FAIRMONT - Ten schools representing five different conferences will be featured during the 36th running of the I-90 Invitational cross country meet at 4 p.m. today at Cedar Creek Park in Fairmont.
Today's race will bring an extra dose of excitement, with the Martin County West Maverick boys team, who is currently ranked No. 10 in Class A boys, along with the I-90 defending champion Madelia/Truman Jayhawks competing on the boys' side of the action.
"This is kind of our sister meet to the Sentinel Relays that we host for track in the spring. The I-90 meet is something that holds a lot of tradition and the runners really get excited for it," said Fairmont head cross country coach Bob Bonk.
STRONG KICK — Fairmont runner Jaclyn Friese (front) sprints toward the finish line during the Fairmont Invitational cross country meet on Sept. 18 at Cedar Creek Park in Fairmont. Friese and the Cardinals will play host to the I-90 Invitational at 4 p.m. today at Cedar Creek Park. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
STRONG KICK — Fairmont runner Josiah Johnson accelerates to pull away from a pack of runners during the Fairmont Invite on Sept. 18. Johnson will lead the Cardinals into today’s 4 p.m. I-90 Invite cross country meet at Cedar Creek Park. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
In addition to Valley Conference rivals Martin County West and Madelia/Truman, others programs competing today will be the host Fairmont Cardinals, the Blue Earth Area Bucs, and the Saints from both St. James and St. Peter - all representing the South Central Conference.
Mankato East of the Big Nine Conference, Jackson County Central of the Southwest Conference, along with Red Rock Conference competitors Mountain Lake Area and Southwestern United, also will be competing.
"I think one of my favorite things about this meet is that we have 10 teams from five different conferences. It makes for some great racing," said Bonk.
Madelia/Truman's Cade Eckstrom, who ran the boys 5K in 16 minutes and 43 seconds, is also looking to defend his I-90 individual championship.
Battling for that top spot will be St. James' Johnathan Surber, who came in at 16:51 in last year's race.
The Jayhawks also should have Ricki Fenske near the front of the pack, while Martin County West's Jonah Mayo looks to lead the No. 10-ranked Mavericks with a top finish.
Mankato East also is a strong team with four seniors leading the way, racing for a chance to finish first in the team competition.
The Fairmont boys team has won the invite 16 times during its nearly four-decade history, with the Cardinals hosting it at Cedar Creek Park each of the last 25 years.
"This year we are steadily improving with our young team," said Bonk. "I think we would be excited about finishing in the top half of teams."
On the girls' side, the defending team champion Blue Earth Area Bucs are back, and looking for a strong finish from a young team.
The Bucs won last year's team competition by a narrow margin, outpacing the Cardinals by one point and the third-place Mavericks by two points.
"I think both Martin County West teams have to be favorites in the race. They both have strong teams this year and so far have raced well," said Bonk.
The individual first-place finish is up for grabs as the champion - Fairmont's Lauren Friese - graduated in the spring and is running at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.
Jackson County Central's Jadin Bezdicek looks to take over the first-place slot in the girls' race, but will have to contend with the likes of Mountain Lake Area's Whitney Klassen, MCW freshmen Whitney Smith and Morgan Larson, and Fairmont sophomore Katiana Fischer.
The Cardinals girls team has won the I-90 Invitational 23 times, and 10 of the last 12 years.
As one of the biggest cross country meets in the area, fans should be there early to fill the parking lot and line the course.