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Voyageur's Best Sports of 2004

Samantha Smith and Alexa Grones lead the pack

Final destination – STATE
Cromwell Cross Country
by John Grones  | November 2, 2004

It was the same site and many of the same runners at the Section 7A Cross Country Championships held Thurs., Oct. 28 in Cloquet... but a different result was achieved by two Cromwell Cardinal runners. Last year, Samantha Smith and Alexa Grones fell short of making it to the state meet. This year the two seniors produced much different results as Samantha destroyed the competition on her way to her second Section 7A title in three years and her fourth trip to the state meet. Alexa Grones ran the best race of her career – an eighth place finish – and earned her second trip to the state meet in three years.

Suffering from the flu last year, Samantha fell short on her fourth attempt at a state meet.

This year was a whole different story. Samantha set a pace that none of her rivals could maintain. “It was a race for second,” commented her coach, Pete Koenig. “They gave up trying to catch her.” Samantha finished the race without being pushed and still put up a great time of 15:00.1. Her time puts her in contention for a top ten spot at this year’s state meet that will be held Sat., Nov. 6 at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minn.

This is Samantha’s fourth trip to the state meet. She received top 25 all state recognition in both 2001 and 2002 and her goal is to better her 12th place finish three years ago.

Alexa Grones will also attend the state meet for her top ten finish. She placed eighth among the 108 participants and will enjoy her second trip to St. Olaf. Alexa recorded a career best time of 15:37.8. According to Alexa her plan was not to come in last. Her coach agreed that this has been a goal they’ve used in the past. “Every race we’ve used that and it’s worked,” he said.

With Samantha, the race was never in doubt, but it was the next ten that made for some excellent drama. With a little over a half mile to go in the race, coach Pete yelled out to Alexa that she was in 10th place. “I thought I was in ninth,” Alexa recalled. “I was just about to tone it down a bit. I just decided to catch the girl in front of me.”

She actually caught two runners that would push her to the finish line. The race was very tight for the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh place runners who were all within two seconds of each other. In fact, Cassie Roper from Proctor and Mollie Juntenen actually tied for tenth place with times of 15:38.2.

In addition to the top ten individuals, the top two teams also advance to the state meet. Ely won the title with 53 points, followed by Hermantown with 71. Cromwell did not have five runners and thus competed individually.

Last year was an extreme disappointment for coach Pete. He had made arrangements to travel down to the state meet for two straight years and was hoping for a third when the wheels fell off at the Section meet.

This year, Pete committed himself to improving the in-season training of his athletes. He decided to attend the Paavo Clinic that is put on by a great Finnish marathoner. According to Pete, the clinic focused on improving runners’ performance not only in biomechanical terms but biochemical as well. “The emphasis was on taking a look at our stride length and our stride frequency,” he said. “The goal is to increase both of those and a runner is bound to go faster. Tied into that is the fact that, if a runner is going to go fast, somehow there has to be a method to decrease lactic acid build up.”

Pete liked what he saw and took a chance on a significant change in his season preparation. The team basically ran four miles the first day each week, followed by six miles the next day at a pace similar to day one. On the third training day, the team ran quarters at a pace faster than they ran the four and six miles.

This consistent workout was maintained throughout the season and plyometrics were an added component. “To be honest, I didn’t know if it would work,” Pete shared. The big question was how it worked. “Let’s just say I’m going to be using the program next year. All but two individuals had personal records today.”

Pete also noted that a string of meets midway through the season really produced results for his team. They had a stretch of meets that included Hibbing on a Tues., Milaca on a Sat., McGregor on a Thur., and the Swain on a Sat. “The way I look at it, we had a lot of races in a short period of time that stressed our runners. We came back the next week with a normal routine and everybody shined at the Grand Rapids meet.”

The Cromwell runners also shined at the Section 7A championships and for two senior girls, they reached their final destination – the Minnesota State Cross Country championships.

This article first appeared in the November 2, 2004 issue of the Voyageur Press.