HIBBING — The Hibbing High School boys and girls cross country teams will both get an early-season test today when they take part at the Titan Invite, which begins at 5 p.m., at the Eagle Ridge Golf Course.
The Bluejackets will be running against Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, which has Geno Uhrbom, and Grand Rapids, which usually puts together some tough teams.
There will be a total of three sessions, with the first one starting at 1 p.m., with Chisholm, Deer River and Mesabi East, then the second session will begin at 3:15, with Virginia, Eveleth-Gilbert and Ely.
All the teams will run, then the times will be sorted out to see where each team places in the meet.
It’s going to be a challenge for both Hibbing teams, but Bluejacket coach James Plese is hoping the boys team can take another step forward.
“We want to build some success with some of our younger guys today,” Plese said. “We’ve been up-and-down, but we’re young still.”
Plese only has two seniors, David Platt and Owen Hendrickson, then two juniors, Ethan Roy and Zach Rusich.
After that, Plese is relying heavily on freshmen, then eighth-graders.
Two of those, Lucas Arnold and Carson Brown, will get a chance to run the varsity meet.
“We had two eighth-graders run well in Virginia, so we’re going to throw them into the varsity race to see how that shakes out,” Plese said. “We’ll see how some of the older guys respond.
“They actually beat their times, but they weren’t heads-up in the race. This time, they will be heads-up, so we’ll see. We might do some shuffling with some of our ninth-graders, but they have to respond. A couple of them got bumped to the JV race.”
Plese is hoping that mental adversity makes them tougher runners.
“They have to respond to that challenge and say, ‘No, I belong in this varsity 5K,’” Plese said. “We’ll see how that goes.”
Hibbing will have to compete against the Thunderhawks and Titans.
“This is going to tell us quite a bit,” Plese said. “GNK is strong. They’ve got Geno, but they had a second runner finish ahead of David’s time in Virginia. David was in there, but their three, four and five runners finished before Zach and Bryson (Larrabee).
“The challenge will be to break up their pack and mix it up.”
As far as Grand Rapids is concerned, the Thunderhawks moved to the Lake Superior Conference, so Plese knows very little about them.
“I haven’t see their times,” Plese said. “We haven’t crossed paths with them yet, so this will be our first taste as to where Grand Rapids is. They’ve been up-and-down the last few years, but they usually get solid numbers.
“It’s going to be interesting to see where they’re at. Hopefully, the boys youthful experience, we’re building that. All we can ask for is a nice day and see where they end up.”
On the girls side, the Bluejackets are coming off a first-place finish at the Virginia Invite.
“That was a nice win,” Plese said. “We’re hoping to do well again. We came into the season hoping to be competitive in each and every meet we go to.
“That first meeting with Duluth East didn’t go our way, but it made the girls hungry.”
Reese Aune and Aune Boben have been leading Hibbing, but Jocelyn Strukel snuck in front of them in Virginia to give Plese three solid runners.
“Reese and Aune will battle,” Plese said. “Jocelyn has thrown her name into the mix. She bounced back. She scared herself in the Duluth meet. She was running with the leaders, and she wasn’t sure of herself.
“Hopefully, she’s building confidence. She ran a smart race in Virginia, and we’re hoping that carries over into the Titan Meet. We might have a girl battling for the individual champ this time. That would be fun. It’s always good to get a girl out front and set the tone.”
Jorie Anderson and Gianna Figouora will be back in the lineup, along with Miriam Milani and Addison Hess. Audra Murden won the junior varsity race last time out, so she’ll be moved to the varsity team.
“We want to see who she can hang with on our team and where it shakes out,” Plese said. “Our junior varsity team will be weakened, but we’re building a varsity team. We also have a couple of JV girls that are on the edge of jumping to the varsity.”
The one thing Hibbing did get away from in that last meet was pack running.
“We have to get that tightened up,” Plese said. “We’re starting to spread out, which is unusual for our girls. Hopefully, they can stay tight, move up in the ranks and continue to work hard.”