The Cotter girls cross country team qualified for state next Saturday, November 6, at St. Olaf College with a strong performance from all of its top five runners at the Section 1A meet in Rochester, Minn., at Northern Hills Golf Course. Sonja Semling won the section race of 135 runners, in spite of a mid-race slide down a hill, and Hazel Freyre finished third to qualify for the state meet as an individuals. Macy Piechowski finished 26th, Kyra Kotsmith 28th, and Audrey England 38th to round out the top five. Cotter edged out Chatfield by seven points and missed first place by just two points to Lake City. The Cotter girls overcame a lot of adversity to reach their goal of making it to the state meet, including losing two of their top runners that graduated last year, losing another top runner to shin splints for the season, and a runner that missed the section meet due to food poisoning. It took what was arguably the best race for each runner to beat rival Chatfield, that had decisively beaten Cotter at each of the last two meets.
On the Cotter boys side, sophomore John Fritts led the way with a seventh place finish to earn his first trip to the state meet with a 17:19-minute finish. The Cotter boys finished seventh out of a field of 20 teams. The boys improved significantly over last year. With all of their top five runners returning, the boys expect to have an even better season next year. "After many years of hard work, it’s awesome to finally be competing in the state meet,” Frittz said. “I’m so thankful for this opportunity and that God has blessed me with these talents. I can’t wait for next Saturday!"
Conditions were nearly perfect until about 18 minutes into the boys race when the rain starting coming down. Conditions deteriorated rapidly. By the start of the girls' race rain was steady and the ground was saturated, spongy, and slick. Runners had to adjust to the conditions and take the downhills slower, especially after watching lead runner Sonja Semling partially slide down one of the hills after losing her footing due to the mud.
“I’m incredibly proud of the team's focus and effort in really tough conditions,” Coach Mike Costello said. “John Fritts has had the goal of making state for four years, and he was locked in. The boys ran well as a group, and have some high goals for next year.”
”The girls were amazing,” Costello continued. “Sonja had a dominant run, despite taking a big slide mid-race. Hazel showed so much heart, having a [personal record] in miserable conditions, and Macy, Kyra, and Audrey all stepped up and hit their goals. It was definitely a long shot, but this group has a special bond and they almost captured the section title and achieved their goal of earning a trip to Northfield. It was an impressive, memorable performance.”
"My team and I have worked so hard this past year and it’s amazing to see it pay off,” Semling said. “I’m so very grateful to God for the many blessings He has given my team and me. The course wasn’t easy, filled with mud and inconsistent footings. It was so slippery I even fell and skidded down a hill, but with God’s help, I was able to get back up and find my pace again … We’re super excited for next Saturday, and I am honored that I get to compete with my teammates at my side!"
"I felt really good about the race as a whole, and it shows how hard our team has worked after losing our top runners,” Freyre said. “It also leaves room for improvement for future years, as our team is so young. As for myself, I felt like the conditions push me harder because everyone is going through it but how you handle it is what makes the difference."