CHIPPEWA FALLS — It was much calmer than a postseason meet or even high-caliber regular season competition.
With just four teams, space was wide open for maneuvering. And with many of the teams there having done a hard workout earlier in the week, Thursday’s cross country meet at Lake Wissota was more of a tuneup than anything.
That’s not to say there weren’t teams and individuals that elevated themselves. Quite the contrary.
For Chippewa Falls’ sophomore Ella Behling, she was able to visualize the conference race that will occur on the same course in three weeks. She hopes to be right up front when that meet kicks off.
Chi-Hi freshman Ryan Beranek learned to adjust a strategy mid-race and run to win, a trait that will very much come in handy later on his prep career.
And the Eau Claire Memorial boys were able to flex their depth and prove to the back-end varsity runners that others are knocking on the door.
It all added up to a productive day at Lake Wissota, where the Chippewa Falls girls took five of the top six spots to win the girls team title, while the Memorial boys JV team was able to knock off three other varsity teams to win.
“That was really exciting,” Behling said. “I’m hoping to see kind of the same thing at sectionals. All of our girls working together as a group.”
Behling darn near ran a personal best as she crossed the line in first with a time of 19 minutes, 53.6 seconds. She ran some of the race with freshman teammate Haley Mason, who took second in 20:16.2.
Behling made it to the state meet last year in both cross country and track and has far bigger goals than taking home the title at a low-key meet.
She used Thursday as a test against herself and put herself in situations where Hudson runners may be when the BRC meet rolls around, also at Lake Wissota.
“I thought, well, when I get to the mile mark, that’s where I’m going to pretend to cut off girls,” said the mid-distance specialist. “And up there, I have 800 left and I run the 800. Then I was thinking ‘Now you’ve got to go.’ I was just like ‘picture them in front of you, go catch them and go get them.’”
Behling is a strong finisher to races with her speed and said she used the pace cart as a metaphor for runners who will get out and push the pace.
Speaking of pushing the pace, Beranek was supposed to hit his first mile in about 5:45 to 5:50, cruise to the second around 12:00 and then go from there. He came through in 5:35.
But the youngster showed some maturity as he dug down and finished off the race, winning by seven seconds over teammate Benjamin Lemay. Beranek raced to a time of 18:18.4.
“After we ran 15 seconds in front of first mile pace, that whole plan kind of fell apart,” Beranek. “Then we just went with it.”
With the Roy Griak Invitational — known for its difficult course in the Twin Cities — coming up on Saturday, Eau Claire Memorial rested its varsity runners to prepare for the task.
Old Abes boys coach Scott Hayden has been excited about his depth all season. Everybody could see why on Thursday.
Despite the top guys not running, the Old Abes still squeaked out a win with 34 points, beating Chi-Hi by seven. Nick Wegner (18:26.8), Joel Gordon (18:35.2), Calder Bica-Harrison (18:39.3) and Parker Bestland (18:40.6) all placed in the top 10.
“The depth that we’ve had has really helped push — especially the sixth, seventh and eighth runner and what they have to live up to with our JV guys — it’s been fantastic,” Hayden. “These guys do a great job of pushing them.”
Memorial’s varsity squad, which made the state meet last year and has found itself in the polls all season, will get good experience running with big competition at the Griak on Saturday.
Perhaps they will be inspired by the performance of their junior varsity teammates on Thursday night.
“It’s a bigger race than state in terms of the number of people,” Hayden said. “And it’s a good race to practice getting those nerves out when it feels like there is more pressure.”
Colfax and North rounded out the teams present at Thursday afternoon’s meet.