River Falls High School cross country coach Pat Lorentz has a simple message for the team's fans:
"It's a good time to be a fan of Wildcat Cross Country," Lorentz said.
Lorentz has plenty of reasons to be optimistic after the Wildcat girls took first place and the boys finished second in the largest field in River Falls Extreme Meet history Thursday on the UW-River Falls campus. The annual event includes a number of unique features, including a section of the course that requires runners to run through a portion of the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River behind the power plant.
The Wildcat girls took first in the 14-team field with 35 points with Anoka, Minn., finishing a distant second with 63. On the boys' side, Anoka took top honors with 36 followed by River Falls with 44.
Wildcat freshman Paige Skorseth ran away with the girls' individual title, finishing an impressive 46 seconds ahead of Hastings' Kelly Pechous with a first place time of 22 minutes, 39 seconds.
"I could see the first two weeks of practice that Paige was in good shape," Lorentz said. "but I was a bit surprised to see her handle the rest of the field so easily."
Sophomore Aislinn Pomfret was the second Wildcat across the finish line, and fifth overall, with a time of 24:07. Pomfret was followed closely by junior Lucy Ramquist in sixth place in 24:20.
"I was very happy with the way Lucy ran her first high school cross country meet," Lorentz said. "She is a great addition to an already strong women's team."
Senior Monica Morgan posted an eighth place time of 24:49 while freshman Ellie Nelson rounded out the Wildcats' top five with a 15th place time of 24:36.
Other Wildcat finishers included sophomore Hanna Gribble (18th, 24:53), junior Katie Berndt (27th, 26:43), sophomore Vanessa Maione (41st, 27:32), senior Faith Harris (47th, 28:02) and senior Dana Carpenter (62nd, 28:30). A total of 107 runners competed in the girls' race.
Making the Wildcats' victory even more impressive was the fact they were without junior captain Laura Anderson and 2009 Big Rivers Conference 3200 meter champion Natalie Powell. Lorentz said they could have participated, but he chose to hold them out while they recover from injuries sustained during the spring track season.
"We have the depth and talent to do things the right way, and I felt a couple more weeks of training before racing was best for both of them," he said.
The closest finish of the day came in the boys' race, where Cory Juntunen of Wausau West beat Spencer Grow of Anoka by inches with a time of 20:16.
Junior captain Ethan Genco was the top finisher for the Wildcats with a fourth place time of 20:44.
"Ethan set the pace for us today and the rest of the guys worked together to keep him in sight," Lorentz said.
Sophomore Salvador Bastien finished seventh in 20:50 and senior captain Casey Schellhorn was eighth in 20:52 while senior captain David Ritter finished 12th in 21:22 and sophomore Shae Taylor placed 13th in 21:24.
The top five runners for the Wildcat boys were separated by a mere 40 seconds, something Lorentz said he liked to see.
"We have a real tight pack from one to five," he said. "There is a certain strength that you derive from running next to your teammates. You have an understanding of what they are going through, and in that understanding you push on even when your body is telling you not to."
Also competing for the Wildcat boys were senior Patrick Keicher (23rd, 22:06), junior Cole Comer (38th, 23:13), senior Matt Schwalen (44th, 23:42), senior Anton Yelk (54th, 24:23) and junior Garrett Williams (65th, 24:43). Total of 135 runners competed.
Lorentz said 52 runners are out for the boys' and girls' teams this season.
"I have been very pleased with our numbers this year," he said. "It will be a challenge to keep everyone together, but the captains as well as the other seniors on the team have been doing a really nice job of leading the way."
The Cats will next compete at the Menomonie Relays on Saturday, Sept. 12.