Boys, girls both place 11th at state

Forest Lake senior Max Charlsen achieved one of the best state finishes in Ranger cross-country history on Nov. 2, finishing ninth out of 176 competitors in the Class AA boys race to earn all-state honors.

Charlsen ran the 5,000-meter St. Olaf College course, for decades the famous battleground for Minnesota state supremacy, in 15 minutes, 50.0 seconds, the best time of any Suburban East Conference runner, a marked improvement after finishing fourth in the league meet less than three weeks earlier.

Charlsen received his first state medal and recognition alongside the rest of the top 25 finishers in an on-stage ceremony following the meet. 

Charlsen’s all-state award is the third straight earned by a Ranger boy, following the finishes in 11th place in 2018 and 24th place in 2017 by Charlie Babcock, now a freshman competitor for the University of South Dakota.

Including all-state finishes on the girls side, the Ranger program as a whole has placed at least one athlete on the stage of honor for the last six seasons: now-sophomore Ava Wilson finished 21st in 2017 to join Babcock on the award list, while current Colby College freshman Regan Duffy finished 16th in 2016 and Emma Benner, lately a star for the Purdue Boilermakers, took fourth for the Rangers in both 2015 and 2014.

Charlsen’s finish is the highest by any Ranger since Benner, and the best by a Ranger boy since Eric Pierce finished third in 1994. After he’s done chasing another all-state nod in track this spring, Charlsen will head to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to join the Augustana University squad.

A team game, too

Charlsen was just one of seven Ranger boys competing in the state race after the team clinched its third-straight Section 7AA title, and fourth consecutive state berth overall, the week before in Cloquet. Charlsen was joined by fellow seniors Jeremiah VanAcker, Austin Sievers and Isaiah Zak, junior Drew Sampson and sophomores Daniel VanAcker and Ethan Sievers.

Conditions were most Minnesota-like, with temperatures in the 30s and patches of frost and snow still remaining in the shady sections of the course near midday. The weather at the state meet has been highly variable the last few years, with Zak and Sampson able to remember battling unseasonable heat during the 2016 meet.

Led by Charlsen’s all-state run, the Rangers put together a score of 249 points to place 11th out of 16 teams. The other Ranger scoring placers were Daniel VanAcker (40th, 16:20.3), Austin Sievers (94th, 16:52.7), Jeremiah VanAcker (124th, 17:07.5) and Zak (163rd, 17:42.0). The team had no margin for error after two Rangers, Ethan Sievers and Sampson, were unable to finish the race, leaving them with the minimum of five finishers that would allow them to register a team score.

The state championship came down to the wire: SEC titlist Mounds View finished with 86 points, just holding off Eden Prairie which finished with 87.

Rounding out the top 10 were St. Paul Highland Park (135), Edina (158), Prior Lake (160), Eastview (166), White Bear Lake (171), Buffalo (210), Willmar (214) and Bemidji (232). Finishing behind the Rangers were Farmington (257), Maple Grove (297), Mankato East (335), Rochester Century (344) and Cloquet (396).

The individual title was in doubt until the last 100 meter straightaway. A.J. Green of Eastview, the defending state 800-meter champion and one of the nation’s best high school runners at that distance, held a late lead over St. Paul Highland Park distance ace Oliver Paleen. The St. Olaf course sends runners up one last short, sharp shock of a hill before reaching the fan-lined homestretch, and Paleen used the incline to pull even with and then away from Green to take the title in 15:25.2. The 800 man was worn ragged by the move and was caught for second by Chanhassen’s Nicholas Scheller, who made up a lot of ground in the last stretch to finish in 15:30.0 to Green’s 15:31.8.

As is often the case in the boys race, all the top runners were seniors. Charlsen finished off a string of nine straight, with Stillwater junior Ethan Vargas representing the top underclassman in 10th place.

Girls as usual

The rest of Minnesota has gotten used to seeing the Forest Lake girls running in the state meet: The Rangers have qualified for the big race every year this decade and, with no seniors among their top seven this year, look poised to extend that streak further next fall. In this latest showing, the Ranger girls matched the boys by placing 11th in their team chase, in this case with 275 points.

For the second year in a row, freshman Ellie Hanowski was the top Ranger at state, finishing the classic course in 19:05.8 to finish 43rd.

With the state’s top talent all packed together in the big race, runners started reaching the finish line at a rate of more than one per second. The next two Rangers were only 16 seconds behind Hanowski but almost 30 places back: seventh-grader Norah Hushagen (71st, 19:21.0) and junior Natalie Runquist (72nd, 19:21.4).

The team score was finished off by freshman Jordan Parent (104th, 19:43.0) and sophomore Ava Wilson (140th, 20:20.9). Also competing for the Rangers were junior Amelea Hauer (148th, 20:28.4) and sophomore Annabelle Stang (157th, 20:45.2). To follow on from a color stat from earlier, Wilson, Hauer and Stang have also experienced both the summer heat of 2016 and the icy chill of 2019 in their state meet careers.

A number of girls contended for the individual victory, but Stillwater’s Analee Weaver had left them behind by the time she reached the last hill, cruising to a 17:46.1 finish that beat runner-up Abbey Nechanicky of Wayzata by six seconds.

Edina dominated the chase for the team title, scoring 55 points to leave Wayzata (109) and St. Michael-Albertville (115) way behind. The rest of the top 10 consisted of Alexandria (138), Stillwater (159), St. Paul Highland Park (168), Farmington (176), Willmar (189), East Ridge (246) and Marshall (265). Filling in behind the Rangers were Rosemount (312), Andover (314), Mounds View (324), Lakeville South (358) and Chanhassen (425).

The strength of the SEC is proven by the presence of three boys teams and four girls teams among the field of 16 per side. In addition to the SEC schools that sent at least one team to state, Woodbury, Irondale, Roseville and Cretin-Derham Hall were represented by one or more individual qualifiers.

Class of Class A

After the big schools had decided their various championships, the small schools took to the course. In what had been billed as something of a grudge race between two of the state’s best boys, regardless of class, Geno Urbohm of Greenway/Nashwauk/Keewatin proved superior to Staples-Motley’s Emmet Anderson, 15:27.6 to 15:42.6. Both are juniors and will be able to run a rematch next season.

In the girls race, Murray County Central’s Morgan Gehl ran 17:53.5 to win the title by nearly half a minute.

Both the Perham boys (75 points) and girls (103) won their respective Class A titles, a pair of inspiring team runs in the first title race since the death on June 11 of a prominent Perham alum, Gabe Grunewald (formerly Anderson). a multi-time all-state runner who walked on to the University of Minnesota team and rose to All-American status. She later competed as a professional for nearly a decade, making one appearance for Team U.S.A., despite waging an on-again, off-again battle with a rare form of cancer throughout the entire course of her pro career.

Of possible interest to the North Lakes/LILA team, the Heritage Christian boys (fellow members of the Minnesota Classic Athletic Association) placed 14th in Class A with 287 points, led by the 23rd-place, all-state run of MCAA boys champion Travis Miller (16:36.6).

MCAA girls champ Addison Hoof of Lester Prairie also made all-state (fifth, 18:46.8).

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