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Zack Benning nears the finish line without a competitor in sight during the section cross country meet Thursday in Owatonna. Benning won the meet and will run in the state meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield. (Star Gazette photos by Chad Richardson)

Benning wins second straight section title

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sports Hastings, 55033
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

Hastings senior Zack Benning is headed back to the state cross country meet.

On Thursday afternoon, Benning blew away the field at the Section 1AA cross country meet at Brooktree Golf Course in Owatonna. He won the 5k race in 15 minutes, 36.2 seconds. The next runner was almost 20 seconds behind.

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“What do you say?” coach John Dewall said. “I’ll tell you, watching him race the last three races here … wow.”

Justin Hyytinen of Farmington was second in 15:53.7.

Hunter Bailey of Winona was third in 15:58.3.

Bailey fell to the turf after the finish. Meanwhile, Benning finished strong and looked at ease and comfortable.

“Everyone else was collapsing at the finish line,” Dewall said. “You see Zack standing there and you’re just going, ‘Whoa.’

“When he walked to the line, I just knew nobody in the meet was going to beat him. To be able to walk away with it, that’s pretty exciting.”

Benning had a very strong track season, finishing the 3,200-meter run in 9:02.37, a time that would have won the state meet in 2012 by four seconds. He followed that up with an intense summer workout program that had him doing all kinds of cardio, Dewall said.

“He did a lot of volume training during the summer,” he said. “He spent a lot of time working on cardio — roller skiing and a lot of strength training. When he started the season, his cardio was unbelievable. As the season progressed, he got sick in there, and when you’re not 100 percent, you’re not going to run with the top guys in the state. That’s just not going to happen.

“Now, his legs have caught up with his cardio. He is running unbelievably smart and unbelievably fast.”

Benning won the conference meet two weeks ago, then won his second straight section title last week.

“He knows what he has to do in these big races,” Dewall said. “After the conference meet and the section meet, there’s no question that he can run with anyone.

“His goal is to run a smart, fast race at the state meet. The results will take care of themselves. It’s going to be an exciting Saturday.”

The state meet for the Class AA boys begins at 11 a.m. at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

The teams

As a team at the section meet, Hastings placed 13th out of 16 teams.

The Raiders had 346 points. Red Wing won the section title with 90 and Lakeville North was second with 91.

In the girls race, Hastings was 15th out of 16 teams with 412 points. Lakeville South won with 44 points and Lakeville North was second with 85.

“Almost every one of them had their personal records,” Dewall said. “I said on the bus on the way home, ‘How many of you had PRs?’ The whole bus raised their hand. It’s cool to be able to see all the kids who participated be excited. They all pretty much had their best times of the season.”

Hastings ran at the same course a few weeks ago and the difference in times stunned Dewall. Christian Flanders, for example, cut 40 seconds off his time. Others cut 30 seconds and some up to a minute.

“It was fun to see athletes like Christian just shatter their personal records, meet by meet,” Dewall said.

Boys

Here are the varsity finishers for the boys:

Will Caturia was 64th in 17:43.7. He is a junior.

Nate Holm took 92nd in 18:47.1. Holm is a sophomore.

Nick Johnson, a sophomore, finished 93rd in 18:48.7.

Finley Myers took 96th in 18:58.8. He is a junior.

Mike Tappella placed 99th in 19:17.8. He is a junior.

Kyle Gudmunson, a sophomore, was 101st in 19:20.9.

Girls

Here are the varsity finishers for the girls:

Michaela Mills led Hastings in the race. She placed 75th in 17:01 on the 4K course. Mills is a senior.

“She has been a great leader for us,” Dewall said. “She’s always smiling. Always happy. She finished strong and had a great race. Softball is obviously her main sport, but she came out and was our No. 1 athlete. She’s done a great amount for Hastings cross country. It’s been a real pleasure to work with her.”

Ciara Christensen, a sophomore, was 79th in 17:08.0.

“She had a great, great performance,” Dewall said.

Freshman Abberly Smith took 83rd in 17:29.7.

Quinn Myers placed 86th in 17:42.3. She is a sophomore.

Rachel Peterson, who is a junior, placed 89th in 17:46.2.

She cut a minute off her time, Dewall said.

“That was really cool to see her move up like that,” he said.

Kailee Harrington, a junior, was 91st in 17:50.2.

Taylor Engstrom, a senior, was 103rd in 18:50.8.

“Taylor has been a great leader for us, too,” Dewall said. “It’s been a pleasure working with her over the years. She’s a real, real good leader. It’s great to have seniors like that. She’s always consistent and has done a great job in Hastings cross country.”

Junior varsity

The junior varsity boys were 12th as a team. There were 15 teams that competed.

Here is how the Hastings runners finished:

Bobby Verchota, 56th, 18:50.8;

Christian Flanders, 79th, 19:28.9;

Colby Smith, 80th, 19:31.6;

Brandon Haraldson, 81st, 19:33.5;

Isaiah Gardell, 88th, 19:59.9;

Victor Lindgren, 96th, 20:27.8;

Seth Greengo, 97th, 20:30.8.

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