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Chris Murphy, Published September 26 2012

Perham looks to break through after just missing a boys cross country state title last season

Perham, Minn.

Perham cross country runner Keeghan Hurley watched last season as his Yellowjackets squad missed out on a state championship by the slimmest of margins, finishing second in Minnesota Class 1A by one point behind St. Cloud Cathedral.

The then-sophomore was forced to also miss swimming and track seasons last year in addition to cross country after transferring from Fergus Falls.

“That was definitely hard,” said Hurley, a state qualifier in swimming, track and cross country as a freshman with the Otters.

“It didn’t just hurt them, it hurt me. I wanted to be in there and say, ‘Hey, guys, jump on my back and I’ll carry you through,’ but I couldn’t. We did a time trial that morning and I didn’t run my best, but if you had put that score in the finals, we would have won state. It just hurt.”

Perham senior Brady Speicher tasted a state championship as a sophomore on the Perham cross country team, so he understood exactly what the difference in that one point meant.

“It’s two totally different feelings,” Speicher said. “It was a terrible feeling, knowing that if you ran a couple seconds faster, you win state.”

Sophomore Billy Beseman literally followed in his sister’s footsteps, beginning his running career in fifth grade, running races alongside his sibling. Missing a state championship in his first varsity season for Perham left him with a bitter taste in his mouth.

“It leaves you with determination to never let it happen again,” Beseman said. “We’re working harder than we ever have before.”

The trio of Perham runners are different ages, found cross country in different ways and are different people, but all share the same goal: They want a state championship for Perham. One important similarity among the three runners, however, is they are all ranked in the top 10 in Class 1A, helping the Yellowjackets earn a top spot in the Class 1A State Cross Country Coaches’ Association rankings and the No. 4 spot in the country for schools with an enrollment less than 500 students in the National High School Coaches Association rankings.

“To have three, as good as they, especially in different grades, is just special,” Perham cross country coach Jeff Morris said. “For the team, it just gives them so much confidence when you have three guys like that.”

Hurley, whose mom and dad ran track at the University of Minnesota, is currently ranked fourth in Class A, with Speicher ranked eighth and Beseman ranked 10th behind him.

Each feeds off one another to form a potent Perham squad.

“Not a lot of people can say they are running with the best runners in the state,” Speicher said. “I can say I’m running with the fourth-ranked runner, and it makes us all so much better. We just make each other better.”

The team just needs to be one point better and, considering Perham beat No. 2-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral by more than 20 seconds this week at the Milaca Mega Meet, the Yellowjackets seem many points better than last season.

“Sitting out all of last year was worth it,” said Hurley, who set a school 5K record at the Milaca Mega Meet. “Instead of dreading last season, I decided it was a year to prepare. Right now, we’re coming out and making our statement. We trained harder in the summer than we ever have and it’s showing so far.”

The target may be on the backs of Perham, sitting atop the rankings, but the Yellowjackets have their own target set.

“If we would have won state last year and added Keeghan this year, the championship would have been expected,” Morris said. “We had the whole team putting in the miles this summer. Now, they are just more hungry for it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548