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Esko’s Kiminski runs with new mindset

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sports Cloquet, 55720
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

Kailee Kiminski was always effective while playing two fall sports, so it’s scary to think what the Esko senior standout can achieve when she focuses her time and energy on just one.

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One race into her cross country season, and it’s evident.

Shaving a minute off of her winning time from a year ago, Kiminski again claimed the 3,340-meter girls division title at last Thursday’s Chub Lake exhibition meet in Carlton, but did so in perhaps her fittest condition ever, after deciding to not play soccer this fall.

Kiminski, a 5-foot-4 endurance queen, balanced both sports for five years until the former midfielder chose to forgo the pitch for the trails. Admitting that running is her favorite sport, Kiminski said her decision, made last spring, wasn’t difficult to make.

“I have some pretty high goals,” said Kiminski, who placed a career-best eighth individually at last year’s Class A state cross country meet, a meet she’s qualified for each year since eighth grade. “And I thought that the only way to meet them was to give up soccer and focus on my running.”

That she has. Along with daily and weekly workouts and training, Kiminski attended a running camp this summer, while earlier this month, she ran with a group of local friends on their sixth-place finishing team in the 200-plus-mile Ragnar Relay. The team took first place among high school teams and sixth overall (see story in last week’s Pine Journal).

Second-year Esko Coach Jerimy Hallsten — returning 45 overall runners — is impressed with Kiminski.

“I would say she’s in the best running shape of her life,” Hallsten said. “She really wants to see what she can do. She has a goal of getting better and it’s already evident in her first race.”

That race was again a dandy. Organized by Hallsten and 16th-year Cloquet Coach Mike Bushey, eight teams — Carlton, Cloquet, Cromwell-Wright, Esko, Duluth Marshall, Hermantown, Moose Lake-Willow River and Proctor — competed in several shorter-than-normal races during last week’s exhibition meet.

While Kiminski was first for the girls, Cloquet sophomore Isaac Boedigheimer won the boys 4,870-meter race on a misty day.

“It’s nice to get into race mode without that pressure,” said Bushey of the perfectly simple event which has lasted for years as the area teams’ season opener. “It’s like a scrimmage.”

Scrimmage or not, Bushey’s 60-runner crew can win a lot this fall. Qualifying for the Class AA state boys meet last year for the first time since 2002, the team returns veteran runners Boedigheimer, Conner Denman, John Waltjer and Rand Bieri.

“Being down [at State] was one of the best experiences of my life,” Boedigheimer said. “Hopefully we’ll get there again.”

Cloquet’s Anja Maijala was also a state qualifier last season and Ragnar Relay captain; she finished second to Kiminski last week. She said her friend’s choice to focus on her running will be a benefit.

“I think it will help a lot,” Maijala said. “She’s a spirited girl. I think she’ll be up there in just about every race.”

 Other runners to watch

Racing for what seems like an eternity again will be South Ridge junior Gracelynn Otis.

The speedster has qualified for state several times — including last season when leading the Panthers to their first-ever team appearance in school history — and again can’t be overseen.

ML-WR-Barnum returns junior Nicole Tekippe, a state participant last year, who if fully healthy, can mark as low of times as any.

Along with Kiminski in Esko, Coach Hallsten noted Carle Helberg and Danelle Helberg — freshmen twins — are ones to watch, while senior Trenton Menor, a state qualifying returnee, is back to pace the boys.

In Carlton, sophomore Erika Fox relaces her shoes for another season. The prior fall State runner also ran along with Kiminski, Maijala and Boedigheimer in the Ragnar Relay.

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