PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Marshall girls cross country setting course for another state tournament appearance with veteran core group steering the way

Independent file photo Marshall’s Kaia Sueker competes during their Sept. 11 meet at Independence Park in Marshall.

MARSHALL – The Marshall Tigers girls cross country team has qualified for the state tournament four straight years. This season the Tigers have gotten off to a roaring start and appear well on their way to a fifth straight trip to the state meet.

This year’s group is led by Morgan Radel, Kaia Sueker, Nichole Sample and Natalee Sample. Marshall coach Marie Sample said the team’s strength is the tight knit bond that those four have created within the team.

“They spend a lot of time together, even outside of practice,” Sample said. “It’s not just a season goal. It’s a year-round goal. It’s a pretty tight group of people. They spend a lot of time at each other’s houses, even at my house. Six years ago we started the summer running program. The last few summers, especially this past summer that core group really took ownership of that program. They really took that and made it their baby. They made sure to get the younger kids involved.”

Nichole Sample said that the cross country team has become a second family for her and her teammates.

“You just get really close with your teammates,” Nichole said. “It’s a second family for all of us. You want to push yourself for them, and you want to work hard all year round for your family.”

A week ago the Tigers defeated the second ranked team and the fourth ranked team. This team is no stranger to success, but coach Sample said it’s nice to see her team defeat the top tier teams in the state.

“It is really nice and it’s a confidence booster,” coach Sample said. “Those teams we beat are very good. We still haven’t seen Edina, or Wayzata. The state of Minnesota is stacked. We have very good runners in our state, and very good coaches. It’s nice to beat them at one meet, but we know we have to beat them at the end of the season.”

This season the four core runners for the Tigers have consistently finished in the Top 20. A big reason for that success is pack running.

“They are going through the pain as well,” Radel said. “If they can do it, you can do it. It just keeps bouncing back off each other and you keep pushing each other. It’s a mental reminder of why we are doing this. Your team is right there and you don’t want to let them down.”

Kaia Sueker

This year Sueker has finished in the Top 10 at each meet. Her best finish is second place and she also has a Top 5 finish under her belt.

“She draws the team together and helps get everybody motivated,” Nichole Sample said.

Nichole’s sister, Natalee Sample echoed her sister’s thoughts on Sueker.

“She’s a nice positive influence on the team,” Natalee said. “That’s always nice to have.”

Morgan Radel

Morgan Radel, like Sueker has never finished outside the Top 10 this year. Her best finish is fourth place, something she has accomplished twice this year.

“She’s just a really strong competitor,” Nichole said. “She’s just a good leader.”

Sueker said that the senior runner is a great leader for the team.

“I think she’s a great leader,” Sueker said. “She is just a great influence on the team.”

Natalee Sample

Natalee Sample has finished 10th, sixth, second and sixth this year. Nichole said her sister does a great job of pushing the pace for the team.

“She’s a positive influence,” Nichole said. “She’s a good leader on the team and she really helps push the pace.”

Nichole Sample

Nichole’s best finish this year was at the Marshall Invitational. Sample placed sixth at the home meet, a meet in which the four runners all placed in the Top 10.

“She can run negative splits, which is really hard to do as a runner,” Radel said. “That’s where you start slower and when you start to go faster throughout the race.”

Coach Sample said that there are a lot of great things happening on and off the course for her team.

“There is a lot of neat things happening surrounding this group of girls,” coach Sample said. ” think there are going to be a lot of life long runners. I think they will continue to run competitively after high school. Some of them will run competitively, some of them won’t. They’ve really fallen in love with the sport of running. Even just the camaraderie and the family side aspect that comes with the sport.”

Radel said that there are a number of things that she’d like to accomplish with her teammates during her final year running for the Tigers.

“We have a few goals,” Radel said. “We want to be conference champions, section champions and get on the podium at state.”

Winning a state championship is one goal that the Tigers have set for themselves. Coach Sample said that if her team doesn’t accomplish that goal the season will still have been a success.

“We’ve been to state four years in a row,” coach Sample said. “Our best finish was two years ago when we were second in the state. We lost to Edina by eight points, so we were real close to that state championship. Do we need to win state this year? Nope, we don’t. That is a goal that we have up there. If things go well we’d like to do that. We understand that things are really competitive. We have lots of different layers of goals. It be fun to win that state championship, but we won’t fail if we don’t get there. We are just going to do the best that we can.”