East Ridge girls cross country: Running aheadA year ago, the East Ridge girls cross country team flew under the radar, but that won’t be the case this fall.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
A year ago, the East Ridge girls cross country team flew under the radar, but that won’t be the case this fall.
Prior to winning the Suburban East Conference and Section 4AA championships last season, East Ridge managed to be unranked throughout the year. Even after qualifying for the state meet, the Raptors only netted a 12th ranking. However, after finishing eighth in last year’s Class AA state meet and returning six of seven runners, the Raptors earned a No. 4 preseason ranking this year.
The East Ridge coaching staff knows the girls will now have a target on their backs.
“There’s no more creeping up,” East Ridge assistant coach Lloyd Ness said. “Last year no one even gave us the time of day. Now there’s just no way of hiding. They’ll have just as much fun as they’ve had before, but they realize people are looking at us the same way we were looking at other teams last year.”
East Ridge third-year head coach Chad Cronin said the girls have taken notice of their new-found fame, but he doesn’t expect it to effect them.
“They’ve been talking about it,” Cronin said. “Last year in the postseason they handled what they were expected to do — and actually went beyond that. I think that’ll happen again this year.”
Ness said the girls have a penchant for levity, which will hopefully allow them to maintain good attitudes.
“They know they’re ranked fourth, but it doesn’t matter to them,” Ness said. “They’re always having fun. When it’s race time they step up, but until then, they’re just trying to find new ways to have a good time and keep it light.”
In addition to qualifying for the state meet as a team in 2010, East Ridge had two girls qualify for state as individuals — Bailey Ness and Brenley Goertzen.
Bailey Ness, now a sophomore, was the Section 4AA champion and earned All-State as a sophomore taking 13th at the state meet. Goertzen, currently a freshman, took 51st overall at state. The girls return to lead the team again this year, along with junior Taylor Jackson, sophomore Abbey Beissler, freshman Emily Betz and eighth-grader Taylor Rumpca.
Bailey Ness said she doesn’t think the preseason ranking means anything.
“We’re ranked pretty high,” she said. “It’ll be hard to live up to those expectations, but we’re doing our best. I don’t pay too much attention to it. It’s fun, but I don’t want it to affect us. It doesn’t matter where we are ranked that much. We’re just going to keep working hard.”
Jackson, an All-Conference runner who took 99th at the state meet as part of the team finish, said any added pressure is a good thing.
“It helps you run faster,” she said. “We can’t just sit around. We need to train really hard, because people know who we are and they’re going to be shooting for us instead of us shooting for them.”
One runner from last year’s state-entrant team, Sarah Nesheim, didn’t return to the squad this fall. However, Cronin said East Ridge has a number of runners who will compete for the seventh spot — and possibly beyond that.
“Last year the varsity team was just like most varsity teams in other sports, because they maintained it out of the 30 girls, but it’ll be a different dynamic this year,” Cronin said. “This year we think there may not be such a distinct line. But, that’s a good problem to have. When you have more girls up there competing for the varsity spots, that shows some depth.”
East Ridge opens the season on Friday, Sept. 2, in a 25-team meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Rumpca, who ran in the state meet with the team, said she is looking forward to the season.
“It’s exciting because we know what we can accomplish,” she said. “Last year we didn’t know what we could do, so it was all new.”
Cronin said Friday will provide a good barometer.
“There’s usually there’s some pretty good teams there,” he said. “I know they’re not over confident. They won the conference meet by only two points and the section meet only by one point. They pulled it off like a buzzer-beater. They know what they need to do. It’s still a fairly young group, but the older they get the more they’re learning tactics and gaining maturity that will help them.”
Jackson said she knows the biggest meets will come at the end of October.
“The state meet is our motivation,” she said. “It’s right there. We want to get there again because it’s so much fun and it’s a big accomplishment.”