Esko's Hallsten leads defending state champs
Standing 6-foot-6, Jerimy Hallsten is not your prototypical runner.
But tired of aching knees from playing basketball over the years, the Esko graduate says he picked up running as a hobby seven years ago. His wife, Dawn, was a half-marathon runner and soon the former personal trainer joined her in races.
"I started walking and running, and the next thing you know I was running all different distances," he said. "I just caught the running bug."
Hallsten runs competitively anywhere between 5 and 50 kilometers, but this fall he will be preoccupied with shorter distances run by his Esko High School cross country athletes. The 1993 Esko graduate takes over the boys and girls teams this fall at his alma mater.
The bar is set high at Esko, which won the Minnesota Class A girls state title last year and finished a respectable sixth in the boys meet. Longtime coaches Jerry Zimny and Tim Lindquist then stepped down.
Despite not having any prior cross country coaching experience, Hallsten was interested in the job. His assistant is first-year coach Brent Smith, who was Hallsten's sixth-grade teacher and with whom he has often run in the mornings the past five years.
The girls' side is very young, with seniors Erika Shady and Hannah Erickson and junior Kailee Kiminski the only upperclassmen. Kiminski was 15th at the 2012 state meet. Marisa Shady, the 2010 state champion who placed third in 2011 and fifth a year ago, was among those who graduated and is now running at South Dakota State.
"We lost quite a few from that team, but we have quite a few younger runners who could fill the shoes of those who left," Hallsten said.
Two of those youngsters, freshman Selena and seventh-grader Savanna, are sisters of Erika and Marisa Shady.
Erika says she is in the role now in which her older sister used to thrive.
"It's definitely going to be different this year; (Marisa's) been on the team every year since I was in seventh grade," she said. "She would help me along and keep pushing me, but now I have to be the one to keep pushing my sisters and everybody else on the team to do better."
That means plenty of early morning practices.
Kiminski, who like the Shadys plays soccer as well as runs, typically wakes up at 5 a.m., runs with the team at 6, goes to school, attends soccer practice or games afterward and then does homework before turning in early.
"The younger girls watch what the older girls do," said Kiminski, who was second to Marisa Shady at least season's Section 7A meet. "I learned a lot from them when I was younger, to work hard and be positive. The younger girls catch on to that."
Though barely high school age, some of those runners could play a vital role.
"That's the beauty of cross country as I see it -- you never know who is going to pop up as your next top runner," Hallsten said. "Being so young and new to running, they can progress very quickly."
On the boys side, senior Matt Rengo and sophomore Trenton Menor return from last year's state qualifiers and the trio of Panstar brothers -- Derek, Travis and Ryan -- could help fill the void left by graduations. Ben Mattinen, whose top-50 state finish helped the Eskomos to their surprising team result, transferred to Carlton.
Other top section contenders:
The girls lost Megan West (third in section meet and now running at South Dakota State) but return freshman Abbey Whiting from a 41st-place finish at the Class A state meet, senior Aimee Allen, junior Britta Erie and sophomore Emma Erie. The Giants were fourth at sections.
Grand Rapids should be strong
The Grand Rapids girls and boys teams appear to be tough again in Section 7AA. The Thunderhawks placed third in the 2012 girls meet behind Forest Lake and Elk River, and the boys were fourth behind Elk River, Chisago Lakes and Forest Lake.
Senior Erin Baker qualified for her fifth state meet last fall (highest finish among Northland competitors) and sophomore teammate JayLynn Lauer joined her. Senior Megan Allen and sophomore Maddi Peart also return.
On the boys side, seniors Jake Avenson (2012 state qualifier), Jared Franzone and Jason Bibeau hope to make up for the loss of graduated Colin Cottingham (fifth in section meet).