Gary Giombetti

Hibbing Daily Tribune

HIBBING — The Hibbing High School boys and girls cross country teams will get a taste of some Class AA action today at the Eveleth Lions Cross Country Invite, which begins with girls race at 4:05 p.m., at the Eveleth Golf Course.

The meet is split into both Class A and AA meets, so the Bluejackets will get to run against foes Hermantown, Duluth East, Denfeld, Superior and possibly Cloquet.

It’ll be a nice preview for the Section 7AA Meet in October with none of the southern schools in the fray.

On the girls side, Hibbing coach James Plese will be running Mattison Johnson, Lily Hess, Reese Aune, Aune Boben, Jocelyn Strukel and Jorie Anderson.

“It’ll be interesting to see where we stack up against Class AA schools,” Plese said. “We did well against Duluth East the one time we saw them at their invite. We’re hoping to do well again against them. Cloquet, Superior, Hermantown and Denfeld, hopefully, it’s a good day for us.”

The Hibbing girls are coming off a first-place finish at the Titan Invite held last week, beating both Mesabi East and Brainerd.

“That’s something we haven’t done in recent history,” Plese said. “For them, to be competitive in the section, they have to stay hungry. They can’t be satisfied with where their pack is. We need a couple of the girls to break off and be willing to go after those lead runners

“That might be the task at hand over these next few invites. Whether it’s Lily or Reese, or Aune, Matti, Jocelyn or Jorie, a couple of those girls have to push the pace even farther. It’s one thing to be a nice, tight pack, but we do have to move up.”

It’s easy to get excited about the early-season success of the Bluejacket girls, but Plese is trying to temper that enthusiasm because they haven’t run against the southern powerhouses in Forest Lake and Andover.

Both of those teams are ranked in the top 10 in the state.

“We’re excited, but we’re not looking toward the state right now,” Plese said. “If that’s an ultimate goal of theirs, they have to realize that those are two big hurdles. We have to beat one of those two schools.

“That’s what we’ve been working toward. We want to visit state, too, whether it’s as a team or individuals. We have to keep them working. We haven’t been back since Braden Curnow went, and he’s a senior in college right now. The girls are staying hungry, and they do see that carrot out there. They know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and some luck of staying healthy.

On the boys side, it’s going to come down to Zach Rusich and David Platt, who have shared that top-runner spot this season.

“The boys, it’s going to come down to them being healthy,” Plese said. “They’ve traded off being sick or battling injuries. We’re working with cross training with David right now.

We’re not a 100-percent sure we’re going to race him.

“We’re leaning toward not racing him. The big picture in mind is the end of the season.”

Even so, both Rusich and Platt must make their moves toward the front of the race.

“With David and Zach and those others guys, it’s continuing to chip away,” Plese said. “They need to be top 10, and right now, we’re outside that. When you look at the Iron Range right now, it’s the same renaissance we had last year, except they’re all a little faster, and they’re all a little bit better.

“We’re falling behind, and we can’t be comfortable with that. We’re working hard in practice. This year’s group of kids, both the boys and the girls, is one of hardest-working groups we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Unfortunately, the results aren’t showing yet.

“That’s because the GNK’s, the Virginia’s, International Falls and those other Iron-Range schools are that strong right now,” Plese said. “We have to stay hungry, stay after it. We have to keep the big picture in mind, keep chipping away, and hopefully, keep improving. We’ve been happy with the improvement, but when you look at the placing, it’s a little misleading.

“We’ve dropped time each time. We can’t be upset with that. Yeah, we’d like to win races, but as long as we’re improving, that’s the great equalizer in this sport. They can keep improving and beating their times. That should be good enough. We make sure the kids are aware of that and keep working for it.”

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