The North Branch boys and girls cross-country teams both earned top-three finishes at the Pine City Country Club last Thursday.
Perennial state-qualifier Rhianna Rinke challenged the mud-soaked course from the beginning, running away from the girls varsity field to win easily in 20:35. Only Brook Wedin of Mora (21:00) was able to stay within sight of Rinke; the North Branch senior beat the rest of her competition by more than one minute.
Because no challengers presented themselves, Rinke ran for time. She hoped to negotiate the 5-kilometer course in 19:45 or better, but the combination of hot, stale weather and muddy course conditions slowed the pace down across all six races.
“Mentally, it was hard to push myself,” Rinke said. “The ground was really squishy, so it was hard to push into the ground and get going faster. It kept things interesting.”
The Pine City win is Rinke’s second in two races so far. She also topped the field at the Milaca Early Bird Invitational on Aug. 29.
The Viking girls took third place overall in the 11-team meet with 105 points, behind Mora (31) and Milaca (65). Jillian Yerges (22:17, ninth) placed high in the No. 2 spot to help the team hold off close rivals Pine City (107), Zimmerman (114), and Hermantown (115). Gail Nelson (24:03, 22nd), Emily Dolezalek (25:18, 37th), and Laura Hink (26:39, 41st) also contributed to the Vikings’ score.
In the boys varsity race, a trio of Vikings ran together the whole way. Noah Pick (19:16, sixth), Aiden Bear (19:21, ninth), and Matthew Stuber (19:26, 11th) pushed each other along and led the team to a runner-up finish (65 points). Milaca (41) won, while Foley (91) was a distant third. Kyle Hendren (20:38, 27th) and Drew Van Eerden (20:47, 31st) were the Vikings’ other scoring runners.
Milaca’s John Hall (18:27) led the boys race by over 30 meters with a mile to go, but he fell victim to a late surge by Eli Grubbs of Pine City (18:15).
Rush City placed sixth in the boys competition (146) and eighth in the girls (207). Seth Hora (20:20, 24th) had the top varsity finish for the Tigers. Brooke Nakowitsch (25:06, 34th) and Sydney Fulcher (25:09, 35th) led the girls with a back-to-back finish.
“I’m very pleased with our performances in this meet,” Rush City coach Mike Vaughn said. “We’re a very young team, so right now it’s about getting racing experience and seeing how we develop. We’re training them harder, too, so legs can be kind of tired at these early meets.”
Viking Micah Pick won the boys JV race (20:29). German exchange student Josephine Jager claimed fifth for the Tigers in the girls JV (26:02).
Alex Bear took third in the boy’s 2-kilometer junior-high race (7:31) for North Branch. Vikings Cora Hudelia (8:50) and Julia Van Dyke (9:00) were the top local finishers in the girl’s junior-high competition.
North Branch and Rush City both competed at Mora on Tuesday. The Vikings will head to Hudson, Wisconsin, on Sept. 20, while the Tigers will next race at the Milaca Mega Meet on Sept. 24.