Boys grow up, girls reload
Last year, the North Branch boys cross-country team was led by up-and-comers, while the girls team featured experienced veterans at the front.
This year, those roles could be reversed.
Juniors Aiden Bear and Matthew Stuber emerged as the top runners on the boys team around the midway point of the 2016 season. Bear became the lone Viking to go under 18:00 for 5-kilometers, and Stuber came within 10 seconds of that barrier as well. Both were named in the Mississippi 8 postseason honors list. Bear placed 33rd at the Section 7AA meet, a little more than 30 seconds shy of a berth to the state meet; Stuber was close behind in 41st.
Joseph Nihart, also a junior, emerged as another candidate to lead the 2017 team when he claimed the highest Viking finish at the Milaca Early Bird Meet Aug. 28. Nihart finished 15th of 65 in that race in a new personal best time (19:02). Bear was the second Viking to finish at Milaca; Stuber did not compete.
Senior Micah Pick enters the season with a personal best of 18:48 and should be another point-scorer for the boys.
The Viking boys finished 10th in the section last year.
The girls team placed fifth in their section race, keyed by the performance of then-seniors Rhianna Rinke and Jillian Yerges, who both placed high enough to earn berths to the state championship.
With these two strong runners graduated, the Viking girls will have to find new leaders. The top returner from last year’s sectional team is eighth-grader Cora Hudella, who placed 40th in the section race.
At Milaca, sophomore Melina DeMars and junior Gail Nelson led the way, finishing back-to-back in 16th and 17th.
Other runners to watch in the Viking youth movement are sophomore Laura Hink and freshman Julia Van Dyke.
The Vikings ran an incomplete squad at Milaca, but can be expected to enter a full squad at the Pine City Invitational Thursday. Key dates on the Viking calendar include the Milaca Mega Meet (Sept. 23), the North Branch Invitational at the North Branch Golf Course (Oct. 10), the M8 championship at Bertram Park in Monticello (Oct. 17) and the Section 7AA championship at Cloquet (Oct. 26).
Both Viking squads are coached by Anna Geary.