Wayzata’s National Champions Reflect Back

Wayzata girls cross-country runners win nationals—and anticipate track-season success.
Real super-women, the 2013 Wayzata girls cross-country team, from left: Annika Halverson, Alayna Sonnesyn, Michaela Keller-Miller, Anna French, McKenna Evans, Annika Lerdall and Mary Franke.

Endorphins make you happy. In fact, they are said to cause a sense of euphoria. Although their release can occur in a variety of states, perhaps most notable is during a strenuous and prolonged period of exercise. Some call it “a runner’s high,” and Wayzata High School junior Anna French and seniors Mary Franke and Annika Halverson know a thing or two about it.

French, Franke and Halverson were runners on the Wayzata Girls’ Cross-country team that traveled to Portland, Ore., last December to compete in the national 3.1-mile race. They overcame the odds and defeated the favorite and seven-time national champion Fayetteville-Malinus team from New York City. “What a day. I can’t believe it, I don’t think it will ever totally sink in,” Franke says.

Twenty-two-year head coach and high school physical education and health teacher Dave Emmans says the win has been four years in the making, as five out of this year’s top seven runners joined the team in 2010. This was aided by the inclusion of assistant coach Addy Hallen,  a Wayzata Middle School physical education and health teacher, who joined the staff four years ago; at the time, the team hadn’t made it to nationals in more than a decade. (Hallen had run for Emmans in the late ’90s.)

But it wasn’t until making nationals in fall 2012 that the dream seemed within reach. That year, Wayzata placed seventh, which at the time was the top place in nationals for any heartland regional team. “We already were at a place that we hadn’t been before. It was already another rung on the ladder,” Emmans says. With newfound confidence, French says the team entered the next summer with nationals in their far-off sights. The goal seemed a bit more plausible when all seven runners placed in the top 10 at sections. In November, the team easily captured the state title.

The runners returned to nationals the first weekend in December. Fans back home in Plymouth could track their progress after each of the five kilometers—the team of seven’s combined times placed them in sixth place at the first kilometer checkpoint—and friends and family watched in real-time as they continued to narrow the gap. At the finish line, it appeared Wayzata placed second; moments later, official times were tallied, revealing a first-place finish for the team; French also finished in the top 8 individually with a time of 17 minutes 43 seconds.

“To see a group of girls with such varying personalities come together and do it was just mind-blowing. The elation is so uncontrollable,” Hallen says. Halverson says the team took coach Emmans’ advice to heart—live in the moment—throughout the weekend. “As soon as it flashed on the board that we got first place, we were shocked. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” she says.

French, Franke and Halverson took different paths to their national title. French ran her first 5K at age 7 and joined the cross-country team in seventh grade. Franke swam throughout childhood, joined the cross-country team as a sophomore, and will attend Colorado State University next year, where she plans to join the cross-country and track teams. After living in Tanzania throughout her middle school years—and starting a running club while there—Halverson joined the cross-country team when her family returned to the United States her freshman year. She, too, has plans to run in college. All three join Emmans for the spring athletic season—he doubles as the distance track coach. French and Halverson hope to break the five-minute mark in the one-mile, while Franke hopes to reach state in the two-mile.
Hallen acknowledges that it is often difficult to maintain a healthy running lifestyle past high school. But it has physical, social and mental benefits. “The camaraderie, the friendships and that connection that kids get is so big. That can go beyond a high school program,” she says. French says she runs because she enjoys it; Franke cites it as a therapeutic daily activity; and Halverson says it leads to an overall healthier lifestyle.
After running daily with the same group of friends, Franke and Halverson say moving on from Wayzata will be an adjustment. “I am going to miss my girls and the friends that I made,” Halverson says. Five of this year’s champions will return to compete in the fall, hoping to repeat their performance; stay tuned.


How To Score a Cross-Country Race

Runners 1–5 “score” with their individual running times, while runners 6 and 7 “push” other teams places/scores back or higher. Essentially, points equate to the place in which each runner finishes; hence, the lowest score wins.

For example, this year’s cross-country team scored 108 points; Fayetteville Malinus (second place) scored 128 points. All seven Wayzata runners finished ahead of the other teams’s sixth and seventh runners, which meant while their places didn’t matter points-wise, they did push the competing team’s point total higher.