Harnessing a Championship Culture: A Deep Dive Into Perham’s Formula for Cross Country Success

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The boys and girls teams have been the reigning state champions since November 2019. Thursday afternoon at Arvig Park in Perham, the Yellowjackets won another successful encounter against some of the state’s top runners.

The boys sealed a first place with a team score of 70 points to beat Lakeville South, eighth in class AAA. Senior Jakob McCleary clocked the fastest overall time at 15:51.

McCleary is the second Class A male runner in the state, behind Finn McCormick of Nova in the Oct. 4 standings. Even having a permanent podium on the roster, the Yellowjackets are successful because of their depth.

“Our team is really young,” said McCleary. “They didn’t have a lot of racing experience before this year, but they’re picking it up quickly. Caden Doll had a big personal best that day. He broke 17 minutes, and that’s huge for him. Micah Thompson and Bjorn Anderson were there too. It was a big day of PR all around. ”

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Doll finished eighth with a time of 16:52 and emerged as one of Perham’s torchbearers this fall.


Quincy Anderson (left) runs a time of 19:41 to help the Perham girls take second place on October 7, 2021 at Perham's invitation to Arvig Park.  (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Quincy Anderson (left) runs a time of 19:41 to help the Perham girls take second place on October 7, 2021 at Perham’s invitation to Arvig Park. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

“One of the best pointers we have by far is Caden,” said Perham head coach Jeff Morris. “Micah Thompson, a team captain, told me that Caden, a sophomore, led like a senior. He’s just a great boy who always has a smile on his face. He was on our team. section last year, but he never competed for a state title. Even though he did run in college last year, it was so different. For him, taking on that leadership role is huge, and it’s trained so many young guys. ”

Thompson (17:01) and Anderson (17:02) also finished on the podium, while Carter Flatau (17:55) and Brayden Glorvigen (17:59) rounded out the top six Perham Boys varsity runners. Improvements throughout the fall have become commonplace and Morris enjoys seeing his runners reap the rewards of hard work.

“It’s really cool to see where we are since the first meeting of the season,” said Morris. “Some of the guys at college never ran until this year. It’s nice to see them wasting time. At the start of the year they were running in 20 minutes. I told them they were. were going to break 18, and six of that is what they did today. It’s really cool for them to see this workout pay off. If you work hard, that doesn’t mean it will always work. But you can be proud of what you have done. “

The Perham daughters also achieved record times. Eighth-grader Gracie Morris set the pace for the Yellowjackets at Fourth Palace with a time of 19:18. She became one of the state’s top Class A runners this season as a college student.

“It was really cool to see her put her nose up there with the front of the pack,” Morris said of her daughter, Gracie. “She was with them for the first mile and a half before they started to go their separate ways. I was really proud of her to see her mix everything up.”


Leelou Novotny sprints in the home stretch until 7:51 p.m. on October 7, 2021 at the invitation of Perham at Arvig Park.  (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Leelou Novotny sprints in the home stretch until 7:51 p.m. on October 7, 2021 at the invitation of Perham at Arvig Park. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Junior Quincy Anderson finished 10th with a time of 19:48. After losing a few key pieces from the previous year, Anderson helped fill the void of a top runner and strong role model.

“It’s just great to see the leadership come from someone like Quincy Anderson,” Morris said. “At the start of the season we lost one of our best runners from last year, Mya Morris. She was still in our top three or four, and Quincy really took the reins this summer. Another is Lauren. Rustad, who wasn’t able to race today with a shin injury. It’s great to have senior managers training these young girls, and it shows at the right time this season. ”

The boys and girls teams are very young this fall, so it was a constant test for new faces to prove that they can keep pace with the top teams in every game. Leelou Novotny (7:51 p.m.), Liz Birkeland (8:19 p.m.), Avalee Brown (8:47 p.m.), Kaia Starlz (8:55 p.m.) and Aspen Rhode (9:21 p.m.) are all pushing for a top five spot in Perham each week.

“We started the season quite slowly,” Morris said. “We have girls like Liz Birkeland, who have always been great runners for us. She’s been from all states. Aspen Rohde has been for us too. She was seventh today. These girls are coming at the right time. . They had injuries that they had to come back to to get to this point. Leelou Novotny, Avalee Brown and Kaia Starlz are all new or unknown faces that have made their way to the top of the field this season. ”

The Perham meet allows runners to post faster times due to its flat, easy-going terrain. With the playoffs approaching, it’s a good boost for confidence at the right time of the season.

