Girls cross country: Cotter's Ping is first seventh-grader to win state title

NORTHFIELD — Grace Ping crossed the finish line, then waited and waited. And waited some more.The seventh-grader from Winona Cotter put on a dominant performance Saturday at St. Olaf College in the Class A girls cross country state meet.

Grace Ping of Winona Cotter was a blur of speed as she won the girls' Class A cross country state meet on Saturday by more than 50 seconds. Ping became the first seventh-grader to win a cross country state championship in Minnesota.

NORTHFIELD — Grace Ping crossed the finish line, then waited and waited. And waited some more.

The seventh-grader from Winona Cotter put on a dominant performance Saturday at St. Olaf College in the Class A girls cross country state meet.

Ping, whose goal is to one day run in the Olympics, made Minnesota State High School League history when she crossed the finish line in 17 minutes, 52 seconds. Not only did she win by more than 50 seconds, she also became the first seventh-grader to win a state championship, according the MSHSL.

"I'm really happy with my race," Ping said. "It was a fun course to run. I just wanted to do my best and have fun."

Ping is no stranger to big meets.


In 2014 she set a world record for her age division (10-under) in 5,000 meters in a meet at St. Mary's University in Winona, finishing in 18:02.10. In the summer of 2014 she won the 3,000 meters in an AAU national meet at Des Moines, Iowa.

In February, she set another age-level (11-12) world record in the 2-mile (11:03.00) at an indoor meet at Bethel University, and in June she added a world record in the 1-mile (5:07.67) at the Nike Festival of Miles in St. Louis.

In April, Ping repeated as the women's champion at the Fools Five 8K road race in Lewiston. She was 10th overall among over 2,700 runners. Her closest competitor Saturday, Breck eighth-grader Morgan Richter, finished in 18:42.7.

"I was hoping for a faster time, but my time was OK," Ping said. "I didn't really get nervous at all because I've worked hard to get here and I just had to go out and do my best. There's nothing really that I can do, other than that."

Two other Section 1A runners earned all-state finishes. Austin Pacelli's Kayla Christopherson placed eighth (19:22.7) and Stewartville senior Chrissy Lofgren closed her high school career with an outstanding performance, placing 12th (19:31.7).

Perham won the Class A team title with 74 points. Lanesboro/Fillmore Central placed ninth in its first trip to state, and Lake City finished 15th.

High-five for JM's Christensen

Emma Christensen fulfilled a goal that was six years in the making in Saturday's Class AA girls state cross country meet. The Rochester John Marshall senior stepped onto the podium for the post-race awards ceremony, the result of her fifth-place finish.


But the medal around her neck, and her second consecutive all-state honor, aren't what she'll remember most about her highly successful high school career, which also includes winning this year's Section 1AA meet.

"The relationships you make; you get the hardest working kids who come out for track and cross country," Christensen said of what she'll remember most. "Even the girls from around the state, all the people you meet, that's what you remember and that's why I want to keep running.

"Those relationships and friends you make — people you compete against, even the ones on your team — you don't get that in every sport."

Christensen was hoping to close her career with a personal record time, but the demanding 5,000-meter course at St. Olaf didn't allow that to happen for many runners. Her time of 18:02.0 was less than 30 seconds behind champion Bethany Hasz of Alexandria.

"She had a nice, strong finish," JM coach Pam Davick said. "What's cool is finishing hasn't always been her strength. At sections, she came from behind in the last half-mile and finished really strongly. She did the same thing today."

Christensen, who was in seventh place for a majority of the race, said she plans to keep running in college, though she hasn't picked a school yet.

"My performances this year made me hopeful (of a top-five finish)," she said. "And to come back from being in seventh most of the race to finish fifth, I'm very happy with that."

Davick said Christensen will be missed for many reasons.


"She has always led by example with her hard work," Davick said. "She's always been a little quieter, but has come out of her shell more now. She's not a 'rah-rah' leader, but she puts in a lot of hard work and her teammates see that."

Edina won the team championship with 68 points. Section 1AA champion Red Wing placed sixth with 207 points. The Wingers were led by senior Kianna Stewart, who finished 11th.

Red Wing's Grace Johnson also earned all-state honors, placing 25th. Three other area runners finished in the top 30: Red Wing's Jasmyn Armstrong finished 26th, Rochester Mayo's Kendall Pfrimmer placed 28th and Rochester Century's Aly Welch was 30th.

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