White Bear Lake’s Max Nelson sped to the individual championship in the strongest cross country conference in the state Tuesday while leading his team to second place.

Nelson, a senior, covered 5,000 meters in 15:56, pulling away from Mounds View senior Finn Sokolowski (15:59) and East Ridge junior John Feller (16:00) after the three broke away from the pack early.

“This was the first conference champion I have ever coached,” noted 17th-year coach Dan Kovacich.  “I have had three over the years finish runner-up but never a conference champion.”

Mounds View was champion with 48 points, followed by the Bears with 59 and Stillwater 76, at Tanners Brook Golf Course near Forest Lake. Mounds View is ranked No. 2 in the state, with the Bears third and the Ponies fourth.

“I thought we ran well today. We had 4 runners in the top 15, 4 All-Conference and 4 honorable mention all-conference,: Kovacich said. “We are starting to come together we just need our number five to move closer to our four and we could be pretty good in the postseason.” 

Also making all-conference for the Bears were junior Trevor Locke in 10th place (16:23), senior Logan Tanttu in 11th (16:24), and senior Isaac Maruyama in 14th (16:26).

Honorable mentions were sophomore Ernie Mattson in 23rd (14:52) and senior Sam Verkerke in 24th (16:52). Also in the top third of 96 entrants were junior Ben McLaughlin in 26th (17:04), senior Jordan Haag in 29th (17:12) and junior Zach Thomas in 31st (17:18).

“I thought we ran a very smart, progressive race,” said the coach, noting that Stillwater was leading at the mile mark, but Mounds View and the Bears moved ahead after the two-mile mark. “We slowly tried to close. Our (top) four matched up well with Mounds View’s four runners. We fell a little behind at five but he was only eight seconds behind the MV and Stillwater kids.”

Looking ahead, the Bears face another grueling competition at Section 4AA, which includes Stillwater and No. 4 St. Paul Highland Park, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the University of Minnesota’s Les Bolstad course. The top two teams advance to state.

“This year we have some of the best in the state going at it at Les Bolstad, which I will call the ‘section of sorrow.’ That is because someone is going home crying in their soup,” Kovacick said. “We have a good team and will be ready for the challenge that is sections.” 

TEAM SCORING

(1) Mounds View 48

(2) White Bear Lake 59

(3) Stillwater 76

(4) East Ridge 121

(5) Forest Lake 133

(6) Roseville Area 153

(7) Woodbury 184

(8) Irondale 217

(9) Cretin-Derham Hall 255

(10) Park of Cottage Grove 295

TOP FIVE INDIVIDUALS

(1) Max Nelson, White Bear Lake, 15:55.7

(2) Finn Sokolowski, Mounds View, 15:58.9

(3) John Feller, East Ridge, 15:59.3

(4) Max Charlsen, Forest Lake, 16:11.2

(5) Ethan Vargas, Stillwater, 16:11.3

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