Mankato East cultivates winning strategy to bring home first-ever state cross country championship

Published: Nov. 6, 2022 at 8:19 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - It was a euphoric weekend for the Mankato East boys’ cross country team after Saturday’s two-point win to come away with the programs first-ever state championship in Northfield. When the team returned to Mankato, they were all smiles with new hardware by their side.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like this. It’s cool to be a part of history,” Mankato East junior runner Isaiah Anderson said.

“It’s definitely awesome,” added senior Nick Brauer. “We all worked really hard putting in 400-plus miles over the summer for this very moment and it’s honestly the best feeling I’ve ever felt.”

Coming into the Class AA state meet, Mankato East was ranked No. 2 and won its section for the first time. In order to bring it all home, the Cougars prepared and learned from their previous two state meet appearances.

“First time, we didn’t know what we were doing, we were there for fun. But, this year, we went through every section of the course during practice and we decided what we were going to do in the race on that part of the course,” said Mankato East runner Brauer.

After mile one at St. Olaf, the black and gold were in 10th place, but from that point on, one-by-one and down to the final second, the Cougars closed the gap to edge out Rock Ridge by just two points. Mankato East won with 111 points.

“That was a kick of desperation. We needed a win and none of us had anything left I can tell you that one for sure,” explained Brauer.

It took a team effort. There’s no one star to attribute the win to. Mankato East’s success is built on depth, hard work, and coachability.

“Such a long time in the making, not just this season, but all 11 years or how ever many years I’ve been coaching,” said long-time head coach of Mankato East cross country Chris Ward.

Surely an accomplishment that’ll live on, forever.

Also showing out on the big stage with top-ten finishes were Cole Stencel of Maple River and Fairmont’s Macy Hanson.

Stencel crossed the finish line in seventh place in the Class A boys’ race, redeeming the seniors performance from last year.

“It’s a very big honor,” said Stencel. “Last year I ran at state, but I didn’t have a good race and this year, ever since then, I set it as my goal to place top ten and obtaining that just meant a lot.”

As for Cardinals’ sophomore Hanson, her fourth place finish in the Class AA girls’ race was a boost of confidence.

“It helps a lot, I’ve been dealing a lot this season with confidence and nerves and this is a huge boost on that and I’m really happy about it,” added Hanson.

The standout is just getting started in her spectacular high school running career.