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I-90 Meet set to hit Cedar Park

Martin County West’s Caitlin Whitehead, Marissa Whitehead and Katie Hartke, from left, along with Fairmont’s Hannah Neusch, Eleanor Hamlet, Sara Sundblad, Laura Thompson and Tabitha Thatcher, middle to right, will vie in today’s I-90 cross country invite at Cedar Creek Park in Fairmont.

FAIRMONT — From 2014 through 2017, a Fairmont girl won the I-90 Invitational as an individual. This year a member of the Class A, No. 7-ranked Cardinals will look to restart the streak.

Four of the top five individual runners from both the boys and girls races in the 2018 I-90 Invite are returning to this year’s race today at Cedar Creek Park in Fairmont.

For the girls, 2018 champion Olivia Beschorner of Mankato East, runner-up Marissa Whitehead of Martin County West/Martin Luther, third-place finisher and current No. 11-ranked Laura Thompson of Fairmont, and fifth-place finisher McKenna Herrmann of Belle Plaine are all vying for the top spot.

With the same team field as the 2018 race, Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk said the favorites are similar to last season.

“There’s probably a top three,” Bonk said. “(No. 7) Fairmont and (No. 8) Belle Plaine are both ranked in the top 10 in the state right now and also Mankato East, who has a nice pack of girls and have the defending champion (Beschorner) back.”

Bonk said there are a couple of new runners who might break into the top five, including Fairmont seventh-grader Macy Hanson. With only the Cardinals’ Sarah Krumholz graduating from last year’s top five at the I-90, it will be a difficult group to join.

Running into the boys’ top five will prove difficult as well.

Returning champion Jett Oachs of Mankato East is back for his senior season after placing in the top five each of the past two years, while Belle Plaine senior Drew Hastings is in the same boat, finishing fourth in 2017 and second last year.

Worthington’s Adam Koller moved up from a fifth-place finish in 2017 to a third overall time last year, while Blue Earth Area’s Grant Strukel joined the top five in 2018 with a fourth-place finish and is looking to improve this year.

Bonk said two area competitors in Fairmont’s Will Saari and Martin County West/Martin Luther’s Jake Lewis have a chance to join the group of four in the boys’ top five.

“The boys should be a terrific top three,” Bonk said. “Worthington and St. James (Area) have been going back and forth all fall and winning meets. St. James (Area) is ranked third in Class A.

“We’ve been to quite a few meets with both, and neither has dominated. Mankato East might be favored over both, they have an outstanding boys group with small difference between their top guys’ times. Their program just keeps getting better year over year.”

The I-90 invite will involve all five Sentinel area teams in Fairmont, Blue Earth Area, Martin County West/Martin Luther, Madelia/Truman/Granada-Huntley-East Chain and North Union.

Bonk said having this as the Cardinals’ third and final home meet of the year gives Fairmont a slight advantage.

“In just about any sport its great to be home,” Bonk said. “In cross country, maybe one of the most advantageous because hopefully you know the home course and you have more fans cheering for you. It’s nice to be home and I think it gets a little more adrenaline going.”

The meet will begin at 4:30 p.m. today with the junior high races, then the varsity girls and boys races will begin afterward.

With the four races combined, Bonk said there will be more than 400 total competitors, which is a large turnout. Although the past three years the event has been run in heavy rain, Bonk said he is hopeful this year’s event might have a better forecast.

“The ground will be plenty saturated,” Bonk said. “But I’ve often said cross country is a sport of the environment.”

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