While last season was a year of quality over quantity, Thomas Ruhl’s senior season has been all about consistency.
Ruhl has led the Brainerd Warriors boys cross-country team in all but one event and has only finished out of the top 10 in one event. He’s currently on a string of top-five finishes that includes a third-place time of 16:38.2 to earn All-Central Lakes Conference honors Tuesday, Oct. 19, and lead the Brainerd Warriors to the boys’ team title for the first time since 2007.
“We had a meet in St. Cloud before and our closest competition there was St. Cloud Cathedral, who isn’t in our conference,” Ruhl said. “Based on our performance the week before, we were confident that we could come out as conference champions. We always had the suspension that somebody could sneak in and potentially take that from us so we weren’t going into it knowing that we were going to win.”
Ruhl was followed by teammates Braden Capelle in ninth with a 17:20.5, Adam Cady in 12th with a 17:28.3 and Bennet Capelle in 13th with a 17:30.5. Those three runners all earned all-conference honors, too, and helped Brainerd to 53 team points. Nolan Thiesse was Brainerd’s key fifth runner as he earned all-conference honorable mention with a 16th-place time of 17:42.5.
“The last time a team from cross-country went to state was 2007 and we potentially have a shot to do that as well,” Ruhl said. “I would say, we’re all very good individuals. We’re all in the top 10 on most of the courses that we run. All seven of us are on the top 10 list. This is a pretty good team this year. I’m really excited for the results that we’re hopefully going to produce.”
The Warriors scored another win Oct. 12 at the St. Cloud Tech Invite. Ruhl paced the Warriors with a second-place time of 16:36.2. Ruhl was also runner-up at the Crosby-Ironton Invite Oct. 7 at Cuyuna Rolling Hills in Deerwood. Ruhl’s time of 17:33.8 was indicative of the tougher course, but the senior’s place helped Brainerd to the team victory despite missing three key runners from the roster.
“You want a front runner and then you want a real nice pack behind him,” Warriors head coach Dave Herath said. “I don’t know that we look for one guy to be the guy, but Thomas has taken on that role and I think the rest of the team keys off him a little bit. More so on the consistency department is the practice consistency. Thomas has had just a fantastic year of training and in our sport that translates into really good times on the course. He’s been very, very consistent in both the practices and then in the races.”
Ruhl’s runner-up finishes also included a second-place time of 17:02.3 at the Pierz Stampede. Brainerd placed second in that event. The Warriors placed fourth and Ruhl was ninth in 17:34.1 in the Elk River Invite.
The week prior, Brainerd won at the Titan Invite in Coleraine with Ruhl running a fourth-place time of 17:06.1.
The only time Ruhl has not led the Warriors was in the season-opening Run for the Melon Sept. 3 at Forestview Middle School. Ruhl trailed teammate Adam Cady by one spot and ran a 17:46.1.
“I hadn’t really noticed that I hadn't won other than when it was pointed out to me that I could have gotten second for the fourth time in a row at the conference meet,” Ruhl said with a laugh. “Then I got third, but that hasn’t really bothered me much. Basically, this year I’m going for everything team-wise. I’m shooting for that team goal of going to state. I’ve just been focused on the team more so than individuals this year. So I can say it hasn’t really been bothering me that I’ve been getting seconds as long as the team is winning.”
Herath praised Ruhl’s attitude and leadership this season. Ruhl was voted one of the team’s captains. Herath said Ruhl not only leads by example with the way he practices and races, but is one of the more vocal leaders. Herath said while the varsity is dialed into the team’s goals, that vocal leadership is a boost to the younger runners.
"This is a pretty good team this year. I’m really excited for the results that we’re hopefully going to produce."
— Thomas Ruhl
“There are years where we had one or two really good individuals, but not really a team,” Herath said. “You can be successful that way because you’re qualifying individuals for further competition, but when you get a team, I think they all sense that this is something special because they’re all in it together. With as many seniors as we have on our varsity who have been with us since ninth grade, they’re close. Thomas for sure has individual goals, but that team is made up of his friends. That’s who he wants to be with moving forward. This is a big deal for him and it’s really a big deal for that group of boys. They really see themselves as one unit moving ahead and the individual stuff will take care of itself.”
Brainerd’s lowest finish was at its biggest invite, the University of Minnesota invite. Brainerd placed seventh in the Maroon Division. Ruhl was 13th in 17:23. That 13th-place finish would land Ruhl All-State honors had it been in the first-ever Class 3A State meet scheduled for Nov. 6 in Northfield.
“That is definitely motivation to be the first team in Brainerd history to compete in 8-3A and to make it to state is one of our pushing factors to make it as a team,” Ruhl said. “There are individuals on the team that can make it, but it wouldn’t be the same experience without going as a team. Going as a team would be the best part.“
One big reason for Ruhl’s optimism and confidence has been his health. The senior has raced in every event after missing a lot of a shortened 2020 season. A new pair of shoes and some quality coaching might be the keys.
“I switched out shoes and that along with everything that coach Herath has done has helped me feel a lot more confident this season,” Ruhl said. “That and no injuries helps. I’m good to go. I’m in probably the best shape I’ve ever been in for cross-country.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Other notable performances
Nathaniel Staehling, football, rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo.
Marcello Getty, football, threw for 161 yards and four touchdowns on 7-of-12 passing against Buffalo.
Matthew Huesmann, football, caught three passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo.
Jed Klang, football, caught three passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo.
Mya Tautges, swimming and diving, won the 200-yard individual medley, the 100 freestyle and was part of two winning relays against Fergus Falls.
Career highlight: All of our team wins this season
Other sports: Swimming and diving, track and field
Grade-point average: 4.23
Favorite class: AP Biology
Favorite food: Spaghetti
Favorite movie: “The Sandlot”
Favorite website or app: Snapchat
Favorite restaurant: Burritos California
Future plans: Hopes to major in Neuroscience4
Favorite athlete: Caeleb Dressel
Parents: Mark and Hiromi Ruhl