ST. PAUL — With five previous championships between cross country and track, it’s hard to say it’s a surprise when Grace Ping wins a race.
But in the 1,600-meter run on Saturday at the MSHSL Class A State Track and Field Championships, the Cotter sophomore even surprised herself by winning her sixth title with a time of 4 minutes and 59.07 seconds to defeat her younger sister Lauren, who finished in 5:00.07.
“I was not expecting to beat her at all,” Grace Ping said. “She’s been having a really good season and I haven’t been having my dream season. I’ve had a solid season but not anything that I’ve dreamt of.”
Lauren Ping had the upper hand for most of the track season, finishing ahead of her sister on Friday in the 3,200 and qualifying ahead of her in both the 1,600 and 3,200. But when it came time to make her move, Grace had gas in the tank and was ready to go.
Lauren led for most of the race with her sister right behind, but with about 100 meters to go in the third lap, Grace decided it was time to make her move. She ran out in front before pulling away over the course of the final lap.
“My plan was kind of just to stick with her and let her pull me along as much as I could,” she said. “In past races, I’ve tried to do that. But I haven’t been able to stick with her. So today I just felt really good especially in that third lap. I was thinking, ‘should I pass her?’”
Grace Ping called her sister her best friend and after the race, Lauren said that if she couldn’t be on top of the podium, she’s happy her sister could do it.
“I know how much work she puts in,” the younger Ping said. “And she’s my sister so I’m super-duper proud of her. So it’s probably easier.”
The sisters have dominated high school distance running in Minnesota since Grace burst onto the scene as a seventh-grader winning the 1,600, the 3,200 and cross country in the 2015-16 season. Between track and cross country, the two Pings have finished in the top three a combined 15 times with eight first-place finishes, five second-place finishes and two third-place finishes. They’ve shared the podium six times, taking the top two spots four times.
“It’s still really cool to be able to go up there and do that with my sister especially,” Lauren Ping said. “We train together and we know how much work we each put in, so it’s great to see her succeeding and then for her to see me succeeding.”
The Winona girls sprint team is set up for future success. With nobody older than a junior, the Winhawks 4x100 relay team took fifth at the Class AA State Track and Field Championships with a time of 49.36 seconds.
Eighth grader Gwen Buswell took the first leg, followed by junior Kaelah Simmons, sophomore Marquetta Berlin-Burns, and sophomore Anissa Lee. Junior Emily Cierzan ran with the relay team all season including the Section 1AA meet, but she fractured her foot the week before the state meet, forcing them to call on Buswell, who had only competed with the team once prior to the state meet.
“We’ll all be back next year,” Lee said. “This is a huge confidence booster for us.”
“We have the confidence now, we know we can make it here again,” Berlin-Burns added. “This is going to be huge for us coming into next year.”
Being in a single heat with all of the fastest sprinters in the state was eye-opening, they said. The pressure was on and they were shocked at how crowded and bunched up the finals race was. But just getting the chance to compete at the highest level was everything they wanted out of their season.
“We were so close to making it up here last year,” Simmons said. “To make it here and do so well this year is great. Just making it to state was huge for us.”
Lewiston-Altura jumping teammates Marcus Weaver and Evan Daley were fifth and sixth in the high jump. Weaver jumped 6 feet, 4 inches and Daley jumped 6-3. Yahya Madar of Mounds Park Academy tied the state record in the event, jumping 6-10.
Both of the Cardinals jumpers were a little disappointed with their results after each of them jumped 6-5 at the Section 1A meet.
“It could have been better,” Weaver said. “On my last attempt at 6-5, I cleared it with my body, but my arm was dragging kind of low. That’s not what I wanted to do.”
Daley was happy with what he was able to do in the event as the only high jump finalist standing less than 6-feet tall.
“I wish I could have gone higher, but sixth place is really good.” Daley said. “It’s probably one of the best experiences of my life to get up here and being the shortest high jumper to make podium. It was thrill to be in front of so many people.”
Daley also competed in the long jump, finishing seventh with a jump of 20-06.
Cardinals wheelchair athlete Peyton Gunnarson won the wheelchair 100-meter dash in 17.70 seconds. He was second in the 200 (31.89), second in the 1,600 (4:14.55), and fourth in the discus (36-10).
Rushford-Peterson’s Triton Meldahl was ninth in the 110 hurdles, finishing in 16.24 seconds. He ran a bit off the pace he set in the prelims where he had the eight-fastest time with a 15.70.
Trojans distance runner Luke O’Hare finished eighth in the 1,600 with a person-best time of 4:32.89.
The St. Charles 4x800-meter relay team — consisting of Axel Daood, Andrew O’Hara, Bryan Chavez, and Korrigan Diercks — was seventh with a time of 8:18.15. And high jumper Dalton Balcome was eighth with a leap of 6-2.