Esko girls team earns state’s top prizeMarisa Shady, the seasoned senior, and Kiminski, a speedy sophomore, helped steer the Eskomos to the Class A girls team title at the Minnesota state high school cross country championships Saturday morning on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
NORTHFIELD, Minn. – On the starting line just moments before the biggest cross country race of their fall season, Esko’s Marisa Shady and Kailee Kiminski hugged each other. It was only one of many, for the eventual state champions.
Shady, the seasoned senior, and Kiminski, a speedy sophomore, helped steer the Eskomos to the Class A girls team title at the Minnesota state high school cross country championships Saturday morning on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
The emotional victory marked the first of its kind since the Esko girls won the 1980 state championship. Longtime Coach Jerry Zimny was a part of both winning seasons and Saturday marked his final race.
Zimny, 62, a retired teacher, has been with the program since first assisting Ted Wallace in 1978, while now-assistant Tim Lindquist has been involved since 1995. Both retired Saturday afternoon on top.
“Knowing this was their last year was in my mind when I was running,” said Kiminski afterward. “I think it was our best race ever as a team. We knew this was it together, so we put it all on the course.”
St. Olaf is a familiar course for the Eskomos ¬– some of the senior runners have been to state for their entire six-year careers.
“It’s kind of an old friend to me and now we’re parting ways,” said Shady, who won the 2010 Class A individual title as a sophomore and has qualified for state every season since beginning her career in seventh grade. “I’ve had the opportunity to experience things most people can only dream of. I’m all done now. But I’ll remember it forever.”
Shady led Esko one last time as the 5-foot-6 runner finished the 4,000-meter course in 14 minutes, 44.8 seconds in fifth place. Kiminski followed in 15th with her time of 15:12.9 on the 40-degree, calm, pale day – perfect weather for cross country running.
Kallyn Knutson (60th), Erika Shady (84th), Karli Kulas (93rd), Molly Meysembourg (131st) and Mackenzie Carlson (149th) all contributed to Esko’s state-title-winning 115 points. Annandale followed at 150, one point ahead of Minnehaha Academy in third. The Esko girls team took eighth in 2009, fifth in 2010 and third last season.
The Esko boys claimed sixth with 201 points. Perham won with 37. Esko’s Ben Mattinen, Joey Johnson and Ben Hanson all finished in the top 65.
“I was so impressed with both teams, everybody did a great job,” Zimny said. “The seventh-place runner for the boys even set a [personal record], and with the girls, it was like ‘Wow, look at this one.’”
Hanson, a senior, said watching the girls win it all was neat, elaborating that the program’s success starts with Zimny and Lindquist.
“That was pretty cool to see all of [the girls’] hard work pay off,” Hanson said. “But if we didn’t have our coaches I don’t think we would be as good as runners as we are today. I’ll remember them for the rest of my running career; I’ll remember them for the rest of my life.”
Proctor’s Matt Welch may be remembered over time, as the top-ranked senior won the Class A boys individual crown in 15:34. The Division I talent waited back early, went through two miles in 9:52 and found himself alone with No. 2-ranked Charlie Lawrence of Foley at the end of the race.
Welch became the first Proctor native to win a state championship since Garry Bjorklund won the single-class crown in 1968. Welch won all nine of the events he ran in this season.
Shady, the former state champion, said she was watching her male teammates and good friend Welch when he approached the crowded finish line 12 seconds before Lawrence did.
“I teared up a little bit,” she said. “I know what it feels like to be there as the state champ; I still can’t believe it to this day. Matt and I are really good friends. I cheered for him. He’s a heck of an athlete.”
The Blake School’s Clare Flanagan won Class A girls again in 14:04.1, shaving 17 seconds off her 2011 championship time.
Other local finishers included: Gracelynn Otis of South Ridge (51st); Nicole Tekippe from Moose Lake-Willow River (61st) and Nick Koenig of Cromwell-Wright (105th) in Class A girls and boys. Cloquet’s Dylan Marvel placed 37th in Class AA boys as the area’s only participant.
Esko senior Molly Meysembourg competed in her final race as well.
“It’s been quite a run,” said Meysembourg after her sixth state trip. “I’ll run for fun, for sure [next year]. I don’t think I could ever just stop running. I’m so glad I always had the same coaches all six years.”
“It was more than just another year; it was their last,” Knutson added of Zimny and Lindquist following her final race for Esko. “It’ll be sad with Z and Lynx being done. We appreciated them so much. It was our goal to win it. I’m going to miss it. But I think we all ran our best.”
Then she gave out a hug.