COLERAINE — It’s no secret as to who has been the best Class A cross country team in the Northland for the past four seasons.
That honor goes to the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin boys team, which has been to four-straight state meets.
The best runner in the state is also on that team — Geno Uhrbom — so it’s no coincidence why the Titans have been so strong.
But is the gap closing between Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin and the other teams in the section?
Titans coach Will Floersheim believes that’s going to be the case as G/N-K prepares to defend its title during the 2019 season.
“It never gets any easier,” Floersheim said. “We know that the quality of our section, I don’t think it’s matched in the rest of the state. There’s some phenomenal distance runners up here right now, as individuals.
“Geno knows that Cameron (Stocke of Virginia) is going to push him all year. We know on the team side that we’re going to get pushed hard by a number of teams in our section.”
So how do the Titans maintain their stranglehold on 7A?
“The biggest things is going into the season, our top five runners know we have to close the gap between our No. 1 runner,” Floersheim said. “If we can close the gap, then we can start to do some things.
“We look at Perham, which has been absolutely dominate in Class A at the state level. If we can start to do that, then maybe we can close the gap on programs like that.”
Keeping up with Uhrbom isn’t going to be easy. He’s the defending State Class A champion, plus, he won both the 1600 and 3200 at the State Class A Track Meet last spring.
G/N-K senior Spencer Engel knows first hand what it’s like trying to train with Uhrbom, but he’s not intimidated by it.
He actually relishes the opportunity to run with him.
“I look at him every day like an opportunity,” Engel said. “Even if I know deep down that I’m not going to beat him, I can get as close to him as possible in practice. That should translate into the meets.
“The whole sport is about mental toughness. You have to tell yourself that you can do it even though your body is telling you not to do it. You have to tell yourself that you can with every step you take.”
Engel, along with fellow senior Greg Peterson, juniors Michael Butterfield and Weston Marx and sophomores Daniel Olson and Connor Thoennes are the ones who must take G/N-K to the next level.
“They beg him to slow down,” Floersheim said with a chuckle. “Honestly, how they close the gap is just the training they did this summer. With some of the work they’ve put in, I’m confident about some of our kids.
“They haven’t had heavy-volume summers, but they’ve had smart training. I’ve got a couple of boys, Spencer and Greg, that are both seniors. That’s the great equalizer when the kids know this is it.”
The one constant is Uhrbom. Floersheim knows he isn’t going to settle for anything.
“His goal is to be able to say that he’s the best distance runner in the state,” Floersheim said. “That’s a lofty goal, but anybody who has ever questioned or doubted that kid, he’ll tell you how that’s worked out.”
Engel said the Titans must pull together to get the job done.
“We have to work as a team more than ever this year,” Engel said. “The section is getting stronger, so we have to close that gap between us and Geno. Our four and five runners are going to huge for us this year.
“The five runner has to chase the four runner. The four runner has to chase the three runner and etc.”
Hard work will be the key.
“The biggest thing is not being complacent, not accepting that because we’ve done it so many times it’s handed to you,” Floersheim said. “For me as a coach, that’s my greatest challenge.
“Knowing how good some of the other teams in the section are, we can’t take anything for granted.”
On the girls side, Floersheim has been steadily building this program.
G/N-K is led by senior Carlee Plackner, junior Baylie Norris, and eighth-graders Kaitlin Olson and Karly Mann.
“We’re excited for the trajectory that our girls have been on,” Floersheim said. “We have some young girls, but we have Carlee, who has been in our program forever. She has some state experience.
“That’s helpful to have that in a captain. We also have Baylie, who is a tremendous leader. She’s been knocking on the door of the upper echelon, pushing for state meets. With Kaitlin and Karlee, they round out the top core of what we have,”
Floersheim has been particularly impressed with Olson.
“We’re excited for what she may be able to do this season, the way she looks during the first couple of weeks here,” Floersheim said.
Floersheim is hoping this is the season that the girls team makes their jump.
“Our goal, for as long as I’ve been here, is to get a team that’s pushing for the state meet,” Floersheim said. “We’ve done it on the boys side a number of times. We try to communicate to our girls every year that I won’t be settled until we’ve done it on both sides.”