A strong favorite in every race she’s run this season, Hutchinson junior Isabelle Schmitz found herself in an unusual position during the State Class AA cross-country Meet.
Schmitz, the defending state champion in Class AA, was the underdog chasing the favorite Saturday afternoon as they traversed the 5-kilometer course at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
There would be no Cinderella story, as this season’s top-ranked runner, Luna Scorzelli of St. Paul Highland Park set a blistering early pace and cruised to victory in 17:45.1. Schmitz finished second in 18:18.2
While she admitted a repeat state championship was a hope, Schmitz called the race a learning experience rather than a disappointment.
“Going into the race, I was ranked second. Odds were, I was going to place second,” Schmitz said. “I set myself up for improvement.
“Honestly, it was not a bad race,” she added. “Luna is a really experienced and all-around fantastic runner. I’m not at all disappointed with how I ran. It’s extremely difficult to go back-to-back (as state champion).”
Schmitz entered the race intent on shadowing Scorzelli early and then looking for an opportunity to take a lead later on the course. She expected that she and Scorzelli would separate themselves from the rest of the pack quite quickly.
And she wasn’t wrong. Scorzelli broke to the front of the pack right away, and Schmitz went with her.
“She did choose to take it out hard,” Schmitz said, “so I was trying to stick with her as long as I could and hopefully be able to catch her on one of the uphills. I knew by staying with her, I was going to lose contact with the chase pack.
“For me, it is uncomfortable to be in a pack,” she added. “Mentally, I have less stress when I’m running out by myself.”
It was a strategy she followed the entire season, during which she won every race in which she competed, including the Section 2AA meet, where she won a 15-second cushion over runner-up Kendra Krueger of Jordan.
This season was one of continued improvement as Schmitz worked to improve her times after taking off the summer off from training to rest an injured knee. And even though she was working on improving her conditioning, she continued to win big. She won the Wright County Conference meet, the last regular season competition heading into sections, with more than a minute and a half cushion.
Schmitz knew it would be different Saturday, however, based on Scorzelli’s performances this season and her top ranking. She was up to the task through the first mile, but she began to lose contact with the leader at mile 2.
“I felt my body … I just didn’t really have it in me to go with her,” Schmitz said, adding that she didn’t regret going out fast, but that it might have played a role in her slower finishing time. “I was a little disappointed with my time. It was not a bad time … very average for me. But it happens. It’s a state meet. Everybody on that starting line wants to have a great meet.”
It was Schmitz’s fourth appearance in five years at the state meet. The only year she’s missed was 2020, when there was no state meet due to the coronavirus pandemic.
No matter how many times she runs at state, Schmitz said, it never loses its thrill.
“It’s a fun time every year … always something different, the competition is always different,” she said. “There’s so much energy at the state meet. When you’re running through the course packed with fans, it’s such an adrenaline rush. You don’t see that even during the section meet.”
Reiter makes strong debut
Schmitz’s experience at the state meet played a role in preparing teammate Hathaway Reiter for her first appearance in the showcase.
It was a pretty good debut. Reiter ran a personal-best time of 19:41.8 to finish 38th overall in the 158-runner field.
“I’m definitely happy with my time and ranking overall, and I did a p.r.,” Reiter said. “That course was a little bit harder, but it was fun.”
Just a seventh-grader, Reiter had never run cross-country until joining the Hutchinson Middle School team this year. In fact, outside of a fundraiser 5K fun run, Reiter said, she really hadn’t done competitive running at all. It didn’t take long, though, for her to move her way up to the junior varsity and then varsity teams.
She finished eighth in the Section 2AA meet, qualifying for state in her first season of participation — a similar story to that of her older teammate, Schmitz.
And she relied on her teammate’s experience as the state meet approached.
“She’s been really helpful in guiding me through all of the meets,” Reiter said. “It’s been really helpful having her for nerves, and I guess anything else.”
For her part, Schmitz said she enjoyed the opportunity to mentor a younger runner with big ambitions, like she had back in seventh grade.
“I’ve made mistakes in middle school (running) and I loved being able to coach her through it and to hopefully be able to take some of the stress out of it from what I felt when I was that young.”
Saturday’s strong performance makes Reiter eager for next season. But before then, there are other sports to play. She’s a hockey player and track and field competitor.
“Hockey started during the cross-country season, so I was going straight from cross-country to hockey practice every day,” she said.