Zoie Dundon will be one to watch for the Burnsville cross country teams on the trails this season.
Last spring, the senior won the 800 meters at the Class AA state girls track meet. This fall, she’ll be looking for another strong finish running 5,000 meters.
Dundon led the Blaze in the first race of the season Sept. 3, taking second out of 166 runners in the two-mile Irish Invitational in Rosemount. She finished with a time of 11:33.0, which was just under five seconds off the winning time of St. Paul Highland Park sophomore Luna Scorzelli (11:28.3).
Highland Park also won the team title with 20 points, getting five runners in the top nine. Sixth-ranked Prior Lake was a distant second (59).
Five runners count in the team standings and the Blaze only had four competing in the varsity race. Sophomore Kira Theng finished 48th (13:16.7), followed by sophomore Kaelyn Ambuehl in 131st (14:45.9) and senior Hannah Zastrow in 140th (14:55.5).
Burnsville didn’t have their full lineup for the first meet, but they should be able to get seven runners for each meet with senior Darrian Gardner back, along with juniors Alanna Moe, Olivia Tilbury, Amanda Hawkins and Sydney Hawkins, sophomore Miriam Laabs and eighth-grader Caroline Chhouy.
“I see a lot of improvement in this team from the previous few years,” Blaze girls coach Charlie Burnham said. “We actually improved a fair amount last year, but that was difficult to see when we were limited to duals and triangulars.
“It also didn’t help that we have a very competitive conference, so we look forward to seeing the progress we know we’ve made come to fruition,” Burnham added.
Last fall, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the entire season. It started late and there was no official state competition by the Minnesota State High School League. There was an unofficial state race put on by the Twin Cities Running Club.
The Cross Country Showcase was held at Island Pine Golf Club in Atwater, where Dundon finished 69th overall.
Dundon was second in the Section 3AA race last fall. The MSHSL reclassified sections for all sports last spring and cross country went to three classes.
Both Burnsville teams stayed in Section 3, but will now run at the AAA level. In the field with both teams are Apple Valley, Eastview, Bloomington Jefferson, East Ridge, Hastings, Rosemount and Park.
Rosemount is ranked No. 4 in the state in the boys preseason Class 3A poll, while no teams were ranked from Section 3AAA in the girls poll.
Burnsville boys coach Jeff Weber likes addition of a third class.
“I love the three-class system as it gives more opportunities to all,” Webber said.
Burnham is a little more indifferent about three classes.
“I’m sure it’s a game-changer for some schools, but it doesn’t change much for us,” he said. “I’d rather see the state allow some wildcard teams to qualify (for state) from an at-large berth than add a whole new class. There will still be deserving teams left out of the state meet.
“Our section hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Burnham added. “The majority of our main competitors remain. It will just feel a lot smaller on race day.”
For the Burnsville boys, they return five runners who competed in the Section 3AA race last year — seniors Zach Friedman, Thomas Dundon, Brian Chhuoy and Everett Sandbo and sophomore Quinn Hess.
Junior Charlie McGquire and sophomore Calvin Chhuoy are also expected to contribute to the team, along with senior Keegan McDevitt.
The boys team didn’t run in the Irish Invitational. Instead, they opened the season Sept. 2 in the St. Olaf Showcase at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The Blaze finished 19th out of 34 schools in the team standings with 506 points. Top-ranked Wayzata won (133), followed by No. 10 Minneapolis Southwest (134) and No. 6 Minnetonka (136).
Friedman led the boys, taking 17th overall with a time of 16:37.60 on the 5,000-meter course. Sandbo finished 69th (17:33.50), followed by Dundon in 95th (17:52.80).
Other finishes for the boys included Hess (197th, 19:00.30), Brian Chhuoy (218th, 19:19.70) and Calvin Chhuoy (270th, 20:02.30).
This year’s South Suburban Conference Championships are set for Oct. 15 at Eagan High School. The Section 3AAA competition will be Oct. 28 at Valleywood Golf Course in Apple Valley.
The Class AAA state competition is scheduled for Nov. 6 at St. Olaf College.