When Ellie Nelson woke up Friday morning and milled over her bowl of Cheerios, she never considered she would be the hero for the Wildcat girls' cross country team a few hours later.
Nelson, a soft-spoken, modest sophomore according to coach Pat Lorentz, has been part of a supporting cast that has been just out of the top five Wildcat girls' runners. But as the results started to come in following the Irish Invite in Rosemount, Minn., it was clear the race for first place was very close.
So close in fact, that after taking the points for the top five runners, River Falls was tied for first with Minnetonka, Minn., each with 69 points. Having to go to a tie-breaker to determine the winner, the sixth runner for River Falls was Nelson, who finished eight seconds ahead of Minnetonka's No. 6 runner to give the Wildcats the team victory.
"Sixteen years of cross country, as an athlete and coach, and I have never seen a big meet come down to a tie-breaker," Lorentz said. "I have seen them go to a tie-breaker to determine places lower down in the results, but never for first place."
The Wildcats were the sole Wisconsin team in the 2-mile Irish Invite. The meet featured some of the top teams from Minnesota, including six girls teams that finished in the top 15 at the Minnesota state meet in 2009.
Leading the way for the River Falls girls' was sophomore Paige Skorseth, who covered the course in a time of 12 minutes, 26 seconds, good enough for 10th individually.
Skorseth was followed closely by senior captain Laura Anderson (12th, 12:34), junior Aislinn Pomfret (13th, 12:35, junior Natalie Powell (16th, 12:38), and senior Tia Harris (19th, 12:42).
The difference between the Cats' first and fifth runners was a mere 16 seconds.
"It was our ability to keep our one to five spread low that allowed us to be in this one," Lorentz said. "And then Nelson drove it home for us. I was so excited for Ellie. She has put in a lot of miles over the summer and is really trying to make that next jump up to the top five. She works really hard and is just a great kid all the way around."
Junior Hanna Gribble completed the Wildcat's varsity line-up, with a 58th place time of 13:32.
In the boys' race, the Wildcats were led by senior captain Ethan Genco, who finished 19th with a time of 10:45. Junior captain Shae Taylor followed closely behind with a 33rd place time of 10:57, followed by freshman Trent Powell in 41st place in 11:01, junior Salvador Bastien 47th in 11:05, and sophomore Mitch Lennamen 65th in 11:17. Powell was the first freshman in the 18-team field across the finish line.
Freshmen Tom Ramquist placed 83rd in 11:34 and senior captain Garrett Williams was 102nd in 12:04. The Wildcat boys finished 8th out of the 18 teams.
Like the girls, the boys were the only Wisconsin team in the field.
"Before the gun went off, I reminded the guys that they weren't only running for River Falls, but that we were representing the great state of Wisconsin," Lorentz said. "I think that fired them up a little bit."
The Wildcats will put their spikes on the shelf this week in order to help run the Kinni Trout Trot Run, a fundraiser for the homeless shelter here in River Falls Saturday.
"I think it is important for the kids to give back to the community and it is a great way to get a little team bonding in too," Lorentz said.
The Wildcats will return to action on Saturday, Sept. 18, at the Smiley Invite in Wausau.