Alexandria girls enter the state track meet vying for multiple titles

The Alexandria girls’ track and field team has some top-level talent that is ready to be on display at the state meet that runs this Friday and Saturday at Hamline University.

Head coach Meghan Orgeman-Crumb said the goal for this group as a team is to finish higher than it did a year ago. Alexandria finished 12th in 2013. This year, the Cardinals feature a 4×100 relay team of Karly Betterman, Tayler Kaufman, Mady Urman and Wensia Johnson with the third fastest seed time in the state. They also have individuals who are well known for being some of the best at their events in Minnesota.

“This year I hope to finish much closer to the top,” Orgeman-Crumb said of the team point standings. “It always feels good to square up against much larger schools and show the talent that our girls have worked hard to showcase at the state meet.”

Alexandria’s Wensia Johnson (middle) and Mady Urman (second from right) race toward the finish line in the 100-meter dash at the section meet. Johnson and Urman finished first and second at the 8AA meet and will both be running at state this weekend. (Contributed photo by Doug Hasz)

Many of the individuals Alexandria has are no strangers to the limelight of big events. Johnson is well established as one of the top sprinters in Minnesota after winning the 200-meter dash state title as an eighth grader in 2012. She also has two runner-up finishes in the 100-meter dash and one second-place finish in the long jump over the past two seasons.

Johnson told Blaze Fugina of the Echo Press at Alexandria’s home meet on May 13 that she had been dealing with a quad injury earlier this season. She wasn’t happy with her times in the sprint races up to that point, but she is coming off section titles in the 100 and 200 in times of 12.14 and 25.21, respectively.

Johnson might have to go faster than that to win a state title in both events this weekend. There’s no doubt that she’s capable and that none of the talented sprinters at the AA level are taking her lightly after the last couple seasons.

The Hasz sisters are two of the favorites to win both the distance events in St. Paul. The Alexandria sophomores have parlayed their great season in cross country from this past fall into the best track seasons of their careers to this point.

Sophomores Bethany (left) and Megan Hasz run through the finish line during the 1,600-meter run at the 8AA meet. (Contributed photo by Doug Hasz)

Bethany enters the state meet with the fastest seed time of 4:56.10 in the 1,600 run, while Megan is second in 4:56.17. Shaelyn Sorenson (4:56.52) of Tartan and Jenna Truedson (4:58.30) of Bemidji are also right there in the running to capture a title.

The top three seed times in the 3,200-meter run read the same. Bethany enters with the fastest time of 10:33.26. Megan is right behind in 10:35.77, while Sorensen is also near the top after a section time of 10:35.85.

“At the state meet, it always comes down to who is ready to step up that day,” Orgeman-Crumb said. “We’ve seen remarkable things happen each year at state, and I hope that the girls have some of their own remarkable moments.”

The second-year Cardinals head coach said all these girls have trained hard throughout the season to run their best at season’s end. Personal or season bests at the state meet are the expectation if all goes according to plan.

Where that will place them among the state leaders is different for every athlete. With so much top-level talent, it should make for an exciting couple of days for Alexandria athletes at Hamline University.

“The focus is different for every athlete,” Orgeman-Crumb said. “A goal that they all share is to run or jump a personal best. How they end up placing is tied to many different variables, including the level of completion in each event. I would love for all of our athletes to make it into finals and of course for a few of our athletes to walk away as state champions.”

Megan and Bethany Hasz will kick off the state meet on Friday when they join the rest of the 3,200-meter field for that finals race at 9 a.m. Fugina will be covering that race and all of Saturday’s finals, so check the Echo Press website throughout the weekend.

 

 

Piepenburg takes it to another level, sets her sights on two state titles

Alexandria’s Jamie Piepenburg has two 3,200-meter state titles and a 1,600-meter championship already to her name.

Now she wants both of those titles in the same season. That has been the driving force behind another record-setting spring for Piepenburg.

She didn’t have much left to prove coming into the season. Piepenburg already had the records and the state titles that will put her down as the best distance runner in Alexandria history and one of the best the state has seen in the 3,200. Her accomplishments also earned her the opportunity to run both track and cross country at the University of Minnesota this fall, but for Piepenburg, there is always plenty left to accomplish.

