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Cross country: The future is Bright: WCA siblings pace Knights to second, ninth at state

West Central Area junior Jacob Bright (692) zeroes in on the finish line at the end of the boys Class A state cross country meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield on Saturday. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)1 / 4
West Central Area freshman Lexi Bright (864) leads a pack of runners during the girls Class A state cross country meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield on Saturday. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)2 / 4
West Central Area senior Ella Van Kempen (861) runs in her final high school meet during the girls Class A state cross country meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield on Saturday. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)3 / 4
West Central Area freshman Reubens Swanson (697) runs alongside the competition during the boys Class A state cross country meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield on Saturday. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)4 / 4

Soon after he placed eighth overall at the Class A state cross country meet on Saturday, Jacob Bright was back at the finish line. Cheering on his sister.

“I caught her in three places. I was cheering her on, told her how the course was laid out,” Bright said of his younger sister, Lexi. “We pull for each other just as much as we pull for ourselves. I think that’s pretty cool.”

Jacob was part of a second-place finish for the West Central Area boys team, while Lexi paced the WCA girls to a ninth-place spot at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

“He helps me so much,” Lexi said of her brother. “Before I started, he was telling me what I need to do and how I should do it, how the race felt for him. He’s helped me so much. I might not even be in this sport if it wasn’t for him.”

Lexi, now a freshman, went to plenty of her brother’s meets while she was a sixth grader. It was there, she said, when she fell in love with the sport as she watched Jacob, now a junior, compete. Three years later, the siblings have set the standard on their respective teams.

“There’s kind of a friendly rivalry between them, but they really cheer for each other,” Knights head coach John Van Kempen said. “They’re both great kids to build around.”

Jacob ran out to a time of 16:15.3, which was seventh among team-finishers in the boys race. Lexi was 27th in the girls race, clocking in at 20:04.9. As per usual, both were first among the West Central Area runners.

As a team, the WCA boys’ 140 points was second only to Perham’s 64. The Knight girls had 229 points, while the Yellowjacket girls completed the first-place sweep with 94 points.

Individually, Geno Uhrbom of Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin was first in the boys field with a 15:38.0 time, while Winona Cotter’s Grace Ping was first among the girls at 17:19.4.

“Our main goal for the team was to get on the podium, and we got second,” Jacob said. “It’s awesome to be able to represent our school with running. … It’s a great feeling.”

Elsewhere for the West Central Area boys, Jack Van Kempen came in 18th at 16:45.4, Kade Runge was 25th at 16:56.2 and Kyle Schill was 30th at 16:59.6. Alex Salwasser rounded out the team score -- claiming 60th with a time of 17:34.3 -- while Reubens Swanson (17:52.7, 72th) and Bennet Grove (18:43.6, 97th) closed the books on the Knight times.

On the girls side, Teagan Nelson followed Lexi with a 29th-place finish at 20:08.1. Brynn Fernholz (20:47.3) and Ella Van Kempen (20:47.4) finished together for 49th and 50th places, respectively, and Terina Blascyk chipped in with a 74th-place time of 21:29.6. Taylor Bennett (21:59.5, 84th) and Kennedy Porter (22:10.5, 91st) also repped the Knights at the state meet.

“From this meet, I think I learned a lot about pacing and how important it really is, and how it helps to have a teammate next to you,” Lexi said. “I run with Teagen Nelson, our second runner, and it’s so helpful having her by my side. … Our fifth runner, Terina Blascyk, she’s doing so well. She’s helped our team so much. It’s amazing (that she’s) coming in as a seventh grader.”

And while West Central Area is pleased with Saturday’s results, the Knights believe it can be a stepping stone for even greater things still to come.

“I don’t think we’re done yet,” coach Van Kempen said. “We’ve got all the boys back. All the girls will be back except Ella Van Kempen, who’s a senior. I think the take-home is that we’re capable of maybe even doing better next year, if we’re willing to work.”

With Saturday’s efforts all wrapped up and now a full offseason to prepare for next year, WCA will be gearing up for another go. And the Brights won’t have to look far for a training partner.

“The big takeaway is getting another year of experience under my belt, preparing for track season this year and also preparing for next year at state,” Jacob said. “Hopefully we can even have a better finish and maybe even gun for that state championship spot.”

TEAM RESULTS

BOYS: 1- Perham 64; 2-West Central Area 140; 3-Mora 161; 4-Lac Qui Parle Valley-Dawson-Boyd 170; 5-Nova Classical Academy 183; 6-East Grand Forks 201; 7-Staples-Motley 209; 8-Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin 212; 9-North Shore 215; 10-Plainview-Elgin-Millville 217; 11-St. James 225; 12-Mankato Loyola-Cleveland 237; 13-Minnehaha Academy 268; 14-Heritage Christian 280; 15-Lake City 300; 16-Redwood Valley 329.

GIRLS: 1-Perham 94; 2-Howard Lake-Waverly 99; 3-Winona Cotter 140; 4-Luverne 147; 5-Staples-Motley 176; 6-Lake City 198; 7-Mesabi East 219; 8-Lac Qui Parle Valley-Dawson-Boyd 221; 9-West Central Area 229; 10-Providence Academy 225; 11-Jordan 267; 12-Belle Plaine 277; 13-GSL 281; 14-East Grand Forks 290; 15-North Shore 291; 16-The Blake School 310.

Micah Friez

Micah Friez covers Bemidji State basketball and BSU for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Beaver basketball updates.

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