Strasser caps stellar XC career with solid run at state meet

He came, he saw and he…enjoyed.

Pipestone Area senior Caden Strasser concluded his high school cross country career Saturday afternoon in Northfield as a three-time state-meet participant, going toe-to-toe with the state’s best harriers over a grueling 5K course at St. Olaf College.

And it seemed as though Hermes might be looking down on Strasser from the onset, as he not only received a great lane assignment to start his final race, but also used it to his advantage in getting out to a smooth and comfortable start.

“I knew from the past that the start could get pretty crowded because there’s a slight turn that everyone tries to hug from the inside lane,” Strasser explained. “I knew I had to get out fast so I wouldn’t have to deal with getting boxed in. It was kind of nice being up there (toward the front) for a little bit.

“Last year we were coming out of the far outside lane, so it was a lot easier getting out and not having to fight with a bunch of people to get up with the lead pack this year.”

Certainly, being in Lane 3 rather than Lane 24, on the far-left side of the starting line, was a blessing.

“You don’t have a good vantage point being on the outside; the race funnels in pretty fast,” Pipestone Area head coach Mark Moeller noted. “When it’s the state meet, it’s not a matter of catching up with guys, it’s a matter of keeping up with guys – everyone’s gunning for it. You want to, tactically, be in the right spot and not in a position where you have to expend a great amount of energy that will cost you in the last part of the race. I think he got into a really good position off the start and our box position really helped with that.”

Through the first mile Strasser was in the thick of a large trail pack, turning in a split of five minutes, 28.9 seconds, and right where he’d hoped to be. 

“That was a good group for me, where I wanted to be, and I knew if I went with those guys out front it wouldn’t be a smart move,” he said. “So, being with that group helped me work through a good portion of the race and make small moves and pass a few people when I had the opportunity.”

The weather, too, seemed to cooperate with the lanky blond, as he usually runs well in cooler temperatures (39 °F at race time)

“Honestly, the weather was comparable to what we had at the conference meet in Fairmont,” Moeller said. “It would have been nice to acclimate to that weather coming into the meet, but I think Caden handled it well; he likes the cold and actually runs a lot better in cooler conditions. So, that was a great opportunity for him to be in the right mindset to compete.”

To that end, Strasser was about as calm and loose as he’s ever been heading into a big race. He knew it would be the last of his well-decorated high school career, and he appeared to want to enjoy it from the onset of the nine-day prep period between sections and state.

“Yeah, everyone prepares differently,” Moeller said. “Some people get really nervous and they’re kind of quiet…need to be in their own thoughts before a race, but Caden was in really good spirits. Not that he wasn’t focused and ready to compete, but he didn’t want to put too much pressure on himself and take away from the experience. He wanted to have fun, go out and run fast, and he did. He’s always handled the pressure well and with a lot of class.

“It was a lot of fun to see him finish his career as his coach because he’s had a couple iffy years with not being able to go his sophomore year due to COVID. Being able to come off of that and go (to state) in consecutive years is a victory in itself. It’s been fun coaching him this season.”

It seems COVID was the only thing that prevented Strasser from competing at the Class A state meet in each of his high school campaigns, as the 2020 meet was canceled because of the pandemic. As a freshman, Strasser qualified and placed 128th out of 175 competitors in a time of 17 minutes, 55.1 seconds. Two years on, Strasser was back in Northfield, among the elite, trimming more than six minutes off his previous mark in placing 77th in a field of 157 – in a time of 17:48.72. And state-meet qualification in the mile (1,600 meters) at the conclusion of the 2021-22 track & field season likely helped push Strasser into his senior cross country campaign, where he clocked in at 17:02.9 Saturday afternoon – placing 38th in a field of 160 runners.

“It wasn’t a PR, but it was still a good time for that course compared to last year,” said Strasser, who ran his first mile at 5:09.4 and clocked in at 10:45.7 at the two-mile mark. “It’s definitely something that a lot of runners don’t get to experience and I’m grateful; I thank God every day that I’m able to run like that, at a course like that and at that level.”

Despite being somewhat disappointed in not posting a PR, Strasser attacked the course throughout and was able to run ‘his’ race.

“I think he did; he ran super well,” Moeller said. “I know he was hoping to PR, and every runner wants to do that, but I don’t think there’s, probably, anyone in the top-20 who hit a PR on the day. Running is not a linear progression, and it’s not like these guys are not motorized vehicles; they’re human beings, so trying to attempt something you’ve never done is hard. He ran, probably, the third-fastest time of the season at state with a lot of good competition. I’m proud of what he did and happy for him.”

As for what the Arrows can do on the boys’ side next fall without the services of Strasser and classmates Aiden Voss and Merrick Heidebrink, the former hopes the returning harriers can maintain a strong work ethic.

“I’m hoping the guys we seniors left off with can continue to work hard, totally go after their goals, and do what they can to achieve them.”

*** Look for more on Strasser, girls’ state tennis tournament qualifier Toryn Woelber and the Section 3AA champion Pipestone Area volleyball team in 2022 Fall Sports Souvenir Edition on tap for the Nov. 24 edition of the County Star.