VIRGINIA—Today is the day the Rock Ridge boys’ cross country team has been anticipating for an entire year.
A year ago, the Wolverines ran to a fifth place team finish at their first ever state meet. Today, they’ll hope to outdo that after putting together a dominant season leading up to the big race.
“It’ll be an interesting race,” senior Cam Stocke said earlier this week at practice. “Almost everybody is rounding into shape just when we need them to. We’ll see how it goes but I think we’re feeling pretty good.”
“We’ve trained hard and we’re hoping this week of tapering pays off,” teammate Jake Bradach said. “Hopefully we can drop some pretty serious time on Saturday.”
The high expectations for the season began as soon as the Wolverines finished up last year’s state meet. That carried into track season and eventually into their offseason training. The program as a whole, both boys and girls benefited from the extra team training
“We’ve set those expectations for ourselves,” runner Jared Delich said. “We all come into this season stronger than we ever have before so we adjusted our goals because of that. For the most part, we can run super strong and we’ve continued to get stronger and I think we’ve improved a lot for it.”
“Summer training is really the meat of what makes a good cross country season,” Stocke siad. “For a lot of people, it was their first time ever running in the summer so that really helped our results at the beginning of the season.”
Rock Ridge’s team is headlined by Stocke, who will be aiming for an individual state championship in his senior year. Bradach was next for the Wolverines, with junior Casey Aune third, Delich fourth and sophomore Jack Kendall fifth. Connor Matschiner and John Kendall rounded out the squad at sections where no Rock Ridge runner placed worse than 17th.
Despite the dominating performance at sections, it wasn’t the Wolverines’ best showing of the season.
“There were some nerves there,” Bradach said. “But we knew if we didn’t run the best race of our lives, we’d still be OK and make it to state. We knew we’d likely make it and have another chance of running a great race at state. It was a fast course and the weather was perfect. For the most part, we ran well but we felt like we could’ve dropped more time and done even better.”
Coming into the season, a top three finish at state looked to be a solid goal for Rock Ridge. Now, the team thinks they can still achieve that. On any given day, a state championship is a possibility.
“We definitely want to come home with some hardware,” Stocke said. “Most of us are seniors so that would be really special to end it that way. We’ve been ranked as high as second and right now they say we’re fifth so I think top three is a real possibility. If we run really well, then who knows how it could all end up.”
Wolverines head coach Chris Ismil says Rock Ridge is in the mix for a state title with five other teams.
“Where any one of those teams is on that day, no one can predict that,” Ismil said. “Our hope is they go and run their best that day and that could equate to them coming home in first place. Our boys have consistently been at a solid place speed-wise this season and we feel positive about that. We have five guys who can push into the 16s but so do the other best teams. Who can do it that day and who has the positioning and the best finish, that’s how it’ll end things.
“We’re not saying you have to go out and win a state championship. But if we go and have our best day, we can be that team. They might be questioning themselves so we now we tell them to open that door and believe in themselves.”
With five of their top seven being seniors, Ismil says there is some finality about this race for his team. The Wolverines will look to reload next year, but for this year’s team, there’s an added sense of urgency.
“A lot of these seniors will be in track and field and they’ll end up very competitive there as well but there is that feeling for some about this being their last shot. I know Cam wants to win a state championship in cross country so he’ll put that pressure on himself. A lot of the guys have been running for a long time so there is that last-race feeling. All we can do is tell them to go out and run your race. There’s pressure on last year’s winner Big Lake, so let them have all the pressure and we can run our race.”
On Stocke’s chances of winning an individual state title, Ismil says the veteran star runner knows what he has to do today.
“I can talk to him and help take his mind off things. Cam has his routine and there’s really no breaking that for him. He’s been to state so many times that really all he needs is to be healthy and I think he is healthy this year after struggling with that in the past. How good can he be on race day? That’s what it’ll come down to and we’ll be there to support him.”
The Class AA Boys’ State Meet is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. today at St. Olaf College in Northfield.