Vikings send nine individuals, two relays
Despite a five-hour battle of delays due to weather at the Section 7AA track and field championships, the North Branch girls squad lit it up in Zimmerman on Saturday.
The Vikings placed second of 14 teams with 81 points, the highest finish for the North Branch program since joining the section.
North Branch qualified five individuals and one relay for the state track and field meet this coming weekend.
Head coach Norm Nagel said it was the worst conditions he had witnessed.
“Considering a five-hour on-and-off rain and lightning delay, the girls stayed focused and did what they had to do,” Nagel said. “In my years of track and field, these probably were the worst weather conditions I have experienced. The host school (Zimmerman) did a nice job moving the meet along as fast as they could.”
Sophomore Cassie Kunshier earned a trip to state in the 200-meter dash with a first-place finish with a time of 26.63, while her sister, junior Maddy Kunshier placed first in the 400-meter dash in 59.02 to compete at state.
Freshman Rhianna Rinke earned a qualifying spot in the 1600-meter run by capturing first place in 5:13.37. Rinke will also be competing this weekend in the 3200-meter run after earning runner-up in the 3200-meter run with a time of 11:14.
Junior Jessica Stendahl placed second in the 100-meter hurdles with a state-qualifying time of 15.95 and just missed the mark for state in the 300-meter event by taking third place in 49.55.
North Branch also qualified the 4×400-meter relay team of Rinke, senior Haley Huset and Cassie and Maddy Kunshier. The foursome took second place at less than four-tenths of a second behind Duluth East, who had a winning time of 4:05.30.
Sophomore Mikayla Johnson is set to represent North Branch in the field events. The Viking took first place in the pole vault by clearing 10-9.
Other Vikings highlights included a seventh-place finish in the pole vault by freshman Katie Burnside, who cleared 9-1, and Huset, who earned sixth in the long jump with a distance of 15.07.25. Sophomore Anna Perault rounded out the top-10 finishes for North Branch in the shot put. She took 10th place with a mark of 32-2.
Nagel said his squad had three goals this year, and they met each of them: win the section True Team meet, place in the top three in the Mississippi 8 Conference (second place) and place in the top three at sections (second place).
“We have one more week of practice, then we will close this year’s chapter, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s chapter,” Nagel said. “I also would thank our coaching staff for all their hard work they did this year.”
On the boys side, the Vikings are sending four individuals and one relay to the big event at Hamline University this weekend.
North Branch solidified one individual last Wednesday when junior Kyle Crandell won the pole vault by clearing 13-6.
The remaining Vikings battled the weather on Saturday but got the job done in many events. Sophomore Matthew Marrin came up just shy of a trip to state with a third-place finish in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.41, but earned a qualifying time in the 200-meter dash by capturing first place in 22.53.
Junior Arik Steele wiped the floor in the 110-meter hurdles, clinching first place by more than half-a-second in 14.67, then placing second in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 40.98 behind Jonathon Santiago of St. Francis (39.62).
The 4×100-meter team of Steele, junior Max Southbloom, junior Eli Chouinard and Marrin placed second with a time of 43.76 to qualify for the state meet.
Senior Brandon Thauwald clinched the final qualifying spot in the high jump by clearing 5-11, good for second place behind Forest Lake’s Payton Zeidler (6-2).
North Branch also had senior Hector Rosales make it into the finals of the 400-meter dash and earn seventh place with a time of 52.37. Senior Connor Utchinski tied for ninth place in the pole vault by clearing 11-1. Chouinard placed 10th in the long jump in a field of 42 with a leap of 19-8.75 while junior Nick Helms earned fourth place in the discus with a mark of 147-11. Helms also took 10th place in the shot put at 43-8.
Overall, the North Branch boys placed third with 67 points behind Andover (90.5) and just behind St. Francis in second place with 68.5 points.
Head boys coach Tom Kingsland said he is excited about the progress his boys made this season and hopes it continues at state.
“As a team all season, we have been striving to improve, and with a section finish of third 1.5 point behind second, we could not be happier with our season so far,” Kingsland said.
The state qualifiers compete at Hamline University on June 6-7.