CLOQUET -- The seven-mile drive from the Cloquet Country Club to Esko High School was a celebratory ride for the Eskomos after the Section 7A cross country meet Thursday.
Esko swept the team titles led by seniors Kaycee Knutson, who won a second straight girls individual championship, and Bryan Lindquist, sixth in the boys race.
Head coach Jerry Zimny, at Esko since 1975, and assistant Tim Lindquist were named Section 7A coaches of the year.
"To go to the state meet as an individual is fun, but it's 100 times better with your team,'' Bryan Lindquist said. "We lost some good runners from last season and didn't know how good we were until about halfway through this year. We picked it up and found our stride.''
Pequot Lakes made its presence known as a first-year member of Section 7A. Junior Clayton Foster won the boys 5,000-meter race in 16 minutes, 52.1 seconds, helping Pequot Lakes finish second. Chisholm senior Adam Stainiger was second in 17:00.5. Knutson dominated the 4,000-meter girls race in 15:33.9, followed by Pequot Lakes ninth-grader Kylie Beltz in 16:06.5 on a sunny, windy, 50-degree afternoon. Crosby-Ironton was second among girls teams.
The top two teams and top 10 individuals advanced to the Minnesota Class A meet Nov. 3 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
More on Page D6
n A look at how other teams and individual runners fared in Section 7A.
n Grand Rapids girls finish first in Section 7AA; Duluth East boys take second.
While Esko's Kaycee Knutson will finish her prep cross country-volleyball-basketball-track career this school year, her shadow has a few seasons to go.
Kallyn Knutson, a seventh-grader, is in her sister's image. The 4-foot-11 Kallyn has been on the Esko varsity for just four meets this fall, finishing second on the team each time. She was fourth overall Thursday in 16:21.
The Knutson sisters, who are A students, have had a busy fall schedule. They're up by 5:45 a.m. and at cross country practice from 6-7 a.m. Volleyball practice is 3:30-5:30 p.m., Kaycee with the varsity and Kallyn as the only seventh-grader on the C team. Both are defensive specialists.
Winning by 30 seconds and repeating as section champion looked easy, but Kaycee wrote "Strength'' on her left arm and hand as a reminder to work hard. She knew her younger sister was right behind.
"Before she decided to try two sports in one season, I told her to be careful and to stay healthy,'' Kaycee said. "She's a good athlete. She's competitive.''
Although Kaycee Knutson says volleyball is her favorite sport, she plans to run cross country and track in college, probably at the Division III level. The University of Minnesota, however, has made recruiting inquiries.
Kallyn Knutson, 13, says so far she's enjoyed two sports in her first year competing at the high school level.
"I'm just following in my sister's footsteps,'' she said.
Esko had two other runners in the top 15 -- eighth-grader Kate Shelerud in 12th and senior Neysa Granholm in 13th.
Other state-meet qualifiers were Carlton eighth-grader Lindsey Dahl-Holm, Greenway ninth-grader Moriah Juhl, Mesabi East eighth-grader Espree Essig, Cook County-Silver Bay sophomore Briana Golesh and Virginia junior Laura Holien.
Chisholm's Stainiger is headed to his third Class A state meet after his best Section 7A finish. He attended a University of Minnesota running camp this summer, logged some sizeable training mileage with a YMCA group in Virginia, and had a goal to finish in the top three Thursday.
His second-place finish was the best by a Chisholm runner since Mike Benchina was Section 7A runner-up in 1999 and 2000. Chisholm had just three boys on the varsity this season.
"I wanted to step up my training and get better, and have my best season,'' said Stainiger, who ranks sixth academically in a Chisholm senior class of 45.
Because Pequot Lakes is new to Section 7A, most of the runners weren't sure what to make of Foster, the school's No. 1 runner since ninth grade. He led from start to finish.
"I felt good at the start and stuck to my pace,'' said Foster, whose team has won eight of 10 meets this season. "I knew I had a chance to win, but I was just hoping not to get caught.''
Esko edged Pequot Lakes 63-68 for its first team title since 2000, while Eveleth-Gilbert was third, ending its streak of five straight Section 7A championships. Also in the top 15 for the Eskomos were sophomore Raleigh Goessling in ninth and ninth-grader Adam Eskuri in 13th.
Other state-meet qualifiers were AlBrook senior Tony Fremling, Cromwell sophomore football Jordan Smith, who also is on the football team, and Proctor senior Justin Anderson.