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Carlton, Wrenshall co-op proves successful

There was a time some years back when the Carlton and Wrenshall cross-country teams ran as one. And they were great.

"I heard that from some longtimers that Carlton and Wrenshall were the team to beat," Erik Holter said. "That gave me chills. We were together once and now are together again."

Holter and Dalyce Gustafson are co-coaches of the reunited team, which is the only cooperative team shared between the two schools in 2018. The result has been an unqualified success.

"Actually, I'm surprised it (the cooperative) didn't happen last year," Holter said. "We would ride-share with Carlton to meets when we couldn't get a bus and the kids got along great."

Holter, who had coached Wrenshall for the previous three seasons, saw the numbers in his program rise from seven at Wrenshall to 25 in the combined team, including 10 runners in grades 7-9.

"Wrenshall couldn't even post a team score in boys or girls because we didn't have five runners," Holter said. "Now we can do that in both boys and girls."

And given the rivalry between the towns, the merged program may serve as a representation of what unity looks like on the athletic front.

"I think this is a perfect representation of what could be," Holter said, "and what I personally feel it should be. These kids can get together perfectly. I do worry about losing the rivalry between Carlton and Wrenshall but there is nothing but positives about the programs coming together as a potentially dominant team."

That potential extends to the junior high level, where eight of the 10 runners Holter brought to a junior high meet at Hermantown medaled, including seventh-grader Jack Riley, who won the boys race.

Holter also has praise for Gustafson, his co-coach.

"She's great," he said. "She brings lots of expertise with the Carlton kids and she knows them like the back of her hand."

The merger has also created friendly internal competition on the team and that's healthy, too.

"They're part of the same team now," Holter said. "Instead of just running against another person, they are trying to run well against a teammate. That's healthy."

There is strength in numbers, according to Holter — and that is definitely something to consider.

"Look at the Central (School) closure in Duluth," he said. "There was a time when people worried Central would lose its identity and now you don't hear a thing about it."

"It's exciting for growth in the program," Holter added. "People see their classmates on a big team taking part in the sport and maybe they want to compete in it."

Holters says the spirit of unity has extended to the parents as well.

"We're guinea pigs in this whole consolidation thing, but the parents have been incredible, both from Carlton and Wrenshall," Holter said. "They've been in complete support and they come to the meets, which is great for a sport that traditionally doesn't get a lot of spectators."

Holter had special words for Wrenshall junior Kaden Olesen and Carlton senior Jayden Swanson, both of whom have assumed leadership roles.

"We don't have captains but Kaden and Jayden have stepped up, not because we put it on them as coaches, but because they want to succeed and they want to see their teammates succeed," Holter said. "It has been a completely different year for us in such a positive way."