Cross Country: Panthers girls make history in victoryThe South Ridge Panthers were listed No. 1 at last Thursday’s Section 7A championships at the Cloquet Country Club, while Esko's Kailee Kiminski took first place.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Jeremy Polson doesn’t teach math at South Ridge High School, yet as a cross country coach, he’s good with numbers.
Polson’s Panthers were listed number one at last Thursday’s Section 7A championships at the Cloquet Country Club, as his girls ran to the title in a record-setting fashion.
With the win came a berth to Saturday’s Class A girls state cross country meet in Northfield, Minn., one Polson said was the first-ever state qualification in any girls sport in South Ridge or former AlBrook and Cotton schools’ history.
“One hundred thirty-five years,” said Polson, a social studies and computer teacher. “That’s the best math that I could come up with.”
Mathematically, the Panthers proved too tough last week, winning with 97 points, just ahead of International Falls’ 101, while longtime section juggernaut Esko ended in third at 121.
“We were hoping for second,” said South Ridge sophomore Gracelynn Otis, who took 13th at 16:12.3, “but when we found out that we were first, it was just unreal.”
Otis, who has now qualified for the state meet every year since beginning varsity in seventh grade, noted she’s glad to be back at Minnesota’s pinnacle race, with her team aside.
“I’m just so excited to share this experience with all of them,” she said. “I just want them to get to enjoy it — especially at the starting line, looking left and right, at all the runners.”
Esko’s Kailee Kiminski ran her way to the individual crown last week, in a season-best 15:20. The fourth-year state entrant was teary-eyed afterward, as her team was eliminated.
“It was difficult,” said Kiminski, who helped win the Class A state championship with her teammates a season ago.
She’s very selfless,” added Esko Coach Jerimy Hallsten, noting a van of teammates will be in full support Saturday.
Carlton freshman Erika Fox and Moose Lake sophomore Nicole Tekippe will both run Saturday as well. Fox finished second last week in 15:24.9 and Tekippe fifth at 15:42.5. Each ran to personal-best records for the pair of small school speedsters.
“I PR’ed by quite a bit,” said Fox, a first-year state entrant who will run at 1 p.m. Saturday, before the boys at 2 p.m.
“I have to continue pushing,” added Tekippe, a second-year state qualifier who has battled shin splits the past three weeks. “I’ll be trying my hardest for another personal best.”
On the boys side, Esko’s Trenton Menor Barnum’s Chase Peterson also qualified to run at the state meet.
The day, however, belonged to the girls of South Ridge.
“They have a 3.9 GPA,” Polson said of his seven runners, all who set season- or personal-bests last Thursday. “When you’re a teacher and a coach, it really doesn’t get any better.”