No days off: Burke enters state meet on heels of hectic season
BURKE -- Burke knew the end of the cross-country season would be a challenge.
It has the talent and depth, as evidenced by edging Kimball/White Lake for the Region 3B girls team title on Oct. 14. Time wasn’t on its side, though.
The Burke School District went to a week of online learning in mid-September due to positive COVID-19 cases. With COVID cases and quarantines on the team, coach Laurie Kenzy estimates the Cougars missed nearly three weeks of practice. They ran at home, but it’s impossible to replicate in-person practices.
“We took a week off from school,” Kenzy said. “We had some time to make up for, and I’m so, so proud of both teams (at the Region 3B meet) because they stepped up and did it. They ran great.”
The Cougars’ plan to make up for the lost time was simple: Go hard.
It didn’t have any more light days, in order to make up for the missed practices. It helped that Kenzy was able to utilize the newly-surfaced track, as well. The surface was unusable before this year, but now it gives the Cougars another option for practices outside of long runs.
“These runners run so many miles, it eats their bodies up,” Kenzy said. “But now we use that track a little more, and I do appreciate the track. We go pretty hard. Maybe not so long. We don’t do long, long runs. We do hills and hard stuff. They run great practices.”
The strategy has paid off thus far, as the Cougars finished near the top of the team standings at every meet and placed three runners in the top 10 of the Region 3B meet. Eighth-grader Hallie Person (19:37.25) won the meet by over one minute, while Brecken Bolander (21:40.31) and Piper Hanson (21:55.69) placed eighth and ninth, respectively.
Person’s dominant performance that saw her finish out of the sight of any other runner has been commonplace this year. Kenzy said she’s won every race by at least 30 seconds, but Person doesn’t mind running so far ahead of the pack.
At the state meet on Saturday in Rapid City, she hopes to once again lead the pack and add a state title to her résumé before she even gets to high school. Her Region 3B time is over 30 seconds faster than her time at last year’s state meet, and would have placed her second last year.
“I’m trying to get state champ,” Person said. “I got third last year, and I’m ranked No. 2 right now in Class B, so hoping I could get up there.”
Another stellar performance from Person on Saturday is crucial in Burke’s Class B state championship bid. It placed third last year.
“This time we’re going for the state title instead of third,” Bolander said. “We all think we have a really high chance of doing it.”
Finishing atop the tough Region 3B is a good sign, though Kenzy knows from experience that close teams, such as Burke and Kimball/White Lake, can flip positions on any given day. Still, it’s a tough region that featured three top-10 teams last year.
Burke has the pool of talent and shown resilience this season. All that’s left is performing on Saturday.
“It was a lot of hard work, but we had a great coach that helped us through it,” Bolander said. “... (Having so many good runners) pushes us all to be the best. It helps us all run to what we’re capable of.”