CLOQUET — Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin cross country runner Geno Uhrbom went into last week’s Iron Range Conference Championships with what he called “a dumb racing plan.”

Uhrbom, the two-time defending Class A state champion, stuck on rival Cameron Stocke’s shoulder the entire race, only to have Stocke outkick him at the end, winning by about eight seconds.

Fast forward to Tuesday’s Section 7A boys cross country championships at Cloquet Country Club, and Uhrbom got back to business, the business of winning races.

Uhrbom, a senior, led from start to finish to win his fourth straight section title, covering five kilometers in 15 minutes, 58.7 seconds, while Stocke was second in 16:25.5 and Cromwell-Wright sophomore Noah Foster third in 16:59.2. Pequot Lakes had five runners finish in the top 23 to edge GNK 67-71 for the team title, with Virginia third with a score of 92.

“The IRC meet just didn’t work out for me,” Uhrbom said. “I just couldn’t get myself to kick very hard to catch up with him, and he’s speedy on the kick. But today I went out and said, ‘I’m going to do what I always did.’”

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And that’s being the rabbit, from start to finish.

“The IRC race just wasn’t a well-executed race on my part,” Uhrbom said. “I should have learned a lesson from past years about sticking on people’s shoulders, because people who stick on people’s shoulders usually don’t win.”

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the section meet was held in six alternating groups of four teams apiece, starting in the morning and going through the afternoon.

While results weren’t made official until later Tuesday, Tuesday’s opening group of runners, pitting Uhrbom against Stocke, a Virginia sophomore, was considered as close as we’ll come to a state meet this year as Minnesota won’t have any fall state tournaments due to COVID-19.

The groupings were based on seedings, and as luck would have it, everyone got the matchup they wanted to see.

“It would have been boring if it were any other way,” said Uhrbom, who is looking at going to college in Colorado.

While it wasn’t the fastest race for either Uhrbom or Stocke, conditions certainly didn’t help, with a 17 mph wind and strong gusts. The starting temperature was about 50 degrees for the morning session but climbed to near 60 in the afternoon, and with it, the wind became even stronger. While Monday was gusty for the Section 7A girls finals, the wind Tuesday felt even worse, steadier, more relentless and brutal, at least when you were going against it.

“Back there the wind was terrible,” Uhrbom said, looking off at the trees well beyond the clubhouse. “It felt like a 15 mph gust right in the face.”

Stocke, who beat Uhrbom twice this year, still said he felt like the underdog. The IRC race was his best of the year, and he would need something similar to do it again. He was asked when he knew Uhrbom would be tough to beat.

“Right from the start,” Stocke said. “I just didn’t have it today.”

Stocke ran with Uhrbom for about a quarter-mile before Uhrbom gradually pulled away, leading by about 15 meters when they made the clubhouse turn on the first lap. By the time they made that turn again, it was more like 100 meters. Then, it was on to the finish.

“My legs felt really heavy today,” Stocke said. “We all have bad days. Mine just happened to be today, which is unfortunate. It’s disappointing not to have a state meet. If you still qualify for the state meet at sections, you have another shot to redeem yourself. Not this year.”

While Uhrbom won’t get his chance to three-peat at the state meet, in Stocke’s eyes, that’s a three-time state champion to him.

The two aren’t just rivals. They’re fast friends, going out of their way to fist-bump and talk afterward as they cooled down along a tree row. Next year, with Uhrbom off to college, maybe it will be Stocke’s turn after finishing runner-up to Uhrbom at sections three straight years.

“That’d be cool,” Stocke said.

Led by Uhrbom, the past few years have been a golden era for Northland distance running, and Stocke said it will feel different next year. For Stocke, Uhrbom was his year-round motivation, because if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at right now without Geno,” Stocke said. “He’s the target you were chasing every year, and you knew you couldn’t let up.”

Section 7A Championships

At Cloquet Country Club

Boys

Teams

1. Pequot Lakes, 67; 2. Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, 71; 3. Virginia, 92; 4. Ely, 109; 5. North Shore, 170; 6. Proctor, 172; 7. Moose Lake-Willow River/Barnum, 178; 8. South Ridge, 259; 9. Esko, 298; 10. Cromwell-Wright, 321; 11. Eveleth-Gilbert, 337; 12. Mesabi East, 354; 13. Pine River-Backus, 365; 14. Carlton-Wrenshall, 384; 15. Mountain Iron-Buhl, 399; 16. International Falls, 404; 17. Deer River-Northland, 406; 18. McGregor, 440; 19. Lakeview Christian Academy, 481; 20. East Central, 498; 21. Crosby-Ironton, 499; 22. Chisolm, 597; 23. Duluth Marshall, 728.

Individuals

(Top Two Teams and Next Eight)

1. Geno Uhrbom, GNK, 15 minutes, 58.7 seconds; 2. Cameron Stocke, V, 16:25.5; 3. Noah Foster, CW, 16:59.2; 4. Ethan Johnson, PL, 17:02.9; 5. Jasper Johnston, Ely, 17:16.4; 6. Daniel Olson, GNK, 17:25.9; 7. Jesse Clausen, PL, 17:30.5; 8. Emmett Faltesek, Ely, 17:31.1; 9. John Werner, Pr., 17:31.3; 10. Joshua Knight, Pr., 17:33.8; 11. Maverick Koecher, MLWRB, 17:35.6; 12. Connor Thoennes, GNK, 17:48.4; 13. Jack Kendall, V, 17:49.2; 15. Dawsin Ackerman, PL, 17:54.5; 18. Collin Yahn, PL, 17:59.1; 20. Levi Danielson, GNK, 18:08.9; 23. Charlie Schiessl, PL, 18:24.4; 30. Isaak Geroy, PL, 18:33.4; 32. Weston Marx, GNK, 18:40.1; 35. Michael Butterfield, GNK, 18:44.4.