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Chris Murphy, Published October 31 2012

Moorhead girls rally around ill teammate for state cross country berth

Moorhead - Moorhead’s Taylor Janssen crossed the finish line at the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 cross country section meet 30th overall.

The three-time all-state runner’s high school career had come to an end without a trip to state for the first time in her four seasons, thanks in large part to a flu bug she picked up nine days before the meet. That caused her to lose 11 pounds in a two-day period.

The senior cried, hugged her teammates and, as the No. 1 Spuds runner for the last four seasons, apologized, blaming herself for the team not qualifying.

So she thought.

Even with the sickness of its No. 1 runner, Moorhead won the section championship and qualified for state as a team for the first time since 2009.

“I love my team and I was so happy with them,” Janssen said. “It would have been awful to not make it to state and I would have felt it was my fault. When you’re by yourself at state and you’re on the line with no one, it’s just not as fun. I’m excited to go with my team.”

Janssen wasn’t the only one who thought the season was over.

“We didn’t know if we had a chance, since (Taylor) was so good,” said sophomore Mackenzie Kelly, who finished 12th overall at the section meet. “We didn’t think we made it after we raced. We all were wandering around and we found Taylor and we were together and we decided to go to the results just in case we made it. Brianna (Gruenberg)’s little brother came up and told us we got first with a straight face. We ran over to the results, we saw it and we all screamed and jumped together and Taylor was crying.”

The Spuds had rallied behind their leader. Sophomore Mallori Johnson finished sixth, junior Avery Selberg finished 11th, Kelly 12th, Brianna Gruenberg ran the best race of her career and finished 23rd, and Taylor’s freshman sister, Jayda, finished 28th to put Moorhead three points ahead of second-place Willmar at 80-83.

“We’ve all really gotten better over the last year and we’ve grown to really excel in this sport,” Johnson said. “It was a little bit nerve-racking when we finished, but when we found out we were all crying.”

Moorhead proved no individual was bigger than the sum of the Spuds’ parts. Cross country is so often seen as an individual sport disguised as a team sport, but the Spuds tears said differently.

“Taylor has been a leader for us all four years,” Moorhead coach Jeremy Blake said. “She’s not used to getting beat by teammates, but she’s handled it amazingly well. On the way home from the section championship, I heard her tell the girls she’s never been happier in her whole life in regards to going to state.

“It doesn’t matter to me what order they finish and now they’ve bought into that. I don’t think we’ve been the same one through seven all season. Taylor has been a staple, and this state meet is not only a great way for her to end her career, but she gets to see this group of girls she’s been running with compete at state.”

With nine of the 10 top Moorhead runners slated to return next season, the future of Spuds girls cross country isn’t looking too bad.

“It was pretty motivating for the year upcoming that we could still get to state without our top runner,” Gruenberg said. “It says we’ll still be able to do well next year with a lot of our top runners returning.”

The future can wait because the present is the state meet, and Moorhead wants to shine in the spotlight the only way they know how: together.

“We want to be on the stage,” Gruenberg said. “We have to run pretty good races and we’re capable of doing it. We want to get to the podium. We just need to group up and stay together.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548