Melrose-Mindoro cross country head coach Sarah Thompson said she knew Saturday’s Division 3 sectional meet was going to be close for the girls.

Brookwood was tough. So was Onalaska Luther. And Pittsville was no pushover either.

So the Lady Mustangs’ strategy going into the meet at Westby was to run hard and try to break up packs of the other teams.

“We knew going in there were some good teams, and we knew it was going to be really close,” Thompson said. “Our strategy was that they cannot let two girls on the same team finish together — we had to break them up.

“I was pretty honest with the girls — I didn’t want to make them nervous, but we knew it was going to be very close. They knew they had to run their hearts out and knew however they finished they ran their best.”

And run their hearts out they did — on their way to a second place finish and their third trip to state as a team.

Westby (57 points) wound up taking top honors as the other team at the meet to move on to this weekend’s WIAA state cross country meet, but the game plan for Mel-Min (80) was beneficial as they finished ahead of Brookwood (92), Luther (96) and Pittsville (104) of the 11 teams.

All seven Mel-Min girls finished in the top half of the 86 runners, led by sophomore Anna Morabito who finished in 16:40.4 — just 44.8 seconds behind winner junior Becca Maxwell of Westby.

This will be Morabito’s second run at state after being Mel-Min’s lone representative last year.

“She peaked right at the right time during the season,” Thompson said.

This will be the Lady Mustangs’ second trip to state in Thompson’s five years as head coach, last making the trip in 2011 when the team won its first sectional title. The 1990 girls team also went to state with its first runner-up trophy.

In addition to Morabito, senior Tiana Mikel and junior Macy Craig — both part of the state-bound team two years ago — will be making their second trip to state. Mikel, normally the team’s No. 4 runner, finished 11th in 17:08.5, and Craig was 18th in 17:41.0.

“(Mikel) really had it in her to do well, and that helped a lot,” Thompson said. “She gave it her all.”

Mel-Min sophomore Avery Aasen took 22nd in 17:52.0 while senior Brianna Kowalsky was 34th in 18:20.7. Sophomore Emily Oehler (18:46.9) and freshman Marissa Sime (18:57.9) took 39th and 40th, respectively.

The state cross county meet will be Nov. 2 in Wisconsin Rapids at the hilly Ridges Golf Course. The 16-team Division 3 girls meet will begin at 11:30 a.m.

The last time the Lady Mustangs ran at state as a team they finished 14th, which was five points behind 13th place and 10 points behind 12th place. Thompson said this year’s team could finish better, but they’ll first focus on improving personal times.

“It’s going to be a challenge — we compete with some very good teams at state,” she said. “I’m looking for times and personal bests, and I think with some personal bests hopefully we can improve their time team-wise and could do better.

“It’s a good team — they want it. You never know what can happen.”

Boys take seventh

The Mel-Min boys cross country team respectfully finished in the middle of the pack at the sectional, taking seventh among 13 teams.

Westby also won the boys meet with 53 points, moving on with Brookwood (69). Mel-Min had 193 points, finishing behind Necedah (185) and ahead of Pittsville (197).

Mel-Min junior Brent Knudson finished 13th overall in 17:23.4, which was just over 34 seconds away from qualifying for state as an individual. Thompson said that was the best time she’s seen on the Mustang boys team during her time as head coach.

Westby’s Austin Pasch, a senior, led the pack of 104 with a time of 15:52.5.

Junior Jacob Bryhn took 15th place for Mel-Min 17:32.0 with sophomore teammate David Bjorge coming in 51st in 18:55.1.  Junior Derek Blaken (19:17.5) and freshman Ryan Whitacre (19:28.8) came in 61st and 64th, respectively.

Mel-Min senior Jacob Olson (20:06.3) took 76th, and freshman Isaiah Dolbier (20:36.6) was 84th.

Although the Mel-Min boys cross country season comes to an end, they finished with personal bests at the sectional. Thompson said she is proud of them.

“They really pushed themselves to the limit, and that was rewarding as a coach,” she said.

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