The Class AA state cross-country meet can be a tough challenge for even the most talented runner, and especially for a seventh-grader.
But that experience will no doubt benefit Prior Lake's Maggie Hoen and Layla Vennink, who in their first season on the Lakers' varsity made the state field.
Hoen ended up 120th overall in the Class AA competition Nov. 2 with a time of 19:57.0 on the 5,000-meter St. Olaf College in Northfield. Vennink finished 135th with a time of 20:13.2.
The winning time was run by junior Analee Weaver of Stillwater, finishing in 17:46.1. Edina ended up winning the girls team championship with 55 points, well ahead of runner-up Wayzata (109).
Last year, Prior Lake was at state as team for the first time since 2012, taking 16th. The program had a dominant 12-year state run starting in 2001, going to state 10 straight years from 2003 to 2012, while qualifying 11 of 12 seasons.
Perhaps, Moen and Vennink can lead help the Lakers go on another state team run in the coming years. Prior Lake had four seventh-graders in their Section 3AA lineup, along with two juniors and a ninth-grader.
The top two teams qualify for state at sections, along with the top eight individuals not on the advancing squads.
Vennink led the Lakers in the Section 3AA race Oct. 24 at Valleywood Golf Course in Apple Valley. She finished 11th overall with a time of 19:20.5, while Hoen ended up 17th (19:34.5). The duo led Prior Lake to a sixth-place finish out of 14 schools in the team standings.
The last Lakers' seventh-grader to make the state field as an individual was Mallory Stach in 2014, who finished 62nd overall that year. Since 2000, Meghan Heuer and Grace Chandler also competed at state for Prior Lake as seventh-graders in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
In 14 state team appearances dating back to 1989, Prior Lake's best finish was in 2009 when the team finished second to Elk River by just three points (120 to 123). The program was fourth in 2005 and 2007 and fifth in 2006.
Other team finishes for Prior Lake over the years include seventh in 1989; ninth in 2010; 10th in 1993, 2001, 2004 and 2008; 13th in 2011; and 15th in 2003.