Not often will a seventh grade boy runner find themselves on the varsity roster of a cross country team. Nolan Sutter did right from the start in 2018 for Chaska.
Now a sophomore, Sutter is no longer a boy among men -- he was barely five feet his first two varsity seasons, in most meets the smallest runner -- he is a front-runner, having dropped three minutes from his first 5K high school times.
On Oct. 5, the second time racing at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista this season, Sutter was fourth of 109 runners to cross the finish line, a time of 16:30.04.
"I think I just have grown a lot this past year. With COVID last year, I don't think I really raced my best, not having as many runners to stick with. I feel now there's a lot of other people around me to help move me forward," Sutter said.
While not a personal-best, that coming a week before at Minneopa Golf Club in Mankato, a time of 16:26, Sutter is consistently around that 16:30 mark, and encouraging sign Chaska boys coach Nate Foss said.
Add in a late-season taper and he figures Sutter will be running in that 16:10 range, setting himself up to have a shot at qualifying for state.
"Last year I feel like if I had a bad race, it didn't bother me as much. I wasn't the No. 1 runner on my team like this year, so I'm expected to be that and I know how important that top score is for my team," said Sutter, who ran a 16:28 at Gale Woods Farm in early September.
With the Section 2AAA Meet later this month a third trip to the Minnetrista course, what was learned in prior races will be invaluable come the post-season.
"You get experience with each race, but the more you run on one course the more you understand what you need to do in each situation," Sutter said.
Chaska, as a team, is making strides, finishing ninth in the 17-team event with a score of 235 ahead of Metro West Conference opponents New Prague, Waconia, Chanhassen, and Bloomington Kennedy.
It will take an incredible effort, which is possible, to knock off favorite Bloomington Jefferson in the conference meet on Tuesday, Oct. 19 at Hyland Greens Golf Course in Bloomington.
Senior Dylan Austad (18:01) and Erick Chapman (18:04) were 48th and 49th in the Oct. 5 meet, the 35th annual Victoria Lions Invitational hosted by the Hawks. Noah Leonard fell back a bit from his normal pace, a time of 18:32, followed by Casey Schaal in 18:37, in 65th and 69th places.
Foss likes the way the team is trending, though. He knows there's more inside each runner.
Chanhassen, a roster dealing with injuries, called up a number of runners from JV, including freshman Carlos Nugent and senior Owen Slinde, who both made their varsity debuts in times of 19:22 and 19:27.
Jaxon McDonald led the way, like he has all season, a 26th-place time of 17:26. After a two-year absence away from the team, McDonald has shown steady improvement all season.
Colin Scheller, 42nd overall, cut 24 seconds from his time at Bauman/Rovn Invitational on Sept. 9 on the same course. His time was 17:55.37.
Cameron Stiele (18:53, departure of 26 seconds), Joseph Struthers (19:03) and Gabriel Korzenowski (19:25) also ran for the Storm, which were 14th with a team score of 323.
Chanhassen coach Andy Powell expected the team to be senior-led, with McDonald, Korzenowski and Scheller joining classmates Cole Donahe, Ryan Stratton and Jack Olson. That team has yet to run together in a meet.
Powell called winning a seventh straight Metro West Conference title a "tough task" with the inclusion of three new teams in Orono, New Prague and Waconia.
FRONT OF THE PACK TIMES
There was Zoie Dundon of Burnsville with a time of 18 minutes, 40 seconds, and then there was a pack of five runners battling it out for second place in the girls 5K varsity race at the Victoria Lions Invitational Oct. 5.
Ella Graham of Minnetonka, one of six Skippers among the first 11 runners across the finish line, beat out Prior Lake's Sara Gastony by just tenths of a second for the runner-up position in 18:56.53.
Chanhassen's duo of Marissa Long and Isabella Roemer were in the front pack as well, placing fourth and sixth in 18:58 and 19:02, respectively.
The Storm were seventh in the team standings with 220 points. Madeline Hauck was 46th overall, a time of 21:47, a positive difference of 15 seconds from the last run on the course. Other top Chanhassen times came from Sydney Lang (22:48) and Liliana Patrick (23:54).
Minnetonka, the No. 1 ranked team in the state, showed that and more, a final score of 33. Maybe most impressive was the split between the first and seventh runners well under 60 seconds.
Along with Graham, Claire Cashman was fifth overall in 19:01 followed Avery Marasco-Johnson (19:15) and Elizabeth Weider (19:36) in seventh and ninth places. Abby Downin (19:39), Kate LeBlanc (19:39) and Kyra Martin (19:50), were 10th, 11th and 15th.
Runner-up Prior Lake had a team score of 80 followed by Eden Prairie at 157.
Chaska, with a spread of one minute between its first and fifth runners, was 13th overall with 268 points.
Katelyn Farm in 36th place (21:14) and Adonai Yidnekachew in 47th place (21:49) were 25 and 32 seconds faster from an early September run on the Gale Woods Farm course.
Noella Ross also dropped 22 seconds in a 56th-place showing of 22:02 with Addison Dooley (22:14), Lilly Sutter (22:15) and Yabbi Yidnekachew (22:40) adding other top times for the Hawks.
Sutter, the younger sister of Nolan, who is also running on varsity for the first time as a seventh grader, posted a career-best time by four seconds from a JV race in Buffalo on Sept. 23.