White Bear Lake boys emerged as Section 4AA champions in a close race of three highly-ranked teams on Wednesday.
The No. 3 ranked Bears had a scant 48 to 52 edge over the runner-up, No. 6 ranked St. Paul Highland Park, with No. 4 Stillwater a close third with 65, at Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights. The top two advance to state.
“After a year of missing out as a team to the state meet, the WBL boys fired on all cylinders in the toughest section in the state this year,” said coach Dan Kovacich, who’ll take his 11th team to state in his 17 years, and his third as a section champion, joining the 2008 and 2017 squads in that regard.
Max Nelson led the Bears, placing third behind the two runners ranked 1-2 in the state.
Highland Park’s Oliver Paleen won in 15:41.14, followed by St. Paul Central’s Mickies Kiros in 16:56.18 and Nelson in 16:02.93. All are seniors. Nelson is now ranked No. 6.
Highland Park also had the fourth and fifth placers in seniors Calvin Boone and Conor Gregg Escalante but the Bears has more depth.
The Bears top five all placed in the top 13. Trevor Locke, a junior, finished ninth (16:35.33), senior Isaac Maruyama 11th (16:25.78), senior Logan Tanttu 12th (16:28.49) and sophomore Ernie Mattson 13th (16:35.08).
The Bears had the smallest spread all season between their one and five runners, 32 seconds.
“It was a three-horse race between us, Highland Park and Stillwater,” Kovacich said. “I talked about last week that the key for us would be for our number five runner to step up closer to Stillwater’s four and five. Ernie Mattson had a stellar day. He beat Stillwater’s number three and Highland’s number four to help us claim the victory.”
Those were the counting scores. Also placing in the top one-fourth of 103 runners were Bear senior Sam Verkerke in 21st (17:02.28) and junior Ben McLaughlin in 23rd (17:07.86). Verkerke and McLaughlin both were ahead of Highland’s fifth runner.
“We ran a smart technical race,” Kovacich said. “At the 1000 mark we were in third place and by the two mile we were right in the mix. We really made our charge with 1000 meters left when other kids were fading. They had a lot of patience stuck with the plan and executed.”.
Stillwater did not make it to state for the first time since 2008 despite having the tightest team split, 28 seconds, and being the only team to have six runners under 17 minutes. “That shows you the talent in our section,” Kovacich said.
The Bears have also won invitationals at the University of Minnesota (the multi-state Griak meet), Alexandria and Anoka, and placed second in the conference behind No. 2 Mounds View, this season.
The state meet will be held Saturday, Nov. 2, at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
(1) White Bear Lake 48 (2) St. Paul Highland Park 52 (3) Stillwater 65 (4) St. Paul Central 104 (5) Roseville Area 117 (6) Woodbury 187 (7) St. Paul Como Park 227 (8) Cretin-Derham Hall 227 (9) Mahtomedi 255 (10) Tartan 269 (11) North 347 (12) St. Paul Washington 401 (13) St. Paul Johnson 404 (14) St. Paul Harding 429 (15) Hill-Murray 442 (16) St. Paul Humboldt 452