“We’ve been running tough courses all year round so it was good to have a flat course to get quick downtime,” said McCleary. “It means everything to face good competition. It was great to have some of these great schools here like Lakeville South, Bemidji and Moorhead here. We saw what a small class A school could do against them.”


Micah Thompson set a time of 5:01 pm to help the Perham boys take first place on October 7, 2021 at Perham's invitation to Arvig Park.  (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Micah Thompson set a time of 5:01 pm to help the Perham boys take first place on October 7, 2021 at Perham’s invitation to Arvig Park. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Perham has earned respect for Minnesota’s top programs, which is why 24 teams and over 800 runners competed at Arvig Park.

“We always come into every game with respect for the competition,” said McCleary. “We know what we’re capable of and how we’re running. It’s always nice to know we’re up against bigger schools. We get into that saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do.'”

It’s not uncommon for small towns to compete with the best teams in the state, regardless of their rank. In all sports, small school teams are eliminating larger dogs every week. But doing it consistently is another level of success.

Perham has proven he can compete with the best of the best in both boys and girls college races. But how does a city of around 3,500 people put together two of the state’s top teams every season?

“There are three things that make up our core values, and all of the kids here know them,” Morris said. “Hard work is hard work, a positive mental attitude and fun for the trip. That’s it. It’s our secret formula. You can ask any kid on this team, and they’ll tell you these three things. “


Gracie Morris reached fourth place at 7:18 p.m. on October 7, 2021 at the invitation of Perham at Arvig Park.  (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Gracie Morris reached fourth place at 7:18 p.m. on October 7, 2021 at the invitation of Perham at Arvig Park. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

“These kids worked during the summer,” Morris said. “Half the job is done on the day the season starts. After that everyone’s working hard. We could do things a little better, but you’re not going to make those big gains over the season. kids, parents and what The community had joined these teams. It’s really cool. These kids care about each other. It’s not just about running. They’re there for each other. is, above all, what makes this team what it is. ”

The series of state tournament appearances for the Yellowjackets began in 2000 for boys. They have done it 19 times, missing only in 2001. They are three-time reigning state champions and have eight titles in total at that time.

The girls have 19 appearances since 1999 and have also won the last three state championships. The first women’s state title was won by Perham in 2015 after five top-three finishes.

The Yellowjackets are regulars at the state meet at St. Olaf College, but Morris reaffirms each year that it is a privilege to compete for the state year after year.

“The goal is always to come out, but the goal is not to win,” Morris said. “Only one team is going to win. If that’s our goal and we don’t win then we’re going to be disappointed. We want to get there and compete as we know it. I hope things turn out the way we want them to. , but we can’t control the conditions or the way the other teams run. It’s about focusing on the task at hand and being the best you can be. ”

The challenge for this year’s Yellowjackets harvest is their youth. With a combined senior between the boys and girls varsity teams, and after not having the chance to race in the State last fall, the preparation for the big dance will rest on those who have been there and the did.


The Perham boys 'cross country team poses with their first place prize following the Yellowjackets' home invitation on October 7, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

The Perham boys ‘cross country team poses with their first place prize following the Yellowjackets’ home invitation on October 7, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

“The runners know so much about the tradition here,” Morris said. “This is this year’s squad. Don’t worry about what Perham’s teams have done in the past. It’s not just something we get every year. It’s a big deal. to say, but we also want to keep it in perspective. It’s just a race. After going through everything we’ve been through in the last year and a half, we have to remember the little things. Go ahead, compete hard and have fun. ”

Consistent success comes down to a strong culture, and there’s no denying that this is what runs through the inner workings of Perham’s cross country program. As Morris is quick to give credit to those who run 3,200 meters faster than most Minnesota teams, McCleary acknowledges the work his coach does to prepare his athletes for excellence.

“Morris’s training, philosophy and plans he has for us still work,” said McCleary. “If you do what he tells you to do and train in the summer you will see that success. There is a really good running culture here. Everyone, powerful mites to me. , as a senior wants to be better. We all push each other, and that’s what makes this culture so good. We love it. We love to challenge ourselves, and we love to run. And we love each other. always strive to be better. That’s exactly what we’re doing here. ”


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