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Wayzata's Derek Peterson (785) took the baton from teammate Manuel Santana en route to the best time in the boys’ 4x800 relay at the Class 3A True Team track meet Friday at Stillwater.

One year ago, the Lakeville South girls enjoyed a dream track and field season. The Cougars cruised through the year, winning every meet they entered, including the True Team state meet, and finished as MSHSL Class 2A champions. Things went so well that even the athletes expected this season to be a bit more of a struggle.

“Last year was so great, we surprised even ourselves,” junior hurdler Shaina Burns said. “This year, we aren’t running after people. They’re running after us.”

They wore that uncertainty into the Class 3A, Section 1 True Team section meet last week, still unsure of how good they actually were.

“And we weren’t satisfied,” Burns admitted. “We had some girls crying. But then we saw our score and we scored a lot. We thought, ‘Hey, maybe we are pretty good.’ ”

That booster shot of confidence couldn’t have been timed better. At Friday’s Class 3A True Team state meet at Stillwater High School, the Cougars shrugged off the soggy conditions and performed like defending champions, gaining an advantage midway through the meet and pulling away for their second consecutive True Team title, scoring 910 points to outdistance runner-up Prior Lake, which finished with 806.5.

Lakeville South got winning performances from junior Kayt Larson in the 1,600 (a school-record time of 5 minutes, 1.3 seconds), sophomore Caraline Slattery in the high jump (5 feet, 4 inches) and senior Jordyn Thornton in the shot put (42-9.5). But this meet isn’t about winners. The True Team format is designed to reward team depth, and that’s where Lakeville South shone.

For example: Burns didn’t win an event but finished second in the 300 hurdles, third in the long jump and shot put and fourth in the 100 hurdles, accounting for 89 team points; Slattery and teammate Rachel Mickelson finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the triple jump; and Haley Lubow, Mickelson and Rose Cozad all finished in the top 10 in the 400-meter run.

“Our coach [Andrew Hilliard] won’t let us get down on ourselves,” Thornton said. “We have the talent and the skills. It’s just a matter of believing in ourselves. Like he always says, ‘Make it a habit.’ ”

Relays, depth lead Wayzata boys

Wayzata boys’ coach Aaron Berndt is aware his team is the envy of many others. The Trojans are deep and talented and have state-championship contenders dotting the roster. And he’s committed to developing his high-end kids into potential state champions.

But high-end talent only goes so far in a True Team meet. The entire team determines a champion, and Wayzata got strong performances from its entire lineup en route to its first championship. The Trojans won with a score of 830 points, beating runner-up Stillwater’s 807.

“We have great, hardworking kids who will never get to the [MSHSL] state meet,” he said. “I’m a traditionalist, so I prefer that meet, but the reason this one is so special is that it’s 50 guys, many of whom will never get to a state meet, having the chance to win a state championship together.”

That is what made the Trojans’ Class 3A True Team victory so special to distance runners such as senior Josh Nielsen and junior Kevin Myers. Nielson finished 12th in the 1,600-meter run, while Myers’ sole event was a leg of the winning 4x800-meter relay that led off the Trojans’ victory.

To them, the victory was the highlight of the season.

“What’s really cool about this meet is that it’s 50 guys, all coming together,” Nielsen said. “No one is bigger than anyone else. And we’ve never won this before, so this is a big deal.”

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