For Osseo High School runners Lex Davis, Gabbie Baltes and Mackinon Mokoro, qualifying for the state meet is a well-earned reward after a grueling season.
“I just feel relieved,” said Baltes. “I can just relax now, sleep well, but I’m so happy and excited.”
Baltes will join teammate Davis at the state meet, a fitting conclusion to a season that saw the two ninth-graders training and racing, and setting numerous school records together.
“It’s great to have a teammate with me this year, so I’m glad,” said Davis, who was the lone qualifier for the girls’ team last year.
The duo has combined to set the top 13 times for the five-kilometer distance in school history, despite completing just their second seasons. Davis and Baltes finished first and second at the Osseo Invite on Sept. 27, which the girls’ varsity team won. That race became a turning point in the season for Baltes.
“I started dropping more time than I thought I’d be able to and State started becoming an idea for me,” she said.
They’ve become leaders on a young team, especially as Davis’s younger sister, Jules, joined the squad.
“I feel like it’s a little bit more of a responsibility,” said Davis.
Baltes and Davis said they try to lead by example during races and workouts when they can. Some of that comes in the form of passing advice onto other runners, and each other.
“Every race I’ve raced, there’s a moment when the pack leaves you and the choice is either you go with it or you drop behind,” explained Davis, pointing to one of the strategies she employed to qualify for state a second straight season.
A healthy dose of pre-race rituals also plays a part. For Baltes, that means wearing a special necklace, separate pairs of socks for warming-up and racing, and a band-aid on her left heel. Davis opts for a ribbon and a hearty breakfast.
“They say breakfast doesn’t matter, but I always have eggs,” she said.
Mokoro, the boys’ qualifier, prefers a simpler approach to racing. Part of his strong qualification time came from an urge to catch up to a competitor.
“I just wanted to close that gap,” the junior said.
Mokoro caught the eyes of the team’s coaches during the spring track season, then embarked on a rigorous summer training program in the lead-up to cross country season.
“I always felt gassed in [track] workouts, but I feel my cardio’s up ... it’s not as bad,” he said.
Mokoro immediately emerged as the team’s top runner, despite competing in his first season, meaning he had to pick up race strategies quickly.
“The courses are different, it might be faster, it might be slower with hills,” Mokoro explained, adding he pushes himself through new tactics. “My number one focus is just not to stay stagnant the whole time. If I’m running the same the whole time, I’m most likely slowing down.”
Mokoro was well-suited to learning the in’s and out’s of the sport. He was recently inducted into Osseo’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and he takes a rigorous load of classes.
“I need to keep the distractions to a minimum,” he said of how he excels in academics as well as athletics. “I put my phone in my locker some days or I might leave it in my mom’s room because I need sleep.”
All three runners will end their memorable season in the most rewarding manner — racing at the state meet Nov. 3 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
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