CLOQUET — Duluth Marshall cross country runner Keegan McAuliffe woke up Sunday night to the sound of pouring rain outside her window and thought, “great.”
“OK then, this wasn’t supposed to happen, but OK,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe mentally prepared for a mudfest the next day, but instead, just like the season itself, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
McAuliffe, a junior, covered 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 41.2 seconds, to finish a career-high second at the Section 7A girls cross country championships Monday at Cloquet Country Club. Pequot Lakes freshman Calia Chaney defended her section title in 18:48.6, helping the Patriots edge Proctor to repeat as team champions, while Mesabi East senior Lydia Skelton was third in 19:53.2.
“I was expecting it to be muddy, and it really wasn’t,” McAuliffe said. “It unexpectedly cleared up well. I saw like one puddle the entire time. Other than that, it was great.”
Chaney and McAuliffe are similar runners, both standing around five feet tall and running with machine-like efficiency.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the section meet was held in six alternating groups of four teams apiece.
Chaney ran in the opening group at 10:25 a.m. while McAuliffe ran at 2:25 p.m.
“It was weird knowing Calia was running this same course on the same day, and I had to kind of pretend like we were racing at the same time, which doesn’t work so well,” said McAuliffe, who was fourth at sections last year. “It’s pretty challenging. It’s hard mentally to pretend there is somebody right there. It’s hard to do. It’s kind of a mental game, and it’s hard to maintain, especially in the midst of a race. I wish I would have gotten to race her.”
In the coronavirus era, though, this was par for the course. With no state meets or tournaments for Minnesota this fall, sections are as good as it’s going to get.
Chaney ran when it was a bit overcast and cooler, the course much wetter.
“I definitely stepped through quite a few puddles,” Chaney said.
McAuliffe ran when the course was drier after afternoon sun and a high of about 60 degrees. However, McAuliffe had to deal with a little stronger wind as afternoon gusts were upwards of 30 mph.
“So the wetness was fine, but the wind, kind of brutal, especially on a couple of the straightaways,” McAuliffe said.
The section meet is notorious for inclement weather, snow flurries, drizzle and the like, so ultimately, nobody was complaining about this day. The meet was held 12 days earlier than last year, and the crowd of onlookers was reduced to 60 spectators per team, so it lacked the festive atmosphere of a normal section final.
Chaney and McAuliffe finished eighth and 16th, respectively, at last year’s state cross country meet in Northfield, Minnesota.
Chaney’s time Monday was a season-best and she finished the season 8-0. She was hoping for a top five or even top three at the state meet, and she and her Patriots teammates, including older sister Carly, were looking to improve on last year’s eighth-place team finish.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Chaney said. “I’m very disappointed, for sure, because I know our team could have done very well. Not being pushed all season has definitely been a lot harder for me. Usually, I have a few races where I’m trying to catch up to some girls, but with only three teams at a meet, it was kind of hard.”
Interestingly, Chaney downhill skies, while most cross country runners, like McAuliffe, tend to gravitate toward Nordic skiing.
McAuliffe just missed qualifying for the state meet in Nordic last winter and is hoping to have another shot this winter.
“I’m crossing my fingers that it happens,” she said.
Hopefully, she will be pleasantly surprised, just like Monday, a rather fitting microcosm to end the season.
“I’ve enjoyed the fact we had a season,” McAuliffe said. “For a long time, there wasn’t even the possibility of that going through my head, after everything was shut down in the spring, so this was an awesome surprise. It was amazing we even got to run.”
Section 7A Girls Championships
At Cloquet Country Club
1. Pequot Lakes, 101; 2. Proctor, 105; 3. Virginia, 116; 4. North Shore, 118; 5. South Ridge, 129; 6. Mesabi East, 140; 7. International Falls, 172; 8. Carlton-Wrenshall, 223; 9. Ely, 244; 10. Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, 269; 11. Crosby-Ironton, 271; 12.\u0009Moose Lake-Willow River/Barnum, 284; 13. East Central, 311; 14. Duluth Marshall, 311; 15. Esko, 320; 16. Hill City, 515.
(Top Two Teams and Next Eight)
1. Calia Chaney, PL, 18 minutes, 48.6 seconds; 2. Keegan\u0009McAuliffe, DM, 19:41.2; 3. Lydia\u0009Skelton, ME, 19:53.2; 4. Rian\u0009Zutter, PL, 20:01.8; 5. Aubrey\u0009Skelton, ME, 20:23.1; 6. Carly\u0009Chaney, PL, 20:28.7; 7. Zoe Devine, Ely, 20:29.2; 8. Lizzy\u0009Harnell, Pr., 20:35.2; 9. Addison Burckhardt, SR, 20:35.7; 10. Ryan Ford, IF, 20:55.4; 11. Alex Wercinski, V, 20:57.6; 12. Cedar Gordon, NS, 21:00.4; 13. Morgan Binsield, Pr., 21:03.5; 24. Della Bettendorf, Pr., 21:50.5; 28. Paisley\u0009 Kleiman, Pr., 22:01.6; 32. Courtney\u0009Werner, Pr., 22:08.7; 33. Paige Evans, Pr., 22:09.5; 43. Isabel Larson, PL, 22:35.8; 48. Emma Flaws, PL, 22:45.8; 63. Katrina\u0009Wozniak, Pr., 23:26.2; 64. Lilix Gustafson, PL, 23:27.6; 67. Elisa Flaws, PL, 23:33.7.