Lamppa found the perfect gear for section title

Rock Ridge eighth grader Lexi Lamppa has been named the All-Iron Range Girls' Cross Country Runner of the Year by the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

VIRGINIA — For most runners, crossing the finish line in the biggest race of their life so far, it’s expected to be totally gassed out.

That wasn’t the case for Rock Ridge eighth grader Lexi Lamppa at this year’s Section 7AA championships.

Lamppa blew the rest of the field out of the water, winning the 5K race with a time of 19:10.80, nearly 50 seconds ahead of her closest competition. Her twin sister Maija finished sections not far behind in third with a time of 20:01.70.

Both qualified for the state meet where Lexi completed her breakout year and finished 27th out of 160 runners. Her sister took home 55th place.

A force on the new Rock Ridge cross country team and for her section title and strong performance at state, Lexi Lamppa has been named the All-Iron Range Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year by the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

Looking back at that section race in Cloquet, Lamppa raced out to a lead and never looked back from there all while crossing the finish line as if she could run another 5K.

“It was pretty insane,” Lamppa explained. “It felt like I was on a runner’s high. I never felt tired and I just kept going. I knew I had a good chance of winning so once I started and felt good, I just stuck with that.”

Coming into the season, Lamppa had hoped to just break the 20 minute mark. Once she shattered that and saw great results in her first few races, the goals changed.

“I got a couple races in and I realized I had a chance at making it to state with the way things were going. That became my new goal.”

Rock Ridge head coach Chris Ismil says that he expected Lamppa to have a strong season but that she exceeded expectations pretty quickly.

“Watching her from last year to this year, we knew she would come in and continue to do well and improve,” Ismil said. “As a Blue Devil last year to this season with Rock Ridge, she definitely performed beyond expectations. When she won sections and was very low 19s, it was really something great to see.

“She saw that dramatic drop in time at sections and I think that was an awakening for her because she wasn’t even tired and that’s just crazy. Even our best runners cross the finish line and they’re exhausted. I think there’s even more room for her to grow and improve and I’m excited to see what she can do with her sisters.”

Lexi and Maija also compete with sophomore sister Emma Lamppa. Having family to run with on the team, Lexi says it’s an experience she’s happy to have.

“It’s really fun. You always have someone to compete with and practice with every day. It makes the races a lot more fun too.”

Preferring to run at the front of the crowd, Lamppa says she had some jitters at the state meet, but those dissipated once the starting gun went off.

“There were a lot of nerves. I was really excited for it. I think every race you get nervous and once the race starts they just kind of go away.”

Running in the most important race of her life so far, Lamppa said seeing the fast competition at state was an eye opener.

“I was really shocked. It was just a lot of fast people that I had never seen before. I like to try and get out in the front and stick with someone that’s at my pace but everybody was fast at state.”

Ismil said Lamppa has plenty of experience keeping up with those fast runners thanks to other local runners such as Aubree Skelton from Mesabi East and Kate and Liz Nelson from Mountain Iron-Buhl.

“She has those locals she can pace off of and they’re all so very competitive with each other every race. Being AA, we don’t see them at sections or state, but we see them almost every week at the rest of our races and you always know they’re going to push each other.”

A three-sport athlete playing basketball and baseball, Lamppa enjoys staying busy no matter what sport it is.

“It’s something I’ve always done. Having multiple sports and always something to do is fun for me and the rest of my family.”

On what she enjoys most about cross country, Lamppa says it's the team building you get to do every day at practice, especially now that Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert have combined.

“Just running with people and friends is a lot of fun. It’s a good chance to just talk and have a good time. Doing it with Rock Ridge this year was fun. I made some really close relationships with the people from Eveleth-Gilbert and having more people to run with is always good.”

Looking ahead to next season, Lamppa hopes to place at state (top 10) and continue to drop her time. Ismil believes her and her twin sister have a chance to do some great things over the next four years.

“They are two runners that have some of the highest work ethic on the team. There’s probably two or three other people training like them. For Lexi, she wanted not to run at her level or at the level of the girls team but she was looking for the faster boys to push her.

“We have really good competition from three or four other schools in 7AA and I think if she and Maija are fully healthy, they could be truly special runners for us. They already have that state experience as eighth graders and I think that elephant is off their shoulders now so we’re excited about what’s coming down the road.”

In addition to Lamppa, the All-Iron Range Girls’ Cross Country Team includes: Maija Lamppa of Rock Ridge; Mileena Sladek, Jorie Anderson, Abigail Theien, Reese Aune and Gianna Figueroa of Hibbing, Aubree Skelton of Mesabi East; Zoe Devine and Molly Brophy of Ely; Liz Nelson of Mountain Iron-Buhl and Addison Burckhardt, Evelyn Brodeen, Tatum Barto, Arriana Ridge and Brook Smith of South Ridge/Cherry/North Woods/Northeast Range.

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