2020 has been a year of quality over quantity for Brainerd Warriors cross-country runner Thomas Ruhl.

The returning varsity runner has competed in just three events this year, but has secured two victories.

Ruhl captured his first varsity victory at the Warrior Dual Sept. 15 at Forestview Middle School. The junior posted a winning time of 18:01 to pace the Warrior boys to the team victory over St. Cloud Tech.

Then came Brainerd’s two-week hiatus from competition. Still, coming off a win, Ruhl felt confident going into Brainerd’s next meet.

“Not to sound cocky, but it was a little bit in my thought process as Fergus Falls and Sauk Rapids don’t have the biggest competition,” Ruhl said. “Since I won our last home meet, I had pretty high expectations of myself going into the Fergus Falls meet.”

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The Warriors returned to action Thursday, Oct. 8, with Ruhl once again leading the Warriors to a team win.

Ruhl won the Fergus Falls Tri in 17:43.7 and the team posted a winning score of 18.

“Our coaches told us it was going to be a flat golf course so I was expecting Boulder Ridge Golf Course in St. Cloud where the biggest hill is a lump,” Ruhl said. “When we first arrived at Fergus, within the first 200 meters there was a drastic downhill and then a steep uphill. As we were walking the course we noticed it was super, super hilly. Going into it, I knew it was going to be another average race because we have yet to run on a fast course this year as our times have reflected. I just wanted to go out and see how well I could place at the meet.”

Ruhl’s top competition in both of his wins were teammates. At Fergus, Adam Cady finished second just four seconds behind Ruhl. In the Brainerd dual, Ethan Klisch finished behind Ruhl.

“Our team has been training all summer as a team with captains practices and we’ve all been focused as an end goal being the state meet,” Ruhl said. “As that has been canceled, we’ve just established new goals and now we just want to place very well at sections. It’s interesting how that affects running.

“It’s drastically different from the previous years. We can now all train together at different pace levels. Our new assistant coach Mr. (Casey) Miller has been able to train with us, too. It’s an entirely new dynamic that we’ve never had before.”

Warriors head coach Dave Herath likes Ruhl’s fearlessness. Ruhl’s willingness to push a talented pack of Warrior runners is one reason for Brainerd’s success.

“He is not afraid to go out in the lead and go for it,” Herath said. “It’s been a really good quality for him and our team. We have quite a pack of boys that includes Thomas, and he’s generally the one that leads the charge and I think that’s really helpful to everyone getting faster times as they key off of Thomas.”

Ruhl missed Brainerd’s season-opening Run for the Melon meet with an injury. In his first action this year, Ruhl placed 13th at the Bemidji triangular with an 18:11.1.

At the end of last season, Ruhl finished 25th in the Central Lakes Conference meet and 34th in the Section 8-2A meet. He said his individual goals this year are to place well at sections and improve his 5-kilometer times.

“It’s been difficult as there hasn’t been that much competition at meets,” Ruhl said. “We’ve won the last two meets in a row. It has been hard focusing on the ability to become faster as the season has gone on.”

But Ruhl has two things going for him when it comes to being a good runner.

“For some of his success, it’s just his build,” Herath said. “He’s a taller kid. Being a swimmer and a runner, he’s put together pretty well. But then it’s the fluidity. We talk about in practice about foot strikes and how often your feet should be striking the ground. Thomas is pretty light on his feet and pretty quick. I think that helps him a lot.”

Ruhl’s growth has caused some health issues, which was why he missed the season-opening meet, but he’s growing into his body and becoming more healthy and more consistent. Despite injury concerns, Ruhl focused on running this offseason partly because the Brainerd High School pool was closed during summer construction. The added attention to running has Ruhl ready for the season finale Thursday, Oct. 15.

The Section 8-2A meet will be the final meet of the season for the Brainerd Warriors. The end goal for the talented team was a trip to state. The Minnesota State High School League decided not to host a state meet because of COVID-19.

That’s forced Ruhl and the Warriors to change their goals and reassess how they want to finish the season.

“My goal for sections is to place in the top 10 of our heat as we’re with three other teams and two of them we haven’t raced against,” Ruhl said. “I just want to place well and have our team do well, too.”



JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.



Other notable performances

  • Adam Klecker, boys soccer, scored two goals in Brainerd’s 2-0 victory over Alexandria.

  • Payton LeMieur, girls soccer, collected four saves in a 0-0 tie with Alexandria.

  • Madelyn Miller, girls cross country, placed second at the Fergus Falls Triangular with a 21:45.9.

  • Lindsy Busch, girls tennis, won her No. 4 singles match 6-0, 6-0 over Moorhead in the Subsection quarterfinals.

  • Madison Genz, volleyball, finished with 13 digs, 4 kills and one ace serve against Fergus Falls.



Thomas Ruhl

Sport: Cross-country running

Year: Junior

Age: 16

Height: 6-foot

Career highlight: Winning back-to-back races this season

Other sports: Swimming and diving, track and field

Grade-point average: 4.2

Favorite class: Precalculus

Favorite food: Spaghetti

Favorite TV show: “The Office”

Favorite website or app: Netflix

Favorite restaurant: Shake Shack

Future plans: Attend college, study pre-med

Favorite athlete: Steve Prefontaine

Parents: Mark and Hiromi Ruhl