PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Marshall boys, girls sweep SWC

The Marshall girls and boys cross country teams put together strong performances, capturing both Southwest Conference championship titles Wednesday in Worthington.

The dual victory is the 12th time since 1976 that Marshall earned double championship honors.

The Tiger girls won the championship with 26 points, led by Claire Boersma’s second-place finish (15 minutes, 13 seconds). Five more Marshall runners also finished in the top 10. Jackie Turner and Nichole Sample crossed the finish-line together, taking fourth (15:25) and fifth (15:25.7), respectively, while Morgan Radel was sixth (15:35), Sydney Mauch ninth (15:56) and Courtney Mauch 10th (16:05). Marah Hart added a 17th-place finish (16:27) for the Tigers.

“We had a very strong showing from all our runners,” Marshall head girls coach Marie Sample said. “They did a great job. We’re pretty excited about going into sections. We want to get to state, so the girls are pretty fired up. This was a good way to end the season.”

Since they finished in the top seven, Boersma, Turner, (Nichole) Sample and Radel earned all-conference honors, while Sydney and Courtney Mauch were all-conference honorable mention.

“The kids really ripped up the course,” Marie Sample said. “Their average time was 15:31. It was pretty sweet.”

While the weather was pleasant for the runners, the course was unfamiliar to the young Tiger athletes. With a rotating schedule for the conference meet, it had been seven years since Marshall ran the Worthington course, Sample said. But she was pleased with the way the team responded.

“We’ve been pretty deep all season, with about 12-14 girls,” Sample said. “That’s really good. It makes everyone work hard when spots aren’t just given to someone. They have to earn it every day. It makes everyone better.”

With every day plotted out accordingly all season, Sample faced a dilemma Tuesday, after learning that the SWC meet was postponed until the following day.

“Honestly, I was bummed we didn’t get to run in the mud (Tuesday),” she said. “We were totally ready, but we also feel like we have bigger fish to fry with the section meet coming up. I didn’t want to save tapering till next week. So instead of running the race (Tuesday), we ran a hard workout in the rain. Normally, we would rest before a meet. But we couldn’t give them three days down. The neat thing is that they came back and ran hard (Wednesday). It was great.”

The accomplishment marks the 16th all-conference title for Marshall girls cross country. Though savoring the win, Sample said the girls are already thinking ahead to the section meet next Thursday in Buffalo. Class AA No.6-ranked Chanhassen is the Tigers’ toughest section opponent, though there are other solid teams battling for the top two state-advancing slots, Sample said.

“It’s going to be a dogfight to get to state,” she said. “But our goal is to A, get to state and B, see if we can get that section championship. This is a very young team and they’re going to be around for awhile.”

The Tiger boys won their 21st conference title since 1976, including the fourth straight.

“It was kind of an exciting day,” coach Brian Leibfried said. “It’s the 12th time we were double champions and the second meet in a row that the girls and the boys have won with identical scores.”

Andrew Bell took second-place with a 16:44.50 finish in the 5K race behind Redwood Valley’s Ryan Phillips (16:40.60). Blaine Moran was third (16:57.10) for the Tigers, while Michael Larson was fifth (17:19.90) and Wade DeAustin seventh (17:33.90). All four earned all-conference honors.

“Andrew led most of the race until the last 100 meters,” Leibfried said. “We talked before the race about sneaking four in the top seven and they did it. All the guys had a great race.”

Leibfried also talked about trying to get additional runners in the eighth- to 14th-place, which would receive honorable mention. With a ninth-place finish (17:48.20), Chase VanKeulen accomplished that, as did John Botsford, who was 13th (18:02.10).

“The course was a tad bit long, so when we figured that in, almost all the boys had a season-best time,” Leibfried said. “It’s exactly what we’re trying to look for, to keep closing the gap on Andrew.”

Hutchinson appears to be the team to beat at sections, Leibfried said.

“After that, there’s a handful of us who will battle,” he said. “The closer we can get to each other, the lower score we’re going to get.”