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Prep cross country: Superior’s McMeekin ready to compete Saturday at Wisconsin state meet

Both Northwestern and Solon Springs/Northwood qualified their boys teams.

Superior’s Tayler McMeekin runs along the trail behind Wessman Arena
Superior’s Tayler McMeekin runs along the trail behind Wessman Arena practice Aug. 23.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Superior freshman Tayler McMeekin burst onto the local running scene last fall as a freshman, running past Lake Superior Conference competition en route to a 19th-place finish at the Wisconsin Division 1 Cross Country Championships at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.

While McMeekin made it look easy, it’s been anything but easy ever since as she’s dealt with injuries stemming from her growth plates still being open.

While McMeekin didn’t exactly pick up where she left off this fall, the sophomore has gradually gotten back on track and Saturday, Oct. 29, she will compete at the Wisconsin state meet for the second straight year.

“I think I am feeling ready to run,” McMeekin said. “I have been staying pretty healthy this season and of course, I am nervous, but I am excited as well to be back at state.”

The girls races start at noon (Division 3), 12:40 p.m. (Division 2) and 1:20 p.m. (Division 1) in Wisconsin Rapids, while the boys are at 2 p.m., 2:35 p.m. and 3:10 p.m., in the same divisional order.

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McMeekin qualified for the state meet with a second-place finish at the Division 1 sectionals last weekend in West Salem, Wisconsin.

New Richmond sophomore Marah Benedict covered the five kilometers in 19 minutes, 32.9 seconds, while McMeekin was less than five seconds back in 19:36.2.

In a heartbreaker, Superior’s Jacob Lind missed qualifying by 5.5 seconds among boys competitors.

McMeekin’s time was slightly better than the 19:37 she posted at the Ridges last year. While every cross-country race is different, with various courses and variables, the fact she is running that well would have almost been hard to fathom early in the season.

That’s a fact not lost on the sophomore. She’s soaking this up.

The atmosphere is very impressive (at the state meet). Just being present is a blessing,” McMeekin said. “Ultimately, my goal is to come in the top 20 again and hopefully stay in the lower 19th minute. Despite the (earlier) results, I’m proud of how far I’ve come this season.”

Northwestern’s Jenna Hursh (6868) holds a slight lead over Superior’s Tayler McMeekin (6988) on the first lap of the John Woodbury Invitational
Northwestern’s Jenna Hursh (6868) holds a slight lead over Superior’s Tayler McMeekin (6988) on the first lap of the John Woodbury Invitational at Norwood Golf Course in Lake Nebagamon on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 20. Both Hursh and McMeekin have qualified for state.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Tigers on the prowl

In Division 2, the Northwestern boys have qualified for the state meet for the third straight year, including captains Mark Jarman, Emmett Johnson and Ian Kalin. It will be senior Peter Kephart’s and sophomore Morgan Martens’ second trip, while freshman phenom Hunter Fredrickson has had a big impact.

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Trevy Amundson rounds out the team while fellow sophomore Oscar Danz will serve as an alternate.

Meanwhile, among girls competitors, Northwestern junior Jenna Hursh qualified individually after finishing fourth at the Rice Lake Sectional in 20:04.9.

“She’s just an incredible talent,” Tigers coach Phil McGrath said. “Very coachable. She put in a ton of miles over the summer.”

Solon Springs/Northwood

In Division 3, Solon Springs/Northwood qualified its boys team for the third time in program history, and it took a bit of an upset at the Phillips Sectional last weekend as Phillips won a tight team race with 69 points, SSN was second with 73 and Grantsburg third with 78.

The Wisconsin cross country coaches’ poll had Phillips ranked fourth and Grantsburg 10th going into the race.

Ladysmith sophomore Gavin Stewart won the boys individual race in 16:55.9, with SSN junior Dylan Taggart second in 17:17.6 and sophomore teammate Isaac Dickenson fourth in 17:42.1.

Members of the Solon Springs, left, and Northwestern, right, boys teams take off from the starting line during the John Woodbury Invitational
Members of the Solon Springs, left, and Northwestern, right, boys teams take off from the starting line during the John Woodbury Invitational at Norwood Golf Course in Lake Nebagamon on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 20, 2022. Both Solon Springs and Northwestern boys qualified for state.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“Just really proud and excited for the boys,” said coach Dale Rajala. “They are the hardest working team I’ve ever coached. They came into the season with some big goals and so far, most of them have been met.”

Taggart is a repeat state-meet qualifier, having clocked a 17:28.5 last fall in Wisconsin Rapids to finish 26th.

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Isaac Dickenson, meanwhile, is the younger brother of former Solon Springs/Northwood standout Owen Dickenson, who as a senior in 2019 finished 12th at the Division 3 state meet in 16:53.6.

The program previously finished seventh of eight teams in 1991 and 14th of 16 teams in 2017.

With the likes of junior Tarver Sellwood, freshman Isaiah Ahlberg and sophomore Silas Kidder, who placed 19th, 23rd and 25th, respectively, at sectionals, the best appears yet to come for this group.

“Nobody really gave us a chance to compete for state,” Rajala said. “We didn’t mind flying under the radar (last weekend). The kids trusted their training and did everything they needed to give them a shot to qualify. We are really excited to compete at state and get another chance to run together. Our whole school and community are really proud of this team.”

Superior’s Tayler McMeekin (6988) makes a turn during the John Woodbury Invitational
Superior’s Tayler McMeekin (6988) makes a turn during the John Woodbury Invitational at Norwood Golf Course in Lake Nebagamon on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 20. McMeekin qualified for the state meet.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Northwestern’s Jenna Hursh (6868) runs up a hill during the John Woodbury Invitational
Northwestern’s Jenna Hursh (6868) runs up a hill during the John Woodbury Invitational at Norwood Golf Course in Lake Nebagamon on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 20. Hursh has qualified for the state meet.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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