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East Ridge girls cross country: Raptors earn fifth in state

Led by an All-State performance by sophomore Emily Betz, East Ridge finished in fifth place in the Class AA state meet on Saturday, Nov. 3, at St. Olaf College in Northfield - the best finish in the Raptors' three state meet appearances.

The past three years the East Ridge girls left the state meet as one of the top cross-country teams in Minnesota. However, like last season, the Raptors also feel there's some unfinished business.

Led by an All-State performance by sophomore Emily Betz, East Ridge finished in fifth place in the Class AA state meet on Saturday, Nov. 3, at St. Olaf College in Northfield - the best finish in the Raptors' three state meet appearances.

"Along with coach (Lloyd) Ness and coach (Paula) Gramer, I am extremely proud of this girls team," East Ridge head coach Chad Cronin said. "They are a hard-working group and I know the returning runners will continue that way."

After winning a third-straight Suburban East Conference championship and second Section 4AA title this season, East Ridge was ranked third in Class AA heading into the state meet, only finishing second twice this season - behind No. 1 Eagan and No. 2 Wayzata in separate races.

Last year, East Ridge finished in sixth place after taking eighth the year before. The goal at this year's state meet was to finish inside the top three, which would garner a team trophy and a trip to the podium at the state awards ceremony.

"Though we didn't reach our 'podium goal' of third place, we are very happy with these exceptional young women on and off the race course," Cronin said. "There's a little disappointment there. You shoot for a high goal and if you don't get it there's a little disappointment. But, when you think about it, we're in the top five teams in the entire state. That's something to be very proud of. We're on the right trajectory."

Cronin said he expects the excellent season and the unfulfilled goal of third-place to further fuel his team next year. The Raptors return five of seven state meet runners and have a number of strong runners on a JV team that had the top three overall finishers at the section race.

"This was the hardest working team we've ever had - both the girls and the boys," Cronin said. "They ran the most miles they ever have, we had the most kids running in the summer club, so that's a great trend. A big reason for those strong work ethics is because of this day and this meet. This is where our focus is. The same thing will happen next year."

At the state meet, Betz led the way for the Raptors with her 13th place finish overall and a time of 14 minutes, 33.1 seconds in the 4 kilometer race. At state, the top 25 individual finishers earn the All-State designation.

"I'm pleased with how I did and I think our team did well too, even though we didn't get third," Betz said. "It's kind of disappointing, but we did a good job and had a great year."

The finish capped Betz' climb up the ladder of the state's top distance runners. Last year, Betz had East Ridge's third-best time, 15:28.1, to take 67th overall. This was Betz' third appearance at the state meet.

"It's exciting and nerve-wracking too. I'm not really used to it yet," she said.

After Betz, junior Bailey Ness was the second Raptors' runner to cross the finish line, coming in 33rd with a time of 14:54.5. Sophomore Brenley Goertzen had East Ridge's third-best time, taking 85th overall, in 15:25.7. Senior Taylor Jackson (15:27.3) and eighth grader Megan Schiferl (15:28.8) took 87th and 93rd, respectively, to round out the Raptors' scoring five runners.

East Ridge totaled 163 place points to tie Lakeville South, however the Raptors nabbed fifth place on the tie-breaker, which is the finish of the team's six runner. East Ridge junior Sandra Gramer had the Raptors' sixth-best finish in 15:33.8 for 58th place. Lakeville North junior Mariah Gallagher was the Panthers' sixth-best runner, taking 61st with a time of 15:35.2.

"Every single person counted," Cronin said. "That's a good lesson to learn. They ran well today. We're certainly proud of these girls. It was a great season."

Wayzata won the Class AA state championship with 50 place points, beating out second-place Eagan, which had 93 points. Edina (129 points) was third and surprise Forest Lake was fourth (161 points).

Individually, Shakopee senior Maria Hauger won a fourth-straight state championship with a record time of 13:42. She broke the Class AA record previously set in 2005 by Lakeville North's Elizabeth Yetzer (13:59.3) along with the all-time record set by Holy Family's Bria Wetsch (13:54.7), also in 2005. With her fourth title, Hauger became the first four-time individual Minnesota cross country champion since Carrie Tollefson of Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley won five in a row from 1990-94.

"The conditions were pretty much perfect and it was a very fast meet today," Cronin said. "I can't believe how fast it was - both the boys and the girls."

East Ridge will compete at the Nike Heartland regional meet in Sioux Falls, S.D., this week - on Sunday, Nov. 11 - with the hopes of qualifying for the Nike national meet.

"We want to stay in the moment and enjoy this," Cronin said. "But, our goal for next year is to get back here to state next year and we hope that we'll get up there on the podium next year. We're very happy to be here. But, we want to have higher and higher goals every year."