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Lakers excel and become Mid-State Conference champs

Laker sophomore Jason Stallman runs during the DL Rotary Invite earlier in the fall season. The Lakers will return a host of young runners next year to defend their Mid-State Conference championship.

Detroit Lakes head boys' cross country coach Bill Kvebak knew something was up with his 2009 team after they had one of their best performances in the Lakers' first meet of the season in Moorhead.

The Lakers finished an all-time best fourth place in Moorhead -- a meet they regularly start the season out with.

The only teams to beat the Lakers that day were all in the state meet, while the spark to ignite one of DL's best seasons as a team was had.

"It was a good start for us," Kvebak said. "Moorhead was a good run for us, because after that one, the guys just got better and better in each meet.

"We never took a step backwards in any meet."

The Lakers also earned some hardware which had not been earned in a long time.

DL has won only two meets combined in the last 11 years, but the 2009 Lakers matched that in one season by winning a pair -- including the Mid-State Conference championship, which hasn't been won by a Laker team since 1992.

"Coming into the season, we didn't have many expectations to win the Mid-State, because the team which beat us last year -- Staples-Motley -- returned all their runners and we lost four," Kvebak said. "But after we beat them in Moorhead, then again in Little Falls, we reevaluated our goals."

For team success to happen, some individual success needs to be earned, as well.

Senior Leif Johnson had a great year, leading the Lakers the entire season as the team's top runner.

Despite not qualifying for the state meet after finishing 14th in one of the toughest sections in Class 2A, Johnson's season ranks right up there with any top DL runner.

"Take the state meet out of the equation and Leif had one of the best seasons as a Laker," Kvebak said.

Johnson was a three-time medalist, including the Mid-State Conference individual championship.

"During my time here and as far as I know, we never had anyone win more than one meet in a single season, and Leif won three," Kvebak said.

Johnson had an important asset running and pushing him throughout a race in junior Dylan Ramstad-Skoyles.

"Dylan really impresses in that he has a strong desire to being the best possible he can be," Kvebak said. "But on the flipside, he is the best team runner and his performance in the Mid-State exemplified that.

"It will be nice having a leader like that back next year."

Ramstad-Skoyles was a big influence on the Lakers winning the conference meet after he helped pull the latter DL runners up in the middle of the pack, then raced ahead to help push Johnson to victory.

"Dylan got better after he changed his race strategy in the Milaca meet," Kvebak said. "He was racing smarter, but was still running hard."

The Lakers' usual No. 3 runner was sophomore Wes Bakken, who was running his first time on the cross-country team.

He was the third DL runner to break the 18-minute mark, behind Johnson and Ramstad-Skoyles, and was the catalyst for the back runners, coaxing them to run just a bit harder and finish just a bit better.

DL's No. 4 runner was freshman Luke Wiebolt, who also has a high ceiling, Kvebak said.

"Luke was an all-conference runner as a freshman and has a chance to be a four-time all-conference runner," the DL coach said.

Sophomore Brandon Olson made huge strides by rising from the No. 7 slot to the fifth by taking a full minute off his 2008 time, while sophomore Jason Stallman was another consistent top seven finisher.

Freshman Mike Okeson was a first-time runner and improved greatly throughout the season, while sophomores Travis King and Pat Bakken each added depth to the varsity.

The success tasted this season will only blossom to higher expectations for next year and beyond.

"Our goals are starting to change, now we will be expecting to win the Mid-State and be in the mix to finish as a top five team in the section," Kvebak added. "Our numbers were also huge (34 out in grades nine through 12), which is an important aspect."

With a conference championship tucked away in DL's trophy case, the launching pad has been built after 2009.

Now the Lakers can launch themselves to bigger and better things in the near future.