Picutred: Head girls’ Track & Field coach Jennifer Johnsrud watches runners sprint past in a practice held on the sunny Minnewaska football field.
The 2021 girls track team hopes to pick up where they left off after the 2019 season. Head coach Jennifer Johnsrud and assistants Jeremy Christensen, Linda Mills and Bailey Van Den Hueval have a talented group to work with.
“We have 24 girls returning with varsity experience. These girls were a part of our 2019 WCC Championship, Sub-Section Championship, and State True Team Championship team,” said coach Johnsrud. “We are so excited to return to this spring season after missing last year. Our kids and coaches are hungry for some competition and anxious to get started. Along with our 24 returning athletes, we have 26 new faces that are eager to learn and compete for spots.”
It is rare to have so much experience returning after an entire year off from competition. But coach Johnsrud still sees a challenge with that.
“We will have our work cut out for us this year. After having a year off, our kids need to remember how to work hard and compete. Kids are resilient, but losing a year puts them behind in all the technical events.”
The Lakers’ returning experienced athletes will be a key strength to a successful season. As the fall cross country teams have been competing for the past three years, the spring track team is reaping the benefits as Minnewaska will be much stronger in the middle and long distance events.
As is the case for all high school teams, replacing graduated athletes can be difficult.
“We have big shoes to fill in several events including shot, discus, high jump, triple jump and a basic all around utility athlete that could compete in almost any event,” Johnsrud noted. “Filling all those holes will be a challenge.”
Gauging the competition will be tricky, but Morris and Melrose should have good teams in the West Central Conference. Top teams in the sub-section and section look to be Perham, Staples, Morris, Pequot Lakes.
The boys’ track and field team, led by co-head coaches Dan Timm and Riley Gustafson, will need an extra dose of patience for the 2021 season.
“Because we did not have a season last year due to COVID, we have a lot of athletes without much track and field experience,” noted coach Timm. “This makes it very difficult to know what to expect for this season. It is going to take some patience from everyone on the team as we figure things out, especially early in the season.”
Timm and Gustafson are in their third year as co-head coaches and are impressed with the leadership they are seeing from some of their athletes. “We have a good group of leaders in our junior and senior classes who are willing to work hard and help out our younger athletes. It is awesome to see them giving the younger athletes pointers and becoming almost like another group of coaches helping out in the different events.”
Two boys who are back for the 2021 season placed in the 2019 state meet as sophomores. Peyton Johnsrud finished second at the state meet in the high jump with a jump of 6’ 07”, and Connor Johnsrud finished sixth at state in the triple jump with a jump of 42’ 10.75”. They are both looking forward to the opportunity to compete and try to get back to the state meet again as seniors.
Timm added, “I am confident that our athletes will improve and find success as the season progresses. We have a group of dedicated coaches who will be able to get our athletes in the right events and give them the coaching needed to be successful.”
As all teams in the state are in the same situation as the Lakers, it will be difficult to know which teams will be contenders for conference and section titles. The Minnewaska coaches will make it a point to really focus on their team and do the best that they can.
The 2021 Minnewaska track and field season begins on Thursday when the Lakers host a meet that will include teams from Asby, BBE, Brandon-Evansville and Holdingford.