For the WHS cross country program, the 2013 season was nothing short of a continuous highlight reel.
“This was just one of those ‘special’ years when everything was clicking,” said head coach Christian Gilbert.
In his first season as head coach, Gilbert said his first goal was to maintain the strong traditions of the Waconia cross country program and create a positive atmosphere.
“We pride ourselves on attracting every type of athlete, we are a huge family of positive individuals who are simply trying to get to the finish line a little bit quicker than the last time we tried,” he said.
And Waconia runners certainly did reach that finish line a little bit quicker. The season began Sept. 5 at Montgomery, where the Wildcat girls were third, with Lexi Willems finishing seventh and Alora Rands 15th. The WHS boys were 11th at the same meet.
The girls were team champions at Norwood Young America on Sept. 10, where Willems brought home her first individual meet title of the year. Rands also medaled. The boys were ninth overall, with medals going to Alex Carrabre and Tony Fulkerson. Two days later at Delano, the girls again were crowned team champions, thanks to medalists Willems, Rands, Carissa Dock, and Mikaela Kauma. A fourth place team finish went to the boys, led by medalist Carrabre.
A three-meet win streak continued for the girls at home on Sept. 17. Willems was the individual champion, while Dock (fifth), Rands (sixth), and seventh grader Madison Denzer (13th) all finished in the top 15. The boys were fourth at home, led by Fulkerson and Carrabre in 10th and 11th.
At Dassel-Cokato and Buffalo on Sept. 24 and 26, the ‘Cats competed in some of their most challenging meets of the season. The girls were third in D-C, led by Willems (seventh) and Dock (12th), and tied for ninth at Buffalo. Seventh at D-C and 12th in Buffalo, the boys were led again by Carrabre and Fulkerson, who were 12th and 15th in D-C.
At their biggest meet of the year, the girls were 13th at the Chaska Par 30 Golf Course on Oct. 1, the boys 20th, with no medalists for either squad.
October 10 at Mound-Westonka, the Wildcats fared well at the Wright County Conference Championships, both at the varsity and junior varsity levels. The varsity girls were second as a team, with All-Conference winners Willems (fourth), Rands (12th), and Dock (14th). The junior varsity girls were third, led by WCC champion Grace Zieske.
The junior varsity boys were the No. 1 team in their division, thanks to two top 10 finishes from Parker Roehl and Jack Kappel.
It was the varsity boys that struggled, finishing 10th of 11 teams in the conference. Gilbert said although he doesn’t like to focus on ‘places,’ but to form a program based on family, friends, and personal achievements, he said the team and coaching staff were disappointed in the low finish.
“I just really feel for these guys because they have a ton of heart and really want to be competitive,” Gilbert said. “I do know that our guys care and are taking steps both mentally and physically to prepare for the future.”
The boys rebounded from their WCC disappointment with a fourth place finish at Watertown Oct. 16. The girls were second, with medalists Willems (fourth), Rands (seventh), and Dock (eighth).
After a tough and competitive Section 2AA meet at Buffalo, Willems and Carrabre qualified for the state meet by finishing 11th and 14th in their respected races. Carrabre became the first male Wildcat to qualify for state since the switch to Class AA.
The girls’ varsity team earned a Gold GPA Standard at sections for having a combined team grade point average of 3.96. The boys’ team received a Silver Standard for a combined GPA of 3.72.
In her third and final state appearance, Willems finished 93rd in Class AA with a time of 15:35.5. Carrabre made his state debut, finishing 118th in 17:15.6.
With 146 runners this season, 115 of whom received Academic Excellence awards, and 53 letter winners, the Wildcat cross country team has prepared itself for the future, despite losing a “huge crew” of seniors this year. Gilbert called this season’s graduates a great group, some of whom have been with the program for six years.
“I always tell them that their individual ‘legends’ will be talked about for years by the younger generations,” Gilbert said. “They left their mark and we are a better organization because they chose to spend time with us.”
In the departing seniors place, a strong group of young runners are ready to leave their own legacies.
“We are completely stacked throughout our younger generations and should be a distance force in the next couple of years,” Gilbert said. “I think it is tough to be a guy runner in Waconia because it seems like the gals have been tops in both cross country and track for years, but just wait … I am doing whatever I can to learn more about distance running and motivation to help get my crews flying!”