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Wessington Springs' Kraft working for first cross-country state title

Wessington Springs athlete Jase Kraft in full stride at the McCook Central/Montrose Invitational at McCook Country Club Tuesday in Salem. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)1 / 2
West Central's Summer Smith and Winner's Chloe Bartels at the McCook Central/Montrose Invitational at McCook Country Club Tuesday in Salem. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)2 / 2

SALEM -- Many high school kids spend their summer break vacationing, watching TV or logging hours in the swimming pool, but not Wessington Springs runner Jase Kraft.

He was running.

In anticipation for his upcoming cross country season, the senior distance runner ran 900 miles.

Tuesday at the McCook Central/Montrose Invitational, Kraft's hard work paid off as he took first in the boys' varsity race.

"This felt like the first race of the season," Kraft said. "I had a little fatigue right away, but it went smooth overall. I hit the mark I wanted to hit, so it was a successful day. I am working hard so that I peak right at the end of the season. I would like to get to under 15 minutes, 30 seconds by the end of the year."

Kraft finished with a time of 15:52 to claim the boys' 5,000-meter race, while Wagner's Nick Dion finished second. On Saturday, Dion took first at the Mitchell High School Invitational.

Kraft is no stranger to running in the invitational in Salem. Last year, he finished first in the event and was second behind Duane Jongeling, of Parker, in 2011.

"I like the atmosphere here," Kraft said. "There are a lot of runners and fans here. The fans cheer you on as you go, and I like that."

Tuesday's result was a step toward completing some unfinished business that Kraft still has to settle. He has had a successful track career, winning three individual track and field state titles. But, he has never taken home a state title in cross country, something he hopes to do this season.

As an eighth-grader, Kraft finished 10th at the Class B cross country state meet. The following three years, Kraft came close but finished second behind Jongeling each time.

"It has been my goal to win one," Kraft said. "Winning a state title never comes easy, so I just have to keep improving. I will be in some big meets later on this season."

Despite competing in the Class B field, Kraft beat runners from Class A.

"It's all South Dakota," Kraft said, referring to competing against different class levels. "I will do anything I can and run against anyone to make myself better."

Garretson finished first in the boys' team results with 31 points.

Summer Smith, of West Central, took first place in the girls' 4,000-meter race and West Central took home the girls' team title. Smith finished with a time of 16:25, beating Chloe Bartels, of Winner, and Maddison Hajek, of Bon Homme.