MARSHFIELD, Wis. — The high expectations remain, but the defending state champion Stillwater boys’ cross country team had its aspirations for an undefeated season dashed in Saturday’s season-opening Marshfield Columbus Catholic Invitational at Wildwood Park.
The Ponies entered the season ranked No. 1 in Minnesota and seventh nationally, but were tripped up out of the starting gates by Wayzata, which scored 37 points to record a two-point victory over Stillwater (39).
Wayzata and Stillwater have been the most consistent programs in the state over the past two decades and Saturday’s encounter delivered a nail-biter between the rivals while La Crosse Logan was a distant third at 120 pounds.
“I thought they controlled the race throughout on us,” Ponies coach Scott Christensen said. “I had warned our kids repeatedly about being overconfident against Wayzata — and I’m not saying that was the difference, because we didn’t go in thinking this would be easy, because I just knew it wouldn’t be. Last year we had our way with them, but that was the first year in a while so I hope their memories aren’t that short. This is crushing. This is a devastating loss for us and can’t be put any other way.”
The razor-thin margin of victory started with the first runners to cross the finish line as Wayzata sophomore Connor Olson (15:34.9) overtook Wayde Hall (15:35) by just a tenth of a second to provide a two-point swing for the Trojans, who placed six runners in the top 12 and had seven cross the finish line before Stillwater’s No. 5 finisher.
Olson and Hall each bettered the previous course record set by Chris Solinsky of Stevens Point in 2001.
Stillwater placed ahead of the Trojans at the second through fourth spots, but Wayzata’s fifth finisher placed 11th, compared to 17th for Stillwater’s last scorer.
Eric Colvin followed Hall in fifth place for the Ponies with a time of 16:16.8 while Sean Bjork (16:23.9) and Eli Krahn (16:24.1) placed seventh and eighth to give Stillwater four of the top eight finishers in the race. Tayler Aarness completed the scoring in 17th place with a time of 16:56.2.
“In cross country, if you don’t have a fifth runner you don’t have anything and that’s the harsh reality of it,” said Christensen, who noted that was one of several factors working against the Ponies on Saturday. “I don’t care what sport it is, when it’s nip and tuck and you’re relying on your stars they have to come through for us. Wayde got beat at the end and Eric finished fifth and behind a kid who was 20th in the meet last year.”
Matt Thomas (17:02.9) and Bailey Hesse-Withroe (17:08.6) finished 23rd and 24th for Stillwater while Edoardo Tagliaferri (17:11.8) followed in 28th.
So even if Stillwater can repeat as state champion, it won’t be with an unblemished record like a year ago.
“I don’t know if we have championship hangover or what,” Christensen said. “For a team that had all of the schtick going and the high national ratings, this is crushing.
“I have all the respect in the world for Wayzata and they took it to us.”
n Stillwater also placed second behind Wayzata in the JV race on Saturday. The Trojans finished 1-2-3 and featured seven of the top 10 finishers while scoring 19 points to easily outdistance the Ponies (45). Burnsville was a distant third with 93 points.
Allen-Michael Burbach (17:13.7) and Alex Percival (17:18.2) placed fourth and fifth to lead the Ponies while Austin Reed (10th, 17:29.2), Paul Larson (12th, 17:40.7), Luke Richie (14th, 17:48.8), Matt Fronczak (16th, 17:54.7) and Zach Bigouette (18th, 17:57.8) completed the team’s top seven.
1. Wayzata 37; 2. Stillwater 39; 3. La Crosse Logan 120; 4. Hudson 144; 5. Green Bay Notre Dame 203; 6. Whitefish Bay 214; 7. River Falls 240; 8. Onalaska 243; 9. La Crosse Central 277; 10. Nekoosa 288; 11. Chequamegon 305; 12. Benilde-St. Margaret’s 347; 13. Marshfield 394; 14. Chippewa Falls McDonell 405; 15. Blair-Taylor 410; 16. West Salem 469; 17. Manitowac Roncalli 474; 18. Bonduel 507; 19. Colby-Abbotsford 523; 20. Marshfield Columbus 560; 21. Stanley-Boyd 605; 22. Augusta 621; 23. Edgar 683; Alma Center, Stevens Point Pacelli, Owen-Withee and Adams-Friendship, inc.
Division I standings
1. Wayzata 37; 2. Stillwater 38; 3. La Crosse Logan 108; 4. Hudson 115; 5. Whitefish Bay 159; 6. River Falls 182; 7. Onalaska 188; 8. La Crosse Central 206; 9. Benilde-St. Margaret’s 247; 10. Marshfield 247.
1. Connor Olson (Way) 15:34.9; 2. Wayde Hall (St) 15:35; 3. Ryan Kromer (Hud) 15:44.7; 4. Nate Gomoll (WB) 16:01.4; 5. Eric Colvin (St) 16:16.8.
2. Wayde Hall 15:35.0; 5. Eric Colvin 16:16.8; 7. Sean Bjork 16:23.9; 8. Eli Krahn 16:24.1; 17. Tayler Aarness 16:56.2; 23. Matt Thomas 17:02.9; 24. Bailey Hesse-Withroe 17:08.6; 28. Eduoardo Tagliaferri 17:11.8.