Photo by Eric Morken/Echo Press: Jamie Piepenburg reached across the finish line in an attempt to beat the school record in the 800-meter run on Tuesday night. She came up just short of the record time of 2:16, finishing in 2:17.39.

“There’s always room to improve,” she said after the Alexandria home triangular on Tuesday. “Training hard and always working, doing all the little things to get better so that I can make those improvements now this year and in my future at the U.”

That attitude has helped her put together an incredible senior season, highlighted by one of the best races in state history in the 3,200 at the Hamline Elite Meet on April 27. Piepenburg had already set the meet record with a time of 10:45.84 as a junior.

This year, she entered the race being pushed by a loaded field that included Shakopee’s Maria Hauger and Blake’s Clare Flanagan. That group made the 3,200 the feature race of the meet with all eyes on a talented group of athletes. Piepenburg proved to be a step ahead of them all as she demolished the record she set last year with a time of 10:28.46. It was the fifth fastest time ever posted in the Minnesota girls’ 3,200-meter race.

“It was such a fun race and just so awesome to go out there with such a fast field of girls,” Piepenburg said. “The overall quality of the race was so great, just awesome to come out on top of that, set the record way down and run the fifth fastest time in Minnesota history. Basically have a breakthrough race that I’ve been waiting for in that race and finally I got my chance.”

It wouldn’t have happened without her ability to recognize areas where she needed to improve. Piepenburg worked hard on her kick in the past year so she could put runners away down the stretch in big meets. That paid off for her at Hamline as she made her move with 300 meters left to leave Flanagan and Hauger in second and third place, respectively.

Photo By Eric Morken/Echo Press: The sight of Piepenburg coming down the stretch with no one on her heels has become a common occurrence over the years.

“She ran so smart and made the move at the right time,” head coach Mike Empting said. “Just put the field away. I think her overall speed to end a race has come such a long ways over the past few years. She’s always been just that aerobic monster, being able to run the 1,600 and the 3,200 and the 5K, that’s always been there, but she recognized that she’s got to have more of a kick and she worked on that.”

It’s that awareness and her drive to never settle that continues to impress her head coach.

“I think she already has,” Empting said of her far exceeding his expectations. “Talking to Mark Nelsen, our distance coach. Coming into this season, he’s discussed with me what he thought she could possibly do and she’s already gone beyond that, with the two-mile especially…it’s hard to describe. She’s a once in a lifetime kind of athlete I think.”

With the conference and section meets right around the corner, Piepenburg has shifted her focus squarely on her ultimate goal coming into the season – that’s winning both the 1,600 and 3,200-meter races at state. Barring an injury, she should have no problem qualifying for both events at the section meet.

She’ll likely face another loaded field when she gets down to Hamline University for the state meet on June 8-9. Taylor Scholl of Prior Lake has the fastest time in the 1,600 this season and won the Elite Meet in a time of 4:59.83. Hauger could be standing in her way in both events as well. Those kind of athletes will make the 1,600 and the 3,200 two of the most highly-anticipated races of the meet.

“Girls like Jamie, Maria, Taylor – they elevate the sport across the state,” Empting said. “If you want to compete, this is where you’re going to have to be.”

Hauger and Piepenburg have long been rivals on the Minnesota track and cross country scene. The Shakopee junior kept Piepenburg from ending her cross country career with a state championship after Hauger edged her by less than a second this past fall. The two have finished right behind each other in first and second place in the 3,200 the past three seasons at state track.

“It’s kind of a rivalry that definitely pushes us both to be our best,” Piepenburg said. “I know that if one of us is to slack off today, the other one’s not. So there’s no reason to slack off. You have to work hard every day knowing that she’s out there pushing herself every day to get better and beat me at the next race.”

It’s a big race every time these two go head-to-head, and none of their previous match-ups will be bigger than the likely match-up in early June. It will be the last time these two see each other at the high school level.

Winning both distance races in the same year has eluded Piepenburg the past three seasons. That’s why winning both titles this season would be so special. Doing it against a runner she has respected for years in Hauger? That would be icing on the cake.

“That would be just an awesome way to end my senior year,” Piepenburg said. “Being able to have this rivalry where both of us had our chances and finally my last year get to go out with a bang. Beat her at Hamline, beat her at both state tracks – that would just be an awesome way to end it.”