Mix of returning talent and new faces has Albert Lea cross country excited for a new season

Published 9:00 pm Friday, August 27, 2021

After the Albert Lea boys’ cross country team finished sixth in the Big Nine Conference last season and with the girls’ team returning a number of letter winners, the Tigers are looking forward to starting their season.

Led by returning 2020 All-Conference runner Gavin Hanke, the boys’ team returns 13 letter winners from a season ago, including senior Mason Buendorf, Blake Christensen, Carter Harmdierks, Brennan McCalla and Henrik Lange; juniors Gavin Hanke, Pat Holcomb, Trey Shaw and Luke Wangsness; sophomore Isaiah McGaffey; freshman Fernando Merino Martinez and Jacob Miller; and eighth grader Andrew Tscholl.

Jim Haney, entering his 23rd year as head coach, said the boys have a lot of depth and could see as many as 10 to 12 runners competing at the varsity level this season.

Haney said the girls team is going to have a lot of runners new to the sport of cross country, but will also have a handful of returning letter winners.

Senior Aliyah Studier, junior Jai Maligaya, freshman Mya Hanke, and eighth graders Michaela Hanson and Anna Shaw all return after a 12th-place finish in the Big Nine.

“With a new section we are running, with teams that we can compete with, we are looking forward to the challenge of being our best at the section meet,” Haney said.

Prior to the start of the season, the Minnesota State High School League added a class to cross country, expanding the sport from two to three classes, allowing for more evenly matched competitions.

“We have dedicated young men and women that realize that they have the potential to do great things,” Haney said. “We are always looking to improve and we have the young men and women that will put forth that effort to be great.”

Haney said the key to success this season will be staying healthy and making sure the runners are competing at their best come late October.

“The runners are up to the challenge and they are ready to show the new section that we will be a factor,” Haney said.

The cross country teams get their season started Tuesday with an away meet at Meadow Greens Golf Course in Austin. Their lone home meet this season is scheduled for Sept. 21.

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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