State Cross Country: Injured runner inspires C-I to state

State meet Saturday St. Olaf College, Northfield o Stephen Plopper of Staples-Motley & TJ Lukanen of Pine River-Backus in Class 1A boys meet 10 a.m. o Crosby-Ironton team & Gina Garai of Pequot Lakes in Class 1A girls meet 11 a.m. o Tyler...


State meet


St. Olaf College, Northfield

• Stephen Plopper of Staples-Motley & TJ Lukanen of Pine River-Backus in Class 1A boys meet 10 a.m.

• Crosby-Ironton team & Gina Garai of Pequot Lakes in Class 1A girls meet 11 a.m.


• Tyler Moore of Little Falls in Class 2A boys meet 1 p.m.

How bad do you want to go to state?

Ask Naomi Ringhand.

The gritty little freshman runner on the Crosby-Ironton girls cross country team ran with a stress fracture in her right foot last week in the Section 7-1A meet. She finished in 36th place, the fifth runner to finish for the Rangers giving her team enough points to capture the section title and a berth in the Class 1A state meet Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Ringhand's foot first began bothering her in early October and she started wearing a boot and using crutches when not practicing or competing. The section meet was the fourth since she started having problems and she admits it wasn't easy.

"It hurt pretty bad, but it would have been worse to not run and let people down," she said. "The whole race, I tried to concentrate and not think about it. (Teammate) Lauren (Peterson) ran with me for much of the race, I couldn't have done it without her."

Peterson, a senior, said "For much of the year, Naomi has been ahead of me, but I was always able to stay close to her. Before the race, we talked about how we had stuck together in her first varsity race last year at Pierz. During the race, she was definitely in a lot of pain, but I was able to talk to her and encourage her to keep going, just a little further."

Peterson finished 33rd at the section, three positions ahead of Ringhand with a time that was one second slower than her all-time personal best of 17:12.


By the end of the race, Ringhand was totally spent, unable to walk and had to be carried back to the Ranger camp.

"She (Ringhand) is a diehard," C-I coach Erica Perpich said. "She will not give up and she will fight through anything. I'm pretty sure she's on crutches by day and when practice time comes, the boot comes off and the crutches get thrown away. She's one strong cookie that's for sure."

Perpich added that the strengths of this year's Ranger team has been the tightness of the group and how much they help one another as well as the leadership of the three seniors.

"They're all a great group of girls. They care for each other, they work well together both on the team and then as friends. They help push each other on," said Perpich. "They've been super supportive of one another throughout the whole season and that's really brought them together as a team."

Top runner for the Rangers this year has been junior Margaret Stokman with first-place finishes at Pequot Lakes, the C-I meet at Ruttger's and the Mid-State Conference meet. However, at the section, senior Molly McCusker edged out Stokman for the top C-I finish, placing eighth in 15:50. Stokman was 11th with a time of 15:54.

"This is probably the best group of girls in my whole cross country career," said McCusker, who joined the team as a sophomore when her family moved to C-I from Iowa. "We did some bonding things before the season just to get closer and it's been a fun season."

Senior Megan Moore has struggled this year with knee problems aggravated by an injury last year during basketball practice. She did not run at the section nor will she be running at state, but she will be on the sideline encouraging her teammates.

"My main goal this year was to work with the younger girls and make sure they feel comfortable and welcome," Moore said. "Honestly, I'm so happy because these girls are great and I'm so excited to see how they finish."


Rounding out the top five Rangers from the section meet is Ari LeMieur, a petite, spitfire seventh-grader who finished 18th with the third-best team time of 16:28. Filling the alternate spots are Annie Goodwin (eighth grade), Miranda Berg (10th) and Ella Dwyer (eighth).

This is the ninth trip to state for the C-I girls as a team, the third time as section champion (the top two teams from each section advance).

The Ranger girls were recognized for achieving the Academic Gold Standard with a combined grade-point average of 3.75 or higher.

Perpich is in her second year as head coach after serving as assistant for two years behind long-time Ranger coach Roger Twigg. Twigg served as her assistant last year before completely relinquishing the team to her this year.

Perpich ran for Twigg while in high school before graduating in 2003. She never quite made it to state during her high school career, falling just one place short individually her senior year when she ran her personal-best at the section meet.

Additional state runners

• Joining the Rangers in the 1A girls meet is Gina Garai of Pequot Lakes. She finished ninth in the Section 8-1A meet.

• Stephen Plopper of Staples-Motley and TJ Lukanen of Pine River-Backus will run in the 1A boys meet. Plopper placed ninth and Lukanen 15th in Section 8-1A.

• Tyler Moore of Little Falls will run in the 2A boys meet. He was the Section 8-2A runner-up.

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