Eskomos excel at NemadjiEsko was the top local finisher at last week's Nemadji meet in Superior.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Jerry Zimny has been coaching sports so long in Esko, the 62-year-old cross country coach can’t even pinpoint when his career began.
Yet, as the legendary coach rolls through his final fall season directing his Esko runners, his voice is far from strained.
“You never have to tell them twice or anything like that,” Zimny said. “They’ve been at this before. They know the drills, they do the workouts and put in the hours. They know what to do and they do it.”
Perhaps that uncanny willingness to work and improve will be what Zimny misses most about the sport. Earlier this fall, Zimny, who was an assistant coach on Esko’s 1979 state runner-up and 1980 state championship teams, said this will be his final season coaching.
Great years have followed Zimny over time, including a collection of section championships, recent trips to the state meet and watching Esko superstar Marisa Shady win the 2010 Class A state title.
Shady, now a senior, kicked off this season winning the Chub Lake Invitational put on by Zimny and Cloquet Coach Mike Bushey. Last Thursday, she topped the Superior Invitational by finishing the 4,000-meter race in 15 minutes, 19.2 seconds at Nemadji Golf Course.
“I felt good,” said Shady, ranked third in the Class A state polls individually. “I started back, then picked up the pace and remember looking behind on the corners and everyone falling farther behind me.”
Shady, who also won the 2010 and 2011 Nemadji titles, carried the Esko girls to a runner-up team finish last week, finishing only behind the host Spartans.
Kailee Kiminski (12th), Kallyn Knutson (17th), Karli Kulas (22nd), Mackenzie Carlson (26th) and Erika Shady (29th) all placed in the top 30; however it wasn’t enough for the No. 2 state-ranked Eskomos to win a meet that includes just one class for all runners and teams participating.
“Some girls were disappointed, but the competition there was tough; there were some big schools,” Shady said. “Running is a hard sport; it’s not easy. Not every race goes as you want it to. But realizing our goal ahead, we’d rather have it now than later.”
Although Shady said she’s feeling strong, both she and Zimny explained the girls are battling aches and pains and aren’t fully healthy.
The Esko boys, meanwhile, are running well, winning at Nemadji.
“For the girls, it’s all about being healthy at the right time and for those guys, I’m very pleased with how they worked,” Zimny said of his ninth state-ranked boys team. “We had just a pack of them all come in.”
That pack included Joey Johnson (8th), Ben Hanson (9th), Ben Mattinen (11th) and Matt Rengo (13th), as the high-speed quartet finished the 5,000-meter event all within the top 15 and well under 18 minutes.
Other top area finishers included: Cloquet’s Dylan Marvel (15th), Aaron Peterson (23rd) and Cromwell-Wright’s Nick Koenig (16th) for the boys. Other top finishers for the girls included South Ridge’s Gracelynn Otis (4th), Emma Blom (18th), Cloquet’s Anja Maijala (13th) and Carlton’s Erika Fox (28th).
“The kids looked to the meet as a challenge,” Zimny said. “It’s a good measuring stick when you can face teams like [Duluth] East, Superior and Northwestern all in one class. It’s still early, but we look forward to it.”
“They are just super solid,” added 13th-year Cloquet Coach Mike Bushey of both the Esko programs. “You can tell they ran in the summer. They stayed fit, came in fit and put their time in.”
All without straining Zimny’s voice.