Cross country preview: No. 3 in state last year, Esko aims higherNo. 3 in state last year, Esko aims higher for 2012. Cloquet's team is also shaping up well for the season.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Carrying her gear to the team school bus last week, Erika Shady reflected on the last time she ran a high school cross country race.
“My knees were numb,” said the Esko junior, who placed 64th at last November’s state meet at St. Olaf College, 35 spots behind her 2010 finish. “It was hard for me to take. I felt much better today.”
The 16-year-old speedster placed fourth at last Thursday’s Chub Lake Invitational, while her older sister, Marisa, a senior, won. Both sisters will again guide the Eskomos this season along with senior Kallyn Knutson and sophomore Kailee Kiminski. All four have state experience.
All four also play two sports in the fall. Marisa Shady is a forward on the girls soccer team and both Erika Shady and Kiminski are defenders, and Knutson serves as a libero on the volleyball team. The girls run cross country at sunrise, go to school, then it’s more sports after the final bell rings.
“It’s just what we do,” said Marisa, explaining she wakes up around 5 a.m. once school begins. “Once school starts, I’m on an hour-to-hour schedule. We actually have a soccer game tonight. We love doing it and are grateful that we have the time and support in order to do both.”
However, with more sports comes more wear-and-tear. Currently, Marisa is overcoming a right hip injury, while Erika is still battling knee soreness. Kiminski has a sprained ankle and missed last week’s race, while Knutson was also absent because of volleyball, digging balls in the back row.
With 12-hour days beginning soon, Marisa Shady said their cross country team’s physical stability will be vital in defending their section title and improving on their Class A third-place finish at state last year.
“Getting third kind of stung because we knew first could have been ours,” Marisa said. “There are some good runners out there and we know it’s going to take a lot of work, but we have that same goal again. We’re all about being a team unit. And we’re all going to have to stay healthy.”
Longtime Esko Coach Jerry Zimny agreed. An assistant coach on Esko’s 1979 state runner-up and 1980 state championship teams, Zimny said this will be his last year coaching. He expects more of the same from his high-octane squad.
“If we can keep them healthy and everyone performs, they’ll be very tough,” said Zimny, 62. “It’s so early to say, but both the boys and girls, especially, work so hard. They start at 6 a.m. They’ve done it for years.”
“They’re talented,” Cloquet Coach Mike Bushey said of the Eskomos, following the team’s impressive boys and girls team performances last week at Chub Lake. “They get up at 6 and run. They’re just tough.”
Bushey coached with Zimny for a few years in the mid-1990s when the programs were combined, but he’s headed the Lumberjacks since the split. He and Zimny are neighbors and have been organizers at Chub Lake for years, arranging things as more of an exhibition than a meet.
Setting up things from the race cones to the finish line, Bushey and Zimny have established quite an opening-year meet for many local programs. Last week, 10 schools attended. Three races were held, including a junior high, junior varsity and varsity race for both boys and girls. Carlton, Cromwell-Wright, Moose Lake-Willow River-Barnum and Wrenshall were among area teams in the field along with Cloquet and Esko.
“It’s a good chance for the young kids to get their feet wet and the older ones to set a benchmark,” Bushey said. “It’s pretty simple. We just set up and go. The kids know what to expect. The course is the same.”
That course is near perfect for the event, with a mix of hills and straightaways. Lapping around all three ball diamonds, looping down by the lake, around the playground and finally down the from the concession stand to the finish line, the girls race is unofficially marked around 3,500 meters and the boys 4,800. Short of regulation, the race is still valuable.
“We treat it like a very low-key, learn-how-a-meet-works type of thing,” Zimny said. “It helps a lot of kids with their first time. It’s a nice place here, too. We’ve been here for I’d say 20 years, I don’t know.”
The Shadys not only placed well, but seniors Joey Johnson, Ben Hanson and junior Matt Rengo went 1-2-3 for the Esko boys last week. All three, along with freshman Ben Mattinen will be contributors Zimny said. Senior McKenzie Carlson also placed sixth at Chub Lake.
Seniors Aaron Peterson and Luke Heine and junior Dylan Marvel all finished in the top 10 for the Cloquet boys. All three will look to support the team, along with state experienced senior Erik Swanson. Bushey said sophomore girls Kaylee McMillen and Shannon Genereau are also solid.
Both Cloquet and Esko will enter marquee events at Superior’s Nemadji Invite, Milaca’s Mega Meet and Duluth’s historic Swain Invitational.
“Esko has a good team, but we’re pretty stacked, too,” said the 6-foot-5 Peterson, who claimed fourth last week behind Rengo. “It all depends on how we do. This is our year, our chance. We can do it.”
Peterson’s high aspirations have come from hard work in the summertime. Noting he put aside his hockey career, Peterson said he spent more of his hours running, totaling 250 miles over three months.
“My legs finally quit growing,” he said with a laugh. “I’m feeling the 5K again and feeling real good. Health is always important.”
“My legs aren’t the greatest, but I did OK,” Erika Shady added as she loaded the team school bus last week. “Now it’s time to go home, eat, take a nap, eat, go to soccer, and start it all over again tomorrow.”