EVELETH — For two decades, the Eveleth Lions Cross Country Invitational has been one of the premier races for high school runners in Northeastern Minnesota.
With more than 20 teams and 800 athletes set to compete at various levels, the race provides teams and runners with a good look at other area teams in a large-scale setting.
In it’s 20th year, Eveleth-Gilbert head cross country coach and race coordinator Jon Wagner described the last few decades as “a fun ride.”
“It’s fortunate for us that we can have such a great venue like the Eveleth Golf Course over St. Mary’s Lake. It’s sure been a fun ride to do this for 20 years.
“I know people ran cross country there in the ‘60s and ‘70s and I sure would have liked to run it myself in high school. The course has one hill. It’s steep but it’s pretty short.”
The 25 teams scheduled to compete at this year’s meet include Carlton/Wrenshall, Chisholm, Cloquet, Cromwell-Wright/Floodwood, Crosby-Ironton, Deer River/Northland, Duluth Denfeld, Duluth East, Ely, Eveleth-Gilbert, Fond du Lac Ojibwe, Hermantown, Hibbing, International Falls, Lakeview Christian Academy, Duluth Marshall, McGregor, Mesabi East, Mountain Iron-Buhl, North Shore (Two Harbors/Silver Bay), Proctor, South Ridge/Cherry/North Woods, Superior (Wis.) and Virginia.
With so many teams, Wagner says around 25 is the perfect number for the kind of meet they want to put on.
“We really can’t get much bigger than this so it’s a nice size for us. It’s also nice some of the bigger, AA schools get a chance to see each other. We usually attract most of the teams in 7A which lets everyone see what everyone has early in the season.”
The competitors will be split between varsity and junior high levels as well Class A and Class AA for smaller and larger schools, respectively. The race kicks off at 3:30 p.m. with the Class A girls’ varsity race with the AA girls’ race at 4:05 p.m. The boys’ A race will kick off at 4:40 p.m. and the AA race will start at 5:10 p.m. The junior high races will follow the boys’ AA race.
The Proctor girls and North Shore boys will look to defend their titles in Class A with the Duluth East girls and Cloquet boys will defend the Class A titles.
Individually, Mesabi East’s Ava Hill is the defending champion in the girls’ Class A race while Ely’s Luke Olson hopes to repeat as the boys’ Class A champion. Virginia’s Cameron Stocke finished runner-up last year and looks to contend for this year’s crown. Duluth Marshall’s Emma Stattelman is the next highest returning runner on the Class A girls’ side.
Runners on both the boys and girls side look primed to challenge the frontrunners and Wagner says it’s an exciting thing to see from area runners.
“Right now in Class A, there are quite a few runners that are looking to challenge the leaders. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see who gets into that top 15 and how things shake out.”
The strong competition in attendance at the meet will allow area runners to push themselves early in the season according to Wagner.
“You always want your own runners to do well but we want everyone in the area to do well. It just elevates everyone’s performance. You’ll see a lot of these runners at sections and state and it’s how you know you’re in good company and that you could fare well.”
In Class AA, both races will have new champions as 2018 champions Molly Weberg of Duluth East and Blaine Borg of Cloquet have both graduated. Cloquet’s Lauen Cawcutt (third) and Jordan Allen (Second) are the highest returning runners from both the girls and boys races, respectively.
For the first decade the race was in existence, the weather held up rather remarkably. The last 10 years, however, the Lions Invite has seen more rain than sunshine it seems. Heading into today’s meet, it looks like runners are in for another rainy event.
“The one thing you can’t control is the weather,” Wagner said. “It looks like we’re going to have steady rain during the race but no thunder and lightning which is what’s important.”
With volunteers from the Lions Club and the Eveleth-Gilbert High School putting countless hours into the meet over the last two decades, Wagner says credit should be given to those that make things run smoothly year after year.
“The Lions Club has done a wonderful job as a host and sponsor for us. Between the high school and the Lions, we’ve been able to put out at quality meet for some time now. There are a lot of volunteers and people putting in their free time to really help us out here.”