A little self confidence and a lot of hard work can go a long way. For Marshall cross country runner Claire Boersma, it's taken her from Marshall to Northfield.
Boersma ran on the Tigers' girls' varsity team last season as a seventh-grader, but with some new additions to the squad this year, she was unsure if she would make the cut to be on the team. She shared that uncertainty with her coach, Marie Sample, after a team workout during the summer.
"She had this blank look on her face and I was like, 'What's wrong, Claire?' said Sample, who took over as the head coach of Marshall's girls' team this year. "And she said, 'I'm really worried about making this team.' I looked at her and I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding. You're going to be fine. You're going to make the team.'"
Independent file photo
Marshall junior Andrew Bell runs in the Marshall Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 10 at Independence Park in Marshall. His Tiger team qualified for state last year, but Bell will be the only Marshall boys’ runner competing at today’s Class AA meet.
Boersma made the team, and by placing 12th at last week's Section 3AA meet in Buffalo, crushing her previous personal best by finishing in a time of 15 minutes, 11 seconds, Boersma punched her ticket to today's Class AA state meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield where she will be joined by Marshall boys' runner Andrew Bell.
Also competing today, in the Class A meet, will be the Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI girls' team, as well as four boys runners from Marshall-area schools.
Reaching today's state meet was about the furthest thing from Boersma's mind at the start of the season, but her belief grew as the season progressed and she was consistently one of the top two to three finishers for the much-improved Tigers in each meet.
"I really wasn't ever sure if it was a possibility. It just seemed so big," Boersma said of making state. "But about the middle of the season I started getting more confident."
"My coach, she was really positive and she talked to us a lot about how we could do this and how hard we worked for this, and when I started seeing results of working hard in practice, then that really boosted my confidence."
Sample worked the whole team hard and the Tigers broke into the Class AA state rankings at one point in the season. They were hoping to get to the state meet as a team, but came up short in fourth place in the section.
Marshall focused more on quality, not quantity in practices this year, doing more speed training rather than running big miles. The strategy certainly paid off for Boersma. Now she says she's hoping for a top 40 finish in the state.
"I'm nervous, but I'm also really excited," Boersma said of today's race. "There's pressure because it's state, but there isn't as much pressure as sections because there's nothing to qualify for. I'm just focusing on doing my best and hopefully getting a personal best."
Unlike Boersma, Bell knew he was making the team when the year started. In fact, he knew he'd be the Tigers' top runner after Grant VanKeulen and Chad DeAustin moved on to compete in college after helping Marshall reach state as a team last year.
Bell, a junior, was the clear cut No. 1 runner for the Tigers this year after finishing close to, but behind, VanKeulen and DeAustin in most races a season ago.
"I don't know if it's helped me that Chad and Grant moved on, but before I always felt like I had to be behind them, and now since they're gone I've felt I had to take the leadership role and take over," Bell said. "It's definitely helped me with my running, though, and making me run up with the better guys."
Mike Jacobs, Bell's head coach, has seen a new confidence in the runner this season. Since starting the season by finishing first at a meet in Morris, Bell has consistently challenged the top runners in each race, something Jacobs has been very impressed with.
"Occasionally you get a guy who steps it up and chases the big people and then will fall back, and then maybe go after them a couple meets later, kind of an up-and-down chart. He's just been pedal down all the time," Jacobs said.
Added Bell, "It started off with Morris when I won my first varsity race, and from there it just kind of improved my thought process more and set in stone that I could run with the top runners and definitely stick with them."
Bell finished fifth in a loaded field at the section meet with a time of 16:39. Now he says he's hoping for a top-35 finish at state, something his coach feels is a real possibility.
"He certainly has the ability to get in the top 30, and maybe if he really gets after it, the top 25," Jacobs said. "It's a tough field, but he's just been a bulldog all year and doesn't shy away from a challenge."
In Class A, the Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI girls' team returns to St. Olaf after a one-year absence. The team won the Section 3A meet last Friday, holding off a tough challenge from both Adrian and Luverne.
For junior Leah Jessen, it's the fifth time she'll be headed to state. She finished 48th last year with a time of 15:50.3. This year she'll be joined by her teammates thanks to the continued improvement of senior Amanda Grengs, who finished sixth at the section meet, and some younger runners. Natalie Dinius and Sydney Sisk are both eighth-graders and were among the top four C/M/L finishers at sections, while Heidi Pavek is just a sophomore, and Ashley Grengs is a freshman. Lauren Jessen, a seventh-grader, also ran with the team at sections.
"Our goal was to get some runners within a minute of Leah, and we got Amanda beating Leah in some of the races this year," C/M/L head coach Beth Jessen said. "It's been awesome having Amanda step up and we were able to get a group of runners within a minute of Leah.
"Leah really brought those girls together this year, arranged for them to go to a camp and was in charge of summer running that the team did. She really did a good job of working towards a team goal because she knows it's more fun when you're at the starting line at state with your teammates instead of by yourself."
A pair of C/M/L boys will also make the trip, as senior Nick Stoks qualified for his fourth state meet, and junior Wyatt Johansen snuck in to qualify by placing 14th overall at sections. Johansen was on the C/M/L boys' team that made state two years ago.
Stoks missed a few meets early in the year with a hamstring injury, but has nearly returned to top form and won the 3A meet last week with a time of 16:34. He placed fourth at state last year with a time of 16:13.8 and figures to be among the top finishers again this time around.
"He's really pumped and excited, and not even that nervous," Beth Jessen said. "We're hoping he finishes up there. He's still a little off, and I'm not sure if that's because of his hamstring injury or because of the pnemonia that he had last winter, but I'm still sure he'll have a strong race and do well."
A couple of other Marshall-area runners will also be going to Northfield. Yellow Medicine East junior Jacob Carroll finished eighth at sections to qualify, and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton junior Matt Lavoy placed ninth.
The boys' Class A 5,000-meter race will begin at 10 a.m. and be followed by the Class A girls' 4,000-meter race at 11 a.m. The Class AA boys will then race at 1 p.m., followed by the Class AA girls' race at 2 p.m.