With just over a week until the state cross country championships in Sioux Falls, area Class AA runners fine-tuned their efforts with the thoughts of closing the season on a strong note.
For Kylee Bennett of Sturgis and Jackson Wilson of Douglas, both closed the regular-season with momentum-building runs Thursday in the Best of the West race at Hart Ranch.
Bennett, a sophomore for the Scoopers, won the girls' 5K race in a time of 19 minutes, 7.5 seconds, about five seconds ahead of runner-up Delaney Kost of Rapid City Central.
Bennett, Kost, Hailey Uhre of Rapid City Stevens and Alissa Wieman of Dougas battled for most of the race before Bennett took control in the final sprint to the finish line.
"It was a tight race, it was a good group of girls," Bennett said. "I was just right there at the end."
For Bennett, Thursday was about the competition as she prepares for the state meet Oct. 20 at Yankton Trail Park.
"I'm just trying to see where I'm going to be ranked going into state," she said, although she was not sure at the time where she would be ranked. "It's always a surprise," she added.
Physically, Bennett said she is ready to run, so between now and the start of the state meet, it's about the mental aspect of the sport.
"It's time to get your body to where you need it," she said. "It's time to manage what you think you can do."
As a freshman last season, Bennett finished on a strong note and took fifth at state.
"My goal is to just get a better PR (personal record) and just be there to compete," she said.
Uhre was third to lead the Raiders, who were competing without one of their top runners in Bryanna Kuhn, who sat out Thursday's race to concentrate on the Class AA girls' state soccer title game for Stevens against Pierre. Uhre finished in 19:17.8, just ahead of Wieman, who was clocked at 19.18.0.
Gracin Larson of Rapid City Central was fifth, followed by teammates Lilli Molitor and Kylea Becker. Elise Unkenholz of Stevens was eighth, followed by Makaen Degeest of Central and Alyssa Franke of Stevens.
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Central won the team title with 29 points, with Stevens second at 45, Sturgis at 70, Douglas with 110 and Spearfish with 121.
Wilson ran by himself for a good chunk of the race as he was 28 seconds ahead of the second-place pace of four Stevens runners. He was looking to get out to a fast start and did just that.
"I didn't want to get boxed in," Wilson said.
Wilson, a senior, won the regular-season opener on his home course in Box Elder, and closed the the same way in a time of 16.27.2. Lucas Steiger-Olson of Stevens was second in 16.55.2.
This week has been all about preparation on and off the course.
Wilson said his main drive this week has been to push himself and eat healthy ... healthier, that is.
"I've been healthy, just not watching what I eat I guess," he said. "This week is to be better prepared and try different things."
Wilson said he thinks he is ranked fifth in state at this point, but it is his goal to move up from that position.
"I just need to stay with them (top runners) and keep pushing," he said.
A strong finish will cap a strong final season for Wilson.
"I've placed well at all of my meets, it has been a good year," Wilson said. "It's going very well."
Steiger-Olson led a nice Raider pack that saw teammate Liam Vidas finish third in 16:55.9, Luke Meyer in 16:56.4 and Hayden Grosz at 17:16.6. The Raiders won the boys' team race with just 25 points, well ahead of Sturgis at 61, Spearfish at 86, Douglas at 92 and Central at 97.
Calvin Moehlman of Central finished sixth, followed by Nate Anderson of Sturgis, Rigel Roberdeau of Spearfish, Keena Urdiales of Spearfish and Alec Keffeler of Sturgis in 10th place.