A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

Local runners dominate at Polar League meet

Great cross country runners are built over time. While genetics probably helps, it's the miles and miles of running that can really make the difference.

Raptors runner Jack Riley is proof. After ramping up his training this summer and fall, the Wrenshall senior raced to a decisive win in Thursday's Polar League conference championship meet. Riley finished the 5K race on Pincushion Mountain in 16 miutes, 42.20 seconds, just over 19 seconds ahead of second. The front pack of four or five runners stayed mostly intact for the first mile or so, then Riley broke away and continued building his lead for the remaining 2.1 miles.

"I have watched Jack run all the way through [his career], so I was not surprised," said Raptors head coach Brenda Knudsen. "He did make a pretty big jump this year. He's worked hard and it shows."

Junior Alex Burckhardt (running for the combined South Ridge/North Woods Panthers team) came in second place, followed by Esko senior Spencer Hipp in third. Panthers junior Sawyer FierkeLepp took fourth, Elliott Wasche of Moose Lake/Willow River/Barnum took fifth and Cromwell-Wright/Floodwood's Phoenix Anderson placed sixth.

The Panthers boys team finished first in conference with 41 points, followed by the Raptors in second with 60 points.

Knudsen said the conference meet also gave her team a chance to compare meets, because they ran at Pincushion six weeks before.

"Everybody on the team improved, but the boys by 40 seconds to a minute each," she said, naming other team members AJ Olesen, David Tuttle, Gavin Gibson, Karl Tuttle, Bodyn Gunderson and Anders Erickson, an eighth-grader who PR'd by a half-minute Thursday on a very hilly course.

Knudsen said the combined Raptors team has 24 runners this year: 12 boys and 12 girls.

"Being small, we need every person we can get," she said. "Without being combined, I don't think we would have the success that we do."


Cromwell-Wright senior Emaleigh Olesiak took first in the girls conference race Thursday. She hopes to return to state after suffering an injury last season.

Raptors freshman Brielle Simula placed second, 16 seconds behind Olesiak, followed by Panthers eighth-grader Zoey Burkhardt in third. Rebels sophomore Brooklyn Wasche took fourth place, while Raptors sophomore Ruth Sandstrom placed fifth and Panthers junior Addison Burckhardt came in sixth.

The South Ridge girls team took first place with 40 points, followed by the Raptors with 43 points. The Rebels took third with 63 points. Other top runners for the Raptors include Sarah Cid, Isabel Riley, Lucy Stevens, Lila Dalen and Teagan.

Knudsen said there's been a "fun rivalry" with the Panthers team for several years.

"They're always very tough, a well-coached program," she said. "Of course we want to beat them, but they are really nice girls. Different in cross country because you're friends, too."

Many local teams raced Tuesday at Proctor, the final regular season meet. The Section 7A meet is set for Tuesday, Oct. 24 in Coleraine.

Esko coach Jerimy Hallsten said his runners need to make up some ground to compete as a team at the section meet.

Knudsen said she likes the chances for both the boys and girls teams from Carlton/Wrenshall.

"The main thing is to stay injury free and healthy - no colds," she said.

Last year the Panthers won the conference meet, but the Raptors took the section crown in a very close race. That was the second year in a row the Raptors girls team went to State. Will they be third time lucky in 2023?

"It'll be close again, I think," Knudsen said of the section meet on Thursday, Oct. 26 at Eagle Ridge Golf Course in Coleraine. "The adrenaline kicks in, and what happens, happens."

Cloquet will race in the Section 7AA meet, set for Thursday, Oct. 26 at Hibbing Golf Course.