Coach Jeff Lindlief was only half joking when he said that in the recent past, he needed the bus drivers carrying Section 6AA’s top teams to get lost on the way to the meet for his Eden Prairie boys and girls teams to get out of the section (finish in the top-two).
“For us to have a chance,” he said, “we’d have to be great and they’d have to come back to us.”
This year could/can be different.
“We didn’t have the wheels,” said the coach. “Now we do.”
The Eden Prairie High School boys team opens the season ranked No. 2. The Eden Prairie girls team is ranked No. 5.
“That’s on paper,” cautions Lindlief.
The Eden Prairie boys team’s ranking is buoyed, in part, because of Jake Derouin’s third-place finish in the two-mile race at last spring’s state track meet.
“The two guys that finished in front of him were seniors,” said Lindlief. “While cross-country isn’t track, Jake has to be considered one of the top kids in the state.”
Along with Derouin, Eden Prairie’s lineup will feature Mohamed Mohamud, Zach Spears, Isaac Hartman and Alex Guitierrez.
“We know 4-5 of our top-seven,” said Lindlief, “and have another 6-7 pushing to get in.
“We’re in a good spot,” he added, “as you’d rather have the competition than know your top-seven right now.”
While he fully expects the likes of Wayzata, last year’s section champion, and Edina, last year’s section runner-up, to get better as the season rolls on, the two schools did graduate a lot of top-end talent.
“Wayzata graduated their top seven runners,” said Lindlief.
In his next breath, he said he expects both schools to reload.
“They have numbers and they’ll be good,” said the coach.
Hopkins, third at last year’s section meet, will also be good.
“Like a lot of teams, it’s going to come down to health,” said Lindlief. “While our section is always going to be a dog fight, we’re going to be in the fight.”
On paper, again, the landscape on the girls side of Section 6AA remains unchanged.
“Wayzata is ranked No. 2 in the country,” said Lindlief. “Edina might be No. 11.
“Good luck,” he added.
Those things being said, Lindlief insists that his Eagles have a chance.
“Liesl (Liesl Paulsen) looked confident at our time trials,” said the coach. “Raina (Raina Moorjani) worked really hard during the offseason and Abby (Abby Jirele) is running well in her return from her injury.”
Haley Parker, who flashed in a few meets last year before a season-ending injury shut her down, is back.
Ella Bakken returns, as does Lizzy Jester and Emily Dahl.
“We’ve got 3-4 girls for sure,” said Lindlief, “but we’ll need some help.”
If healthy, Lindlief said he expects Paulsen, 12th at last year’s state cross-country meet, to be able to run with Wayzata’s top girl and possibly finish ahead of Edina’s top girl.
“It’s about holding on,” he said. “Raina finished second at our alumni meet, so she might be ready to take another step...
“We’ll be underdogs,” he said, “but if we can improve enough during the season, we could be right there.”
When stepping back and looking at the big picture, Lindlief said he believes his girls team is one of the five best teams in the state.
The question that remains, however, is whether they can be one of the top two teams in the section?
“It could come down to health,” said the coach.
Eden Prairie is scheduled to open its season on Friday with an away meet at Rosemount. Next Thursday, they’ll run in the Hopkins Invite at Gale Woods, site of the late-October Section 6AA meet.