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Chris Murphy, Published October 31 2012

Opposites work for Olson, Lillehaugen and Spuds boys cross country team

Moorhead - At cross country practice Wednesday at Moorhead High School, runner Ezra Olson ran around with a football in his hands, laughing and joking with a few teammates with his shaggy brown hair swaying with the wind.

On the track, Spuds runner Matthew Lillehaugen, his neatly short-trimmed hair not budging with the fall breeze, looked like a race horse, standing tall on the track, waiting for the starting gun, taking a few seconds away from focus to chat with teammates surrounding him.

The presidential election isn’t the only thing pairing two opposite human beings, but the government could learn something from Olson and Lillehaugen, as the top two runners of the Moorhead squad have worked together to lead the Spuds cross country team to its sixth consecutive state meet.

“Matthew is a perfectionist,” Moorhead coach Jeremy Blake said. “He dictates a lot of things by the clock. He looks at his watch and knows where he should be at that time. Ezra is much more of a run-by-feeling guy. Their personalities are just different.”

Ezra is a happy-go-lucky jokester and Matthew is a very walk-the-line type of guy. They are opposites.”

Lillehaugen is an analyzer. He speaks of Olson as if he’s figuring out a calculus problem.

“I probably have less natural ability than Ezra, so I have to do whatever I can to get up to that level,” Lillehaugen said after a long pause that was designated for planning out his answer as if it were a five-mile race. “I was saving my legs, standing on the track. Ezra will be able to come off of playing football and race just fine. We’ve been competitive with one another since we were in first grade. Up until last year, I haven’t been much competition. Things came together for me last season.”

For Lillehaugen, the focus and adding miles finally paid off. It was as if running was an algebra problem and Lillehaugen solved X.

“All of the mileage I’ve been putting in finally paid off and my time started dropping,” Lillehaugen said. “With running, you think if you put in a certain amount of mileage, results will show. Sometimes you’ll put in a ton of mileage and you’ll see nothing, but suddenly everything clicks and you’re seeing things happen.”

Olson has no plan when it comes to running. He’s looking for the finish line, not X.

“He likes to do things in a neat orderly fashion, and I just kind of go with the flow,” Olson said. “I do what I have to do to compete. He will calculate his specific mileage to do for the week or month and I just do how I feel. During races, he’ll have a specific time on his watch that’ll he’ll want to run at each part of the race, whereas, if I feel good, I’m going to go faster.”

Behind a second-place finish from Olson and a sixth-place finish from Lillehaugen at the Class 2A, Section 8 championship meet, Moorhead qualified for state. They may not agree on style, but both runners agreed on two things: The team needs their opposite personalities, and they need one another’s competition.

“You definitely need two kinds of people to help the rest of the team, because if you have too many guys who are just on the clock, you won’t have any guys who are willing to risk it to go faster,” Olson said.

Lillehaugen echoed his teammates’ sentiments.

“I feel like if everyone were like me, we probably wouldn’t have that much fun,” Lillehaugen said. “I’ll have us run the exact time or a couple seconds faster than we’re assigned and Ezra will come up and have a good couple runs and take us through another faster and that’s what we need. We need a break from the other way of doing things.”

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