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Area Cross-Country: Natasha Sortland finishes top-10 in Class A race

Lake City's Mela Schmitz (762) finishes the Class A State Meet on Saturday in a wave of other runners. Martin Schlegel / RiverTowns Multimedia1 / 2
Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo runner Natasha Sortland cross the finish line at the Class A State Cross-Country Meet. Martin Schlegel / RiverTowns Multimedia2 / 2

State Class 1A Boys

Having sent an individual or team to the Class 1A State Meet every year since 1984, Lake City Tigers cross-country head coach Howie Cook believes the team is in a good spot.

While the team came in 15th place, it's not where the team finished that matters the most.

"We're so excited about that group," Cook said. "Two of the captions were big contributors for us. Hunter (Grimm) No. 1 and Zach (Scharpen) who is as high second or third throughout the season."

Grimm (17:01.5) was the Tigers' top runner with a 55th place finish. Joe Kozlowski (17:33.7) finished in 109th place, Reese Anderson (17:41.5) came in 120th, Andrew Muenzhuber (17:45.9) came in 123rd, Scharpen (17:56.2) came in 135th, Ben Johnson (17:57.0) finished in 137th and Nash Nelson (18:00.9) finished 145th.

"All of our alternates are young kids," Cook said. "We've got some kids that weren't out this year that have already said, 'I need to get back out.' You can make a run of four years with that freshman group. There's a couple that could be in our top-5 next year and they're just getting better and better."

Cook then praised his assistant coaches Meribeth Kozlowski and Jim Anderson for the work they've done to rejuvenate the boys cross-country team and increase the roster size.

"They're junior high teachers and they're pied pipers," Cook said. "They bring kids towards us. At least get them indoctrinated with it. We get them through the first three weeks, we know have them sold most of the time."

Additionally, two individual runners from Pine Island, Tanner Horton and Danny Longworthy, finished the race in 88th and 149th respectively. Horton ran the 5,000 meter race in 17 minutes, 23.1 seconds while Longworthy ran the race in 18 minutes, 5.7 seconds.

State Class 1A Girls

The Class 1A girls race was a showcase of a youth movement in the sport.

Three eighth graders and two ninth graders finished in the top-15 individually. Only two seniors finished in the top-15 and none in the top-10.

One of those young runners was eighth grader Natasha Sortland. Representing Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo as an individual competitor, Sortland came in eighth place, finishing in 18 minutes, 46 seconds.

For Sortland, her eighth-place finish was the last of three goals to complete this season.

"That was my goal coming in. Last year I got 11th, which was kind of a bummer for me. I felt really good and I'm really happy."

Sortland listed her accomplishments.

"No. 1 was a top-10 finish at State. No. 2, was to win the Milaca Mega Meet again. And my third goal was get a new personal best time this season," Sortland said.

Don't be fooled by Sortland's short stature. She knows some may write her off because it of it.

"They see me and I'm really short and I wear pigtails. It kinda represents that youth; I'm young but I can still run," Sortland said before mentioning she's not the only younger runner with talent. "You can tell this generation of runners, 7th grade through 9th grade, are really fast."

Coming in ranked sixth as team in Class 1A, the Lake City girls cross-country team lived up to the ranking.

Lake City finished in sixth place behind Perham, Howard Lake-Waverly, Cotter, Luverne and Staples-Motley.

Cook said overall he was very pleased with how his team ran, adding the girls were too.

Eighth grader Jacey Majerus (19:09.8) led the Tigers with a 12th place finish.

"Jaycee is Jaycee. How you can be 13-years-old and have ice water veins when she races."

Cook added Majerus has led the team all year, running in the top-10 consistently which includes a fifth-place finish in the Section 1A Meet.

Mela Schmitz (19:57.6) came in 45th place and also finished the race in under 20 minutes.

"I told the girls that when we can have sticks or low numbers under 20 minutes, we're going to start doing something here," Cook said. "(Schmitz) had an average race at Sections but had a tremendous race today."

McKenna Beltz (20:44.2) came in 96th place, Natalie Gates (21:04.2) came in 113th place, Johannah Clementson (21:22.8) finished in 126th, Brenna Nelson (21:25.2) finished in 131st and Phebe Nelson (21:27.8) rounded out the team in 133rd place.

Overall, Cook feels good about where the girls team is at. With no seniors on the team, everyone gets to come back with experience gained. Plus promising, young runners are anticipated to join the team next year.

"Off my state championship team a number of years ago, now the daughters are starting to come in next year," Cook said. "So it's neat watching the little girls following in their mother's footsteps 20 years later.The Meincke girl, her dad (Lance Meincke) is also school record holder, used to be the section record holder in the 400 meter, so you've got some genetics there."

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