Prep cross country: Ely's Olson reigns in Swain rain
Senior runner survives rain-soaked course to lead Timberwolves to team victory
Certain thoroughbreds are known as mudders.
They might not be able to finish within a furlong of the winner on a dry track, but slop it up and all of a sudden that longshot winds up in the winner’s circle.
Ely senior Luke Olson is that handicapper’s dream.
Far from a longshot, Olson had not been having the type of season he was expecting. But have Mother Nature drop buckets of rainfall on a golf course, and Olson was back in form.
Olson won the 69th annual Swain Invitational cross-country race Saturday at Enger Park Golf Course, taking first in the Class A boys race in 17 minutes, 38.3 seconds to lead the Timberwolves to the team title.
“I’m probably one of those mudders,” Olson said afterward. “I came in thinking that this race was going to be fun. This is cross country right here.”
Olson finished 15 seconds ahead of runner-up Tyson Mahar of East Grand Forks despite slipping in the final mile. As any good mudder, he kept his balance and ran hard to the finish line.
“If you can get (the conditions) out of your head and just concentrate on the race, you’re going to have a good race,” Ely coach Jayne Dusich said.
It’s been a tough senior year for Olson, who has missed several practices and a couple meets battling illness and traveling to seek out potential colleges.
“I’ve been doing mediocre compared to my other seasons, so this means a lot to me to get back on track,” he said. “It’s nice to be back in the swing of things. I’m feeling amazing.”
Dusich expects Olson to be rested in time for the Section 7 meet later this month.
“He hasn’t had a really great race for a while so we rested him this week,” she said. “He was determined to go out there and be out in front.”
And would he want the conditions the same for the section meet in Cloquet?
“If it goes this way, definitely,” he said.
Allen second in AA
Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, half of which seemed to reside in the Enger Park fairways Saturday.
One of the most slippery spots on the course is right at the finish line, where the wear and tear and mud would make any golfer take a drop instead of playing it where it lies.
Several runners slipped and fell in that spot, so watching Cloquet senior Jordan Allen and Forest Lake’s Max Charlsen sprint to the finish in the Class AA boys race was cringe-worthy.
Perhaps that’s why Allen appeared to pull up ever so slightly as Charlsen crossed the line first by three-tenths of a second.
“I feel like I could have gone harder,” said Allen, who was timed in 17:54.8. “I’m going to go harder the next time. It’s about putting your heart on the line and seeing what you can handle.”
Allen and Charlsen began their mano-a-mano sprint about 300-400 meters before the finish. Allen struggled with the slippery conditions earlier in the race, he said.
“Conditions were a bit rough; the mud made it tough to stay upright,” he said. “I fell down a few times.”
Cloquet won the Class AA team title, staving off Bloomington Jefferson by 10 points.
“The team’s coming around really well,” Allen said. “I’m excited to see how we’ll do in sections in a few weeks.”
That’s when the Section 7AA meet will be on Allen’s home course at Cloquet Country Club. Will it be dry by then?
“I’m curious to see how I do running in dry conditions,” he said. “I haven’t run a race where it hasn’t been raining, threatening to thunderstorm or thunderstorming.”
Hill wins first Swain
Mesabi East senior Ava Hill is no stranger to crossing the finish line first, having done so three consecutive years in the Class A 800 meters at the state track and field meet.
But Hill, a relative newcomer to cross country, had finished second in the past two Swains.
She was back in familiar territory Saturday, obliterating the competition. Hill won the Class A girls race in 20:17.0, more than 27 seconds ahead of the runner-up and better than the winning time in Class AA.
“It was going to be slow no matter what,” she said. “I was going for the win today.”
Hill, who finished fourth in Class A last season, broke away about halfway through and ran alone the second half of the race.
Hill said the conditions were some of the worst she has run in.
“It was so muddy and gross,” she said. “There were puddles everywhere, you couldn’t avoid any of that. You just go through it and tough it out.
“This is one of the worst because of the hills. When you try to climb, you slip backwards at the same time.”
Duluth Marshall’s Keegan McAuliffe was fifth.
Lake City captured the single-A team title, while North Shore was the top Northland finisher in third place.
After winning the Class AA race, Forest Lake freshman Ellie Hanowski wasn’t about to do a celebratory leap in one of the many swimming holes a la several other competitors.
“I’d rather stay dry,” she said after crossing the line in 20:50.2.
Dry was a relative term at Enger Park, which resembled Woodstock around the second or third day of the 1969 music festival.
“It was hard on the downhills because it was so muddy,” Hanowski said, “but overall it was really fun.”
Running her third Swain, Hanowski trailed Bloomington Jefferson runner Megan Lee shortly before the finish.
“She was ahead of me just before the (finishing chute) and then she started going off the course and I yelled, ‘Go straight, go straight,’ ” Hanowski said. “She got back on course but I caught her in the chute.”
Thanks to three top-five finishers, Hanowski’s Forest Lake team won with 33 points.
Cloquet’s Harmony Tracy led Northland runners by placing sixth.