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Section 4AA Qualifier

By Chris Babcock, 10/27/16, 9:00AM CDT


A lot of heart and a lot of patience

Running in big meets takes confidence and poise, Althea Gutzmann and the Raiders have both.

patiently picking her way over the course and through the competition

A Coach’s check list of what to pack when going to a cross country meet.

Warm weather gear
Cold weather gear
Running shoes
Stop watch
Extra spikes for runners
Extra uniform(s) - one boys and one girls
Antibacterial cream

What am I missing? The AED (Automated External Defibrillator).

Going into a competition like the Section 4AA meet as a coach you pretty much know how things should go. Well, ok we are talking about young athletes, somewhat unpredictable weather, course changes, and the word Championship is being thrown around with all of the stress and anxiety that can bring, not to mention that this is a qualifying meet for the State meet.

About that last one… it can be difficult, especially for those runners that are on the fringe for qualifying, to tell whether or not they have succeeded in achieving this most revered of accomplishments. The way it works is the top two teams qualify for the State meet. Those team members, 14 runners, are taken out of the individual standings, and then the top 8 runners in the individual standings qualify for the State meet. With runners spread out it can be challenging to watch the finish and know for certain which teams won and placed.

So, you wait.

From the on set it was pretty apparent that Althea Gutzmann(12) would be patiently picking her way over the course and through the competition, leaving them behind one by one, two by two or packs at a time. She has had success with this strategy in the past. “It’s the runner that slows down the least that is going to come away with this,” is what her coach kept saying all season after all. So, his heart problems really stem from the advice that he gives his athletes.

At the first mile I was waiting and waiting - it can seem like an eternity sometimes - until Gutzmann appeared coming over the hill comfortable in a pack of unsuspecting runners about to be served dust for dinner. She was hovering somewhere between 30th and 40th place. I urged her on trying at the time to be supportive and not let on that I was a bit worried. Later she remarked that she knew she was making people uncomfortable because as she passed their cheers seemed to be carrying a certain urgency with them.

Not too far behind were her teammates paired up as usual, Lucia Frias-Wackman (11), Molly Roberge (11) in one group, Irene Stringer (12) and Madeline Veverka (12) in another, and Lucy Grumbles (11) and Kate O’Neill (12) in the last. All of them right on pace.

At the next point I saw them, about 2500m into the race, Gutzmann had moved up some and was now in the upper 20’s. She still looked good. The cold air and soft ground were playing right into her hands.

With just under a mile to go she was still right around 20th place. As she passed I made sure to point ahead, inform her that 15th place was a head of her about 75 yards wearing a white jersey. Now I was starting to get nervous. But knew that she is a sprinter after all and a good one at that. Plus she has courage and has been following her plan all a long.

As she moved up the gap between her and her teammates grew even though they were racing well in their own right. Frias-Wackman and Roberge were a solid pair. Veverka could see them ahead of her and was climbing her way through the pack of runners to get to them. Stringer was trying to hold on, kept her pace, but couldn’t match Veverka’s drive. Grumbles and O’Neill push forward and were also making up ground.

Having seen all seven of the Raiders pass I could now make my way across the course to my next vantage point, a spot about 200m from the finish that is at the bottom of the last hill, which obscures the view of the finish line. I could seen Coach Docherty and Coach Lipinski down the course on either side of me, also eagerly awaiting the lead cart.

In the first group there were so many black jerseys it was had to tell for sure which teams were represented. But there was a good contingent of White Bear Lake and Roseville runners, plus a couple of other teams thrown in the mix.

I counted ten runners before I saw Gutzmann in about 12th place. Things were looking good and she was looking strong as she climbed that last hill and strode for the finish line. She would cross in 20:04 and in 10th place overall. There would have to be 2 runners from the winning and placing teams ahead of her for her to qualify for state.

As it happened there were 6. She finished as the fourth individual and will be running at St. Olaf the first Saturday in November.

While none of the varsity girls ran their best times of the season they all raced one of the best races of the season. They were all able to step up to the challenges they faced getting to the starting line and then getting to the finish line and should be proud of what they have accomplished.