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Column: Stillwater will be team to beat at state XC

It looks like the team race at Saturday's Class 2A State boys cross country meet may wind up being a battle for second.

Stillwater has been ranked first throughout the season and the Ponies did nothing to make anyone believe otherwise at last week's Section 4AA Championships. They defeated runner-up White Bear Lake 28-81 and posted an average time of 15:59 - and spread of just 37 seconds - between their top five counting scorers.

If the Ponies' top four runners can match their section times of 15:40, 15:51, 16:02 and 16:07, they could bring in all four ahead of the No. 2 runners for other top-five contenders Edina (2nd), Eden Prairie (3rd) and Rosemount (5th).

The competition between those next three teams looks to be much tighter. Edina nipped Eden Prairie 53-56 at the Section 6AA Championships by placing four runners in the top 12, but a counting runner all the way back at 16:47 pushed their 1-through-5 spread to 51 seconds and nearly cost the Hornets the title.

The Eagles stayed close with a strong pack. Their first runner came in at 16:08 and all five counting runners came in between 6th and 16th place in a spread of 27 seconds.

Rosemount came out on top of sixth-ranked Burnsville with a nearly-identical approach in Section 3AA. Nathan Rock led the Irish with a time of 16:03, then the next four runners - Trevor Capra, Nick Couillard, Calvin Lehn and Chandler Dye- reached the finish in a nine-second gap from 16:22 to 16:31. If that pack can stick together and move up just a few seconds, it could give the Irish the edge over Edina and Eden Prairie in the race for second.

The importance of keeping a tight pack showed in Section 6AA where defending state champion and fourth-ranked Wayzata missed out on a state team berth. The Trojans brought their first two runners in with times of 15:35 and 15:37, which placed first and second overall, but their next three came across the finish in 16:30, 16:45 and 16:48, which was enough to push them back to third place.

My prediction:

1. Stillwater, 57 points, 5th, 7th, 11th, 15th, 19th

2. Rosemount, 108 points, 10th, 16th, 24th, 27th, 31th

3. Eden Prairie, 114 points, 13th, 14th, 23th, 28th, 36th

4. Edina, 122 points, 6th, 12th, 21st, 35th, 48th

5. Burnsville, 132 points, 2nd, 8th, 9th, 18th, 95th

Coming off a dominant performance in the Section 4AA Championships, Stillwater looks poised to take the Class 2A crown. I think if Rosemount can sneak their No. 5 runner down into the 16:20s, that will give the deep Irish enough of an edge over the other No. 5 runners from Edina, Eden Prairie and Burnsville to vault the Irish up one spot from last year and into second place.