Boys cross country: Running for gold while wearing orange

Gazette photos by Stuart Groskreutz
The Ponies pull away from the starting line during Saturday’s Class AA state meet. Stillwater runners include, from left, Bailey Hesse-Withroe, Tayler Aarness, Eric Colvin, Sean Bjork, Matt Fronczak (behind) and Eli Krahn.

NORTHFIELD — Stillwater’s non-traditional colors left some fans and spectators trying to figure out which team was wearing orange tops and green shorts on Saturday.

Red, white and black are common colors for qualifying teams and other individuals so Stillwater’s uncharacteristic colors did serve a purpose — and the blaze orange had nothing to do with the firearms deer opener.

“It picks out our guys and it helps grandma who this is the only meet she comes to,” Ponies coach Scott Christensen said. “More importantly, you have 64 people in the race who have nothing to do with the scoring so basically what you’ve got is Cal vs. Stanford with their bands on the field.

“It’s the same thing as happened 30 years ago where you’ve got to get around the band in order to score the touchdown. You not only have to get around the Stanford players, you’ve got to get around both bands and that’s what we have here. We have 64 people that have nothing to do with team scoring and if you’re going to be a pack running team, which I profess, and these 64 guys are up front because they qualified and are good runners, you have to find each other — and not work to find, you have to glance to find each other.”

The Ponies have previously donned black uniforms with distinctive pink trim, but auctioned those off to current and former team members to pay for the new ones — which make the black and pink uniforms look bland by comparison.

“We don’t fund-raise so we sold our old pink to buy our new orange,” Christensen said. “They bid on it and I used that money to buy the new stuff. It’s better than selling candy bars and cheesecakes that nobody else wants. Do you want to sell Christmas wrapping paper in June?”


Banner day for Ponies

Stillwater’s 2012 state championship banner was hanging in the school gymnasium before the first runner crossed the line on Saturday — or even advanced to state, for that matter.

Stillwater’s 2012 state championship banner was displayed prior to Saturday’s state meet.

Three state championship banners were recently added to the rafters in the SAHS gymnasium — including those honoring the 2011 girls’ Nordic ski team and the 2012 softball team. A third banner was supposed to honor last year’s state championship boys’ cross country team, but it mistakenly listed 2012 instead. The error was not discovered until it was already hanging in the gym, but Saturday’s victory means a ordering a new one for 2011, rather than an exchange.

“I hope they don’t put 2013 on it or we’ll have something else to worry about,” Christensen said.


Eyes on the prize

He wasn’t so confident as to intentionally hang a banner before the race was over, but Christensen and the Ponies met in the equipment garage at Miller Stadium the night before Saturday’s race and focus on what would happen the next day.

“Scott was having us visualize the whole day and he predicted us with 47 points and we ended up with 46,” senior captain Wayde Hall said. “That was pretty unbelievable. We just knew if we raced how we were capable of we were pretty sure we’d win. He was pretty right all the way around the board.”

Christensen even went so far as to predict Wayzata as the runner-up with 80 points and Edina third at 90 — he was wrong on the order, but the points were spot on.


On to regionals

Now that the Ponies have checked another state title off their list, their focus will turn towards earning another trip to Nike Nationals in Portland, Ore. Stillwater finished 10th in that prestigious race a year ago after advancing with a victory at the Heartland Regional meet in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The top two finishers in this Sunday’s Heartland Regional will also receive an all-expense paid trip to compete for this year’s national title.

Stillwater is currently ranked 10th in the National High School Coaches Association computer team rankings. The Ponies are also ranked eighth in the MileSplit national rankings.


History repeats itself

Of course nothing is run on paper, but Stillwater’s back-to-back state cross country titles appeared more predictable when you consider the results since 1995 when the Ponies won the first of their three straight championships.

Hopkins (1998-1999 and 2001-2002), Marshall (2003-2004), Willmar (2005-2006) and Wayzata (2007-2008) have each won consecutive state titles in the past 18 years. Wayzata in 2000 and 2010 and Eden Prairie in 2009 are the only winners during that stretch that failed to win consecutive championships.

n In addition to his now nine state championships in cross country (5) and track and field (4), not including True Team, Scott Christensen has a remarkable 43 section championships on his coaching résumé.


Retirement papers

Speaking of his résumé, Christensen will be dusting his off in the near future. Christensen has indicated he wants to continue coaching, but he has retired from his teaching position at SAHS effective Jan. 18 and will need to reapply for his job as cross country and track coach once those positions are posted, which he intends to do.

“Wouldn’t you want to come back to a team like this? It’s in (activities director) Ricky’s (Michel) hands now.”