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Boys cross country: Fenske qualifies for state

Elliot Fenske has been running somewhere between 40 and 50 miles a week since late August. But none of those miles he put in took place in the conditions he faced at Thursday's Section 1AA Championships.

Running through the rain on a muddy, slippery Brooktree Golf Course in Owatonna, Fenske surged to the front of the pack and stayed there for the duration of the 5,000-meter race. The focused junior completed the course in 17 minutes, 6 seconds, good enough for fifth place and a berth in this weekend's Class AA State Meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Fenske will be the first Tiger to compete in state since standout Ben Kampf in 2004.

"That was definitely a one-of-a-kind race. I've never ran in anything like that before," Fenske said. "It was very different, but it didn't really change (my race strategy). I wanted to get up front and stay up front and that's what I did. It was just a little bit sloppier and slicker than I imagined it would be."

Farmington coach Keith Revels was pleased Fenske was able to run a good race despite the hazardous course.

"Elliot is pretty focused and did not let the conditions faze him in the least, much to his credit," Revels said.

Jon-Michael Brandt of Winona and Bryant Blahnik of Red Wing pulled away from the pack to claim the top two qualifying spots. Fenske, a 42nd-place finisher last year as he battled a hip injury, stayed with the second group of runners until the final mile.

Rochester Mayo's Riley Macon finished third in 17:01, Lakeville North's Ben Saxton was a second back in fourth and Fenske came in four seconds later in fifth, edging the top runners from Hastings, Owatonna and Lakeville South and the No. 2 runners from meet-champion Lakeville North and Winona. The top 10 finishers and the top two teams -- Lakeville North and Owatonna -- will run at 10 a.m. Saturday in Northfield.

"It was always something I wanted to do, to go to state," Fenske said. "I've probably just trained a little bit harder over the course of the years and gotten stronger since I started."

Fenske almost never got started in the first place. He started running seriously just two years ago for the sole purpose of staying in shape for basketball.

"I started because one of my friends (Josh Ruthenbeck) said we should do it," Fenske recalled. "I ran on the elementary school team, but I don't think that really counts. Mostly I did it to stay in shape for basketball. And my parents both ran, so it was probably going to happen at some point."

Fenske will start playing basketball again for the Tigers later this month, but first he will cap off his banner season with his first state appearance. The junior, whose personal best 5,000-meter time is 16:17, is hoping for clocking around the 16-minute mark and a placing around the top 20.

As a team, the Tigers moved up two places to ninth out of 14 teams in Owatonna with 246 points.

Senior Nick Arenberg backed Fenske with a 48th-place time of 18:31 in the final race of his career. Another senior, Levi Freetly, placed 60th in 19:01.

A pair of sophomores rounded out the team's top five. Lincoln Kirchoff was 63rd in 19:05 and Chad Retterath ran to a 70th-place time of 19:16.

Juniors Carl Elmer (87th, 19:53) and Matt Thomas (93rd, 20:17) also battled the tough course.

"It's actually hard to say how well we ran. The conditions were something that you don't see very often," Revels said. "At the finish most of the boys were a muddy mess, but they had fun with it and ran hard."