At 6-foot-3, Jace Anderson is one of the taller cross country runners around, but perhaps the only thing bigger than the Cloquet senior is the stage he'll be on this weekend.
Last Thursday, Anderson helped the Lumberjacks to a Section 7AA championship at the Cloquet Country Club, advancing the boys team to the big show -- the Class AA state cross country meet Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. The girls will run at 10 a.m. and the boys at 11 a.m.
Anderson, a varsity runner since his sophomore season, is making his first -- and last -- state appearance, and couldn't be happier taking the trip with his six teammates.
"We've worked all year for this moment!" Anderson said.
Cloquet -- in the bottom-five smallest Class AA schools in the state -- surely worked the section field last week, as senior Dylan Marvel, freshman Isaac Boedigheimer and Anderson finished 2-4-6 to secure the Lumberjacks' landslide win (and will also compete individually). Conner Denman, 23rd, and John Waltjer, 26th, also added to Cloquet's 61 points, tailed by Chisago Lakes with 86.
"To win by 25 points, I thought it'd be a lot closer," admitted Lumberjacks Coach Mike Bushey. "Our kids ran like veterans -- as well as they can run on any given day."
On a partly-cloudy day in the low 40s, Marvel marked a 5K time of 16 minutes, 20.1 seconds, followed by Boedigheimer in 16:29 and Anderson at 16:40.9, as Bushey explained it was their fifth -- and biggest -- win of this season.
Nick Tomhave, 83rd, and Rand Bieri, 91st, also closed out the Cloquet's seven-member team scoring entries.
The last time Cloquet made it to State in repeat occurrences was in 2001 and 2002, and before that, in 1985 and 1986, they won state back-to-back titles as the Cloquet-Esko cooperative program. Bushey also noted Cloquet hadn't won a section crown since 1975.
"I was crossing my fingers," said Cloquet freshman Anja Maijala, who finished eighth in the girls 4K race at 15:04.8 en route to her first state qualification, individually. "I was hopping up and down for them. I was pretty pumped."
"It was just an awesome day -- an indescribable, remarkable feeling," added Boedigheimer. "We have pushed each other all throughout season. Now at State, we'll be pushing each other harder than we ever have pushed before."
"[The state meet] is a positive experience," said Bushey. "If they run up to their potential again, we could surprise some people."
Anderson, meanwhile, will be soaking in the career high.
"This was my last year, it couldn't end any better," he said. "It's exactly how I would want to end cross country."