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Cross-country: Irish boys take 8th, girls 10th at state

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Senior Dani Follett-Dion led the Irish girls to a 10th-place finish at the state meet. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
Junior Luke Labatte took third for the Irish in the class AA boys' state cross country race. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
Labatte poses for pictures with his medal during the award ceremony. Alec Hamilton / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

The Rosemount Irish cross-country teams both notched solid finishes at the Class AA state cross-country meet last weekend at St. Olaf College. The boys finished eighth and were led by junior Luke Labatte, who took third. The girls' team placed 10th and had three runners finish in the top-100.

Boys finish 'on a high note'

Head coach Chris Harder said that Labatte's third-place finish is the highest individual placement for the Irish since 2007 when Jordan Carlson took second. Carlson went on to run cross country and Notre Dame. Labatte ran his race in 15 minutes, 40.8 seconds, just 18 seconds behind winner Khalid Hussein of Wayzata.

"Luke obviously had a solid race to finish third," Harder said. "He tried to stay in contact with the leaders. Once it became a two-person race, he focused on winning the battle with the large group racing for third. Luke was as low as ninth in the final 500 meters and still sixth at the last hill with about 100 meters to go. His strength, speed and willingness provided the final margin. To place third in a strong distance running state like Minnesota is quite an accomplishment. For all his running accolades, he is a better person than runner and we are fortunate to have him part of our program for another year."

Labatte was very happy with how he performed as it met the goal he had coming into the meet.

"I'm feeling really good, a third-place finish is kind of the biggest goal I had," he explained. "I was thinking more top-10 as a goal, especially for all-state since I missed it by two places last year, but I'm very happy with third place."

He also said he had to adjust his running strategy heading into the race and that it was dictated by the competition.

"I knew Acer and Khalid like to go out hard, so I knew it was going to be pretty fast," Labatte said. "I'm not one to do that, but I knew if I wanted to be toward the front I had to be there. So I kind of wanted to stay within two-to-five seconds from them at the mile and two-mile (markers) and then grind it out the last (mile). I had never went under five (minutes) for a first mile and I did 4:55-ish, so that was pretty surprising and I knew it would be more of a grind through the rest."

Behind Labatte, senior Mark Biechler took 75th with a time of 16:38.8; junior Daniel Cox finished 92nd in 16:48.3; fellow junior Payne Freske placed 106th (16:55.1) and freshman Elliott Nicholson took 120th with a time of 16:59.7. Pushers Spencer Schultz (senior) and Jack Labatte (junior) finished in 134th and 155th with times of 17:12.9 and 17:33.9 respectively.

"The boys ended the season on a high note with a great state meet," Harder explained. "We had a some adversity during the meet, but the boys rallied as a team to finish in the upper half of the field. We have two seniors that had great Irish careers in Spencer Schultz and Mark Biechler. Those two came through to lead us to South Suburban and section 3AA championships. We wouldn't be at state without the timely contributions of those two young men."

He also said that even with the graduation of Schultz and Biechler, the boys' team is still set-up to compete in the future.

"Similar to the girls, our future is bright with Luke Labatte leading the way of a strong junior class that includes state participants Danny Cox, Payne Freske and Jack Labatte. Freshman Elliot Nicholson broke 17 minutes for the first time at state with a gallant effort. In addition, sophomore Gerrit Livingston and freshman Pranav Vijay were part of our state meet team. Our junior varsity placed second in the section 4AA meet to Stillwater after winning the South Suburban Conference meet, and most of those guys are underclassmen."

Follett-Dion leads Irish girls' team

The girls' cross-country team is the opposite of the boys' with a mix of senior leadership and underclassmen.

The team was led by senior Dani Follett-Dion, who took 86th with a time of 19:46.3. Behind her were two freshmen, Avery Leppones (19:47.7) and Abigail McNeil (19:53.7), who finished in 89th and 98th respectively. Senior Sydney Regalado finished 114th in 20:08.0 and fellow senior Teresa Grunklee placed 123rd (20:14.8). Sophomore Kate Beckwith finished 142nd in 20:29.4 and freshman Lucy Jagoe took 150th with a time of 20:42.9.

Harder said that the senior leadership has really helped the underclassmen and that next year's team will also rely on runners from a very good junior varsity.

"The girls as a team had a great meet and experience," he said. "The same character we used to qualify for state was on display with a great team effort and we couldn't be more proud of the team. Our senior class leaves a legacy of excellence on the course and in the classroom. Our average GPA of our five senior athletes is 3.99 and we were the only class AA girls team in the field with five seniors on our official nine-member roster. Despite the loss of a great senior class, our future looks promising with sophomore Kate Beckwith and freshmen Lucy Jagoe, Avery Leppones and Abby McNeil competing in the state meet. Our junior varsity team won both the section 4AA and South Suburban Conference championships."

Alec Hamilton

Alec Hamilton is a sports reporter and general assignment reporter at the Hastings Star Gazette. He is a journalism graduate of Drake University.

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