By: Les Knutson
Murray County News Sports
Smooth-running Morgan Gehl, an athletic junior at Fulda High School, is a Minnesota state champion.
Running on a cold and breezy afternoon last Saturday (November 2) in the Class A girls’ state cross country meet on the campus of Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Gehl moved quickly to the front of the huge pack and — in impressive fashion — progressively pulled away from the entire group of 176 of the state’s best long-distance runners.
The determined lead runner for the Section 3A champion Murray County Central / Fulda Warriors won her first state championship by more than 27 seconds as she completed the 5,000-meter distance in a stellar time of 17:53.5.
“Winning a state championship in cross country is a good feeling,” summed up Gehl in the St. Olaf field house after her victory. “It’s something that I hoped could happen and things worked out just right for me this year.”
For about half the distance, Gehl was challenged by little Natasha Sortland, the state’s top-ranked runner prior to the race, as the two elite competitors ran side-by-side and stretched their lead on everyone else.
Later, after running across the soccer fields, circling a pond and retracing their way across the soccer fields, the 3.1-mile course headed into the open winds of the prairie loop and that’s when the second-ranked Gehl assumed the lead by herself.
“Morgan’s first mile was fast but too aggressive,” said her MCC / Fulda cross country coach Dominick Damm. “We’ve been stressing pushing the pace more on the second mile — which she did — and Sortland was just not able to sustain that faster speed, allowing Morgan to take command and continue widening the gap.”
Heading up through the woods on a long uphill stretch, Gehl increased her six-second lead at the 3,200-meter split (11:20.7 to 11:26.7) and kept her legs churning at a high speed, gearing up for her impressive finishing burst.
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