Championship teams are few and far between these days in Minnesota, but the girls cross country team from Wayzata is now among them after second place became a surprise first.
Unlike most races in track, it's clear who the winner is when they cross the finish line. In cross country, however, the combined fasted times of five separate runners decides the victor. So while the girls from Wayzata were thrilled to make it to nationals, they didn't know they had won until all the final times were tallied.
"I can see where we got lost in the shuffle," coach Dave Emmans said. "I don't blame them at all for overlooking us."
After coaching the Wayzata High School team to their second cross country championship at the state level, Emmans was ecstatic when he found out their club qualified for the Nike nationals.
"I'm standing at the finish line, girls are coming in, I think we're OK," he recalled. "I knew we did better than last year."
They certainly did, but what happened at Saturday's 5K race in Portland, Ore., not only surprised the 7-time defending champions from New York -- but the Wayzata team itself.
"The first K, our team wasn't even in the top 5," Michaela Keller-Miller said. "Then, by the end, we thought we were in second and we ended up winning."
Much to the surprise of the reigning champs, too.
"You could tell they were disappointed, but I don't know -- I guess that's part of competing," Anna French said.
For nearly 15 minutes, the Minnesota team thought they had secured a second-place finish -- and they were content with that.
"We were happy with second and we were just kind of excited about all our races and felt it was a great way to end the season," French said.
French, a junior, finished 8th overall by setting a personal best of 17:43, but during the Nike regionals, she was out sick. Even without the team's top distance runner, they still qualified -- but it took the girls off the national radar.
"We're new kids on the block," Emmans said. "Why would they be looking for us?"
The team's stand-out, first-place performance may change that.
"That first 200 meters, I could just kind of tell this was an 'on' day for me, and it was going to be a good race," French said.
When runners from the nation's top schools were trickling in, the runners from Wayzata had already finished. According to Emmans, that's when it started to sink in.
"Then, I started really getting excited," he said. "This is close."
In the end, they came home with the championship title -- no easy feat for a competition that comes nearly a month and a half after the high school season ends.
"We weren't sure if we could do it, but we figured we'd give it a shot," French said. "When we actually did it, it was kind of 'wow' -- disbelief."
Most of the runners on the team are already training for other sports too. Four of the girls are competing in Nordic skiing, and a fifth is the basketball captain.