Maddie Verkerke saved the best for last, ending her high school cross country career with an all-state, 24th-place finish at the state meet on Saturday.

The White Bear Lake senior got under 19 minutes for the first time in four state runs, finishing the St. Olaf College course in 18:50.9. The top 25 make all-state.

Verkerke was one of four Bears who qualified individually after the team placed third in a strong section.

“We had a lot of fun. I think it went super well,” Verkerke said. “We all went out really smart. We usually go out really fast. This time we went a little slow and we were going past people in the second half of the race.”

Melanie Pankow, a junior, placed 60th in 19:13, while junior Claire Schneider was 121st in 19:57 and sophomore Maggie Blanding 130th in 20:06 among 176 entrants.

Verkerke was 99th after 1600 meters, 45th after 3200 meters, and kept picking off runners in the last 1800.

“Maddie had a great race,” coach Patricia Percival said. “Maddie's plan was to run an evenly paced race and to progressively move up throughout the race. This strategy has worked best for this season. She executed the plan to perfection which can be very difficult to do at a State Meet. It is easy to get pulled out too fast. This was just excellent execution of her race plan and belief in her abilities.”

She capped an exceptional senior season in which she ran sixth in the section and third in the conference.

In her previous state meets, as a member of a team qualifier each time, Verkerke placed 50th last year in 19:01, and 119th and 93rd in 8th and 9th grades.

“I believe her previous experiences at this meet helped,” Percival said, “plus her confidence in her racing abilities. I am so proud of her finishing her high school cross country career being All State.”

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