All cross country season, it was Nick Scheller and Oliver Paleen. The Class AA State Meet winner likely going to come from one of the two.
Paleen, of St. Paul Highland Park, the favorite, having defeated Scheller, the Chanhassen senior, by four seconds at races in Eden Prairie in September and Alexandria in October.
The St. Olaf state course in Northfield, though, was one Scheller was racing on for the fifth consecutive season. A course Scheller was the top non-senior finisher a year ago.
Paleen versus Scheller it seemed.
And while the two runners did not disappoint Nov. 2, the race was certainly not dictated by two runners.
Jake Derouin of Eden Prairie and Mackinon Mokoro of Osseo took out the first mile in four minutes, 47 seconds. When Scheller took the lead at the 3,200-meter mark, a time of 9:58.4, that's when AJ Green of Eastview showed off his speed.
"They jumped ahead at the hill when I was in fifth so I knew I had to get past the third and fourth guys to stay connected. It was a steady gap there to the finish," Scheller described.
In the end, Scheller did his best to keep up with Paleen and Green, passing the Eastview national 800-meter track champion over the final homestretch to place second.
Scheller was within one second of his fifth-place time as a junior, trailing only Paleen, who ran 15:25.2. Paleen was the first state champion in any sport for the St. Paul school in 20 years.
"It wasn't the best race strategy there in the beginning. We ran something like 4:40 the first mile, 5:10 the next. Other than that we remained as a pack, it was kind of a leadshare type deal. I thought it was working well," Scheller said.
"I felt kind of dead there the second half of the race after the fast start, but I guess everyone was feeling that. I just had to work through it," he added.
Scheller said something he's learned over the years is the need to chart a plan of course as the race is in motion rather than try and devise in advance what to do.
"There's so much competition in this race. I just feel it out as I go, decide what to do based on how things are going," Scheller said.
Though not a champion like he hoped, Scheller was happy with the finish.
"Best finish, of course, close to my best time. I'm definitely happy with how things went," he said.
Joining him in his final high school race was classmate Zach Long, who like Scheller qualified for state as an eighth grader in 2015. It was Long's fourth trip to state.
Long went out with the lead pack over the first mile, a time of 4:51, before posting a second-mile time of 5:22.5.
The senior was 27th overall, two positions away from all-state, in a final time of 16:10.3.
"I gave it all I had. It was one of my better races, so no regrets," Long said.
Standing on the starting line was Scheller was a bittersweet moment.
"It's sad to see it end, but now it's the next chapter, seeing where I decide to go run in college. For me and him, it's exciting. I know Nick has plans to run in college. We'll see how it goes," Long said.
Also in the field were Chanhassen junior Ben Scheller and Minnetonka senior Max Lauerman. Scheller, making his state debut, finished 111th in a time of 16:58.7. He ran an opening mile of five minutes, 16 seconds.
Lauerman, 19th as a junior, was 29th overall in a time of 16:12. The Skipper senior ran a 16-minute flat time in 2018.