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Cross country: Irish, Tigers looking to make return trips to state

All four area cross country teams have at least one runner attempting to return to the state meet with a qualifying effort at today’s section cross country meets.

The Farmington boys, Farmington girls and Rosemount girls each have one returning state qualifier toeing the line today, while the 12th-ranked (Class 2A) Rosemount boys bring back five of the seven runners that helped the program to its fifth top-five finish in seven years at last year’s state meet.

The Irish look to have the inside track toward another state berth at today’s Section 3AA Championships at Vallewood Golf Course in Apple Valley. They defeated challengers Burnsville and Eastview two weeks ago en route to their fourth straight South Suburban Conference title despite the absence of No. 1 runner Alex Berhe, who will be back in the lineup this afternoon.

“The boys team needs to go out and do its assignment. Nothing more, nothing less,” Rosemount coach Chris Harder said. “We need to follow our game plan, work together as a pack and finish strong. As long as we don’t get ourselves in early trouble, we will be fine. We developed a safety net with six guys now capable of scoring and with Alex back, we should be fine.”

Rosemount looks to face a tougher task in its bid for a team qualification on the girls side. The Irish were sixth a season ago when they finished behind an Eagan team that’s ranked fifth in the state, a Prior Lake team that’s ranked 12th and Burnsville, which has received votes in the state rankings.

“The girls will need to battle together to accomplish a season goal of qualifying as a team,” Harder said. “We have been close to Prior Lake three times, with room for improvement from one of our top three in each of those races.”

Harder is hoping to once again get low scores from senior Hannah Grim and eighth-grader Sydney Hansen. Grim is a four-time state meet qualifier and placed 59th last year. She also helped the Irish to 10th-place team finishes in 2009 and 2010.

Along with high finishes from those two, the Irish will need the rest of their pack to move up if they want to qualify for state.

“Where our pack ends up will dictate our finish,” Harder said. “We also feel one can emerge from that pack and be a difference-maker at the meet. The meet will be close, but we are ready to battle and confident for a spot.”

Confidence shouldn’t be a problem for Farmington’s Justin Hyytinen. The junior capped off his first season of cross country by qualifying for state last fall and placing 29th in a talented 2A field in Northfield. He’s been even better this year, earning numerous top-10 finishes and winning the Missota Conference championship last week in New Prague.

Hyytinen finished third at last year’s Section 1AA meet at Brooktree Golf Course and figures to be among the favorites again today at Owatonna alongside defending champion Zack Benning of Hastings.

Also looking to make a return trip to Northfield is senior Maricia Pacheco, who claimed the final state-qualifying spot last year at Owatonna with a 12th-place time of 15:37. Pacheco went on to place 134th in 15:51 at state.

Teammate Lauren Peterson could also challenge for a state berth. The seventh-grader has alternated with Pacheco at the top of the Tiger lineup this year and is coming off a 14th-place finish at her first career Missota Conference meet.