FAIRMONT - Not that long ago, the Fairmont Cardinals girls cross country team dominated the I-90 Invitational.
After a drought of two years, the Class A, No. 9-ranked Cardinals are looking to be back at the top of some highly-talented competition in today's 37th annual I-90 Invite at Cedar Creek Park in Fairmont.
The Class A, No. 5-ranked Martin County West boys will look to hold off Worthington today when the Mavericks defend their I-90 crown .
TAKING THE CORNER — Fairmont’s Sarah Bartz (front) and Sasha Riley round a corner during regular-season cross country action at Cedar Creek Park in Fairmont. Bartz, Riley and the Class A, No. 9-ranked Cardinals will look to capture top honors at today’s I-90 Invitational at Cedar Creek Park. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"We won this race 10 or 11 years in a row and since that run, we haven't won it for the last two," said Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk. "The girls are excited because we feel like we have a real chance to win it again this year."
If the Cardinal girls are going to take home the title, they will need solid finishes from their top seven runners: Jenna Pavich, Katiana Fischer, Iliana Ramon, Hannah Johnson, Emily Haugen, Molly Hawkins and Sarah Bartz.
"Jenna and Kati just keep getting better and better each meet, but so does the whole team," said Bonk. "Our pack just keeps getting tighter and tighter and the times keep getting faster."
Fairmont also will have to defeat the defending I-90 Invite girls champions - the Martin County West Mavericks.
Defending first- and second-place finishers Whitney Smith and Morgan Larson return for the Mavericks, who will team up with Brooke Anderson in creating a formidable title defense.
Southwestern United's Rachel Salentiny and MaKayla Edwards will prove tough competitors near the front of the race, while Worthington's Alicia Darling and Meredith Moore could pose a challenge, too.
"We have raced against most of these teams already in invites this season, but I think overall it will be a very competitive race," said Bonk. "There are a lot of fast girls, who have finished relatively close to the same times It should make for a competitive race."
Mankato East's Ivy Glade, Ashley Lahti from St. James and Blue Earth Area's Taylor Grandgenett are all runners who could contend for a top individual finish.
On the boys' side, the Mavericks have Jonah Mayo, Matt Viesselman, Dylan Brockman and Chris Kahler back from last year's first-place I-90 team.
Worthington will prove to be a challenge for the Mavericks, returning to the invite after a 15-year absence.
"Worthington used to come every year when the meet first started," said Bonk. "And they haven't come for the last 15 years, but their boys team, I believe, could challenge Martin County West for the top boys finish."
Amanual Fissiha, who won the Turkey Trot Invite in Worthington earlier this fall, along with teammate Matt Jirele, will try to lead the Trojans to a first-place finish.
"I think that Martin County West and Worthington are going to be tough teams to beat, but beyond those top two teams, I think the rest will be pretty evenly matched," said Bonk.
Fairmont senior Zac Ehlert also will vie for a top individual finish, with Blue Earth Area's Mike Ankeny, Southwestern United's Logan Knutson and St. James' Tyler Witcraft.
"This is a great time of year for this meet in my opinion," said Bonk. "The runners are in great shape and it's right before the big end-of-season meets. It makes it really competitive and entertaining."
In addition to Fairmont, Worthington, Martin County West and Blue Earth Area, the other teams competing in the invite will be Jackson County Central, St. James, Mountain Lake Area, St. Peter, Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther, Mankato East and Southwestern United.
The junior high races will start at 4:30 p.m. today, with the varsity girls racing at 5 p.m. and the varsity boys at 5:30 p.m. at Cedar Creek Park.