best teams from a seven-state region.
Ely returned two veterans to state competition this year, and both improved on last year’s performances.
It’s hard to look at the youthful Molly Brophy and think “veteran,” but the freshman phenom cracked the state field last year as an eighth-grader and returned this year as the Section 7A champion. She was hampered by a side ache that dogged her most of the race, Ely Head Coach Jayne Dusich said, but still managed to improve on last year’s performance. Her time of 20.17.15, about a minute slower than sectionals, was good enough for 46th place, eight spots better and four seconds faster than in 2022. Had she been able to reproduce her sectional performance of 19:12, Brophy would have finished in the top ten.
Junior Caid Chittum was intent on improving from his 100th-place finish in 2022, and he made a huge leap up the leaderboard on Saturday, coming in 60th with a time of 17:16.5.
“The first mile was crowded and got narrow in some places,” said Dusich. “Caid ran well -- 17:16 is close to his best time and faster than last year’s time of 17:49, moving up 40 places, so it was a good ending to this season.”