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Yellowjackets hoping for back-to-back sweep

The Perham boys cross country team added more hardware to its trophy case with the Section 8A Championship, now they hope to add the Class A Championship. Jason Groth/FOCUS1 / 2
The Perham girls cross country team added more hardware to its trophy case with the Section 8A Championship, now they hope to add the Class A Championship2 / 2

The Perham Yellowjackets are no stranger to running with a statewide target on their back. The defending Class A Champions ran out in front during the Section 8A Championships and after a strong week of practice are hoping to become the first school in Class A history to repeat the sweep.

They became the fourth school in Class A history to sweep both the boys and the girls titles when the boys won convincingly in 2017 and the girls won by the narrowest of margins.

“This week has been amazing. It is always nice to get to this week of the season and all the hard work realized in our race performances,” Perham head coach Jeff Morris said. “Kids have been focused and very relaxed. It helps having a lot of these kids back from the state meet last year and they know what to expect.”

The one thing the Yellowjackets can expect to see are some familiar faces from last year’s field. Nine other teams return to the field from last year’s state tournament field including Mora, St. James Area, Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, North Shore, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, West Central Area, Staples-Motley, Mora and Heritage Christian Academy.

On the girls side, Winona Cotter, Luverne, Jordan, Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, Belle Plaine, North Shore and West Central Area return, along with Perham.

Morris said he thinks both teams fair very well against the teams they will be running up against at St. Olaf.

“We have pretty much seen every team or have raced in similar fields,” Morris said. “Our goal is to just focus on our race and let the other team worry about us. I think the biggest thing is our kids know that we have to respect our competition. The level of competition in the state is great right now, so you have to go out there and do what we are capable of doing.”

For the boys, Morris said the keys will be their consistency in getting out smart and establishing our ability to run at the front of the pack.

“Then our spread from one-to-five and one-to-seven needs to be as tight as possible,” Morris We have the ability to put six-to-seven runners in front of most teams fifth, so we need to focus on our very best effort and let the results take care of themselves.”

Morris said the key for the girls will be their pack. He said they have a great one-two punch in eighth grader Liz Birkeland and senior Caitlin Covington.

“Our three through seven runners are so close and they just need to go chase jerseys and close the gap to our top two, which they have done since Milaca,” Morris said. “We are going to mix it up and see what happens. It’s going to be so much fun watching them enter the backwoods and see the movement happen late in the race with our girls chasing down jerseys.”

The Yellowjackets were hit hard by illness during the conference meets, but have recovered and are healthy for the championships. Morris said he is proud of their efforts and said the runners realize they are not only running for the top nine, but for the entire team, junior high, junior varsity and senior class.

“We have a close team and our entire group will be there,” Morris said. “It will just be a ton of fun in this last leg of our cross country journey.”

The boys team consists of Brandon O’Hara, Clayton Anderson, Bailey Evenson, Chase Belka, Jakob McCleary, Isaac Scheidecker and Tesfaye Young with alternates Owen Werner and Carson Hespe.

The girls team consists of Birkeland, Covington, Hailey Wegscheid, Emily VanWatermulen, Mya Morris, Lauryn Rustad and Quincy Anderson with alternates Abby Tweeton and Mia Lung.

The Class A boys championship begins at 1 p.m. at St. Olaf, while the Class A girls championship is set for 2 p.m.

Jason Groth

 Groth is a Minnesota Newspaper Association award-winning Sports Editor of the Perham Focus and the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Groth worked in Grand Rapids as the Sports Director at KOZY/KMFY radio for two years and prior to that he was the Sports Editor/Writer for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review for seven years. 

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