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Mega results for 'Jacks at Mega Meet

With an enrollment of 594 students, Cloquet is one of the smallest Class AA cross-country schools in Minnesota.

The Lumberjacks sure don't run like it, though.

Competing among hundreds of schools statewide and thousands of runners Saturday, Sept. 22, the Cloquet boys placed third in the 47th annual Milaca Mega Meet — one of the largest cross-country meets in the country.

"There's 6,600 kids out there," said Mike Bushey, now in his 31st season coaching the sport and his 19th year with Cloquet.

The race's participants alone nearly triple the size of the central Minnesota town along Minnesota Highway 23. Milaca's population is only about 2,890.

"When you pull in, there are two lines of buses for over half a mile," said Cloquet senior Blaine Bong, who placed seventh overall out of 167 runners in his class. "Milaca is, at some points, like Time Square — just so many people."

Those people got to watch Bong cover the 5,000-meter course in 16 minutes, 49.4 seconds to lead a well-balanced Lumberjacks boys squad, followed by juniors Jordan Allen (16:51.2) and Jesse Bahen (17:03.9) in ninth and 16th places, respectively.

Cloquet's Aidan Ripp, meanwhile, clocked a 17:17.6 to place 23rd overall, as the senior standout still gains his legs after again competing in Nordic-combined skiing in Europe prior to the cross-country season starting in mid-August.

Scoring the top-five runners, the Lumberjacks' score of 134 trailed only runner-up Sartell (94) and Grand Forks (N.D.) Red River (76) — the champions of the 23-team class.

The Cloquet girls finished 15th out of 20 in their division, led by sophomore Lauren Cawcutt (21:19.9) in 45th overall.

Bushey has 109 boys and girls running for him and his assistant coach — and wife — Jody Zeleznikar. Bushey said it's the most he's seen in his tenure.

"If everyone shows up all on the same day, we fill up exactly two buses," said Bushey, always so positive and encouraging to all of his runners, along Jody, also known as "Z."

"We'll be a practice and people will stop and ask if we are having an event that day. It's a great problem to have," he said.

"Running for Bushey and Z is like running with family," Bong said. "You all cheer each other on and grow off it."

Just like the boys will look to continue to grow on its past success of qualifying for state, like in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

As well as still being the small squad in a big field.

"That's part of the badge of honor around here — being the small school competing with the big ones," Bushey said.