Coach Taps His Roots to Help Team Plant Their Own

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By Robert Campbell | LB Indy

Laguna Beach High’s cross country teams last week traveled in Little Falls, Minn., where the girls put on an impressive early season display in winning the 49th annual Lucky Lindy Invitational 68-92 over Hopkins, a 2,200-student school from Minnetonka. “I thought it was an awesome way to start the season,” said girls coach Steve Lalim.

Sophomore Kirsten Landsiedel and senior Natalie Kimball lead the pack at the 49th annual Lucky Lindy Invitational in Little Falls Minn. on Thursday, Sept. 11.Photo by Kimm Anderson courtesy of St. Cloud Times
Sophomore Kirsten Landsiedel and senior Natalie Kimball lead the pack at the 49th annual Lucky Lindy Invitational in Little Falls Minn. on Thursday, Sept. 11.Photo by Kimm Anderson courtesy of St. Cloud Times

The Hopkins’ boys turned in a dominant performance to beat their Laguna counterparts 25-115.

Every year Lalim and boys coach Scott Wittkop take their varsity runners on an extended road trip to promote team bonding. They’ve been to Mammoth. They’ve been to Hawaii. So why go to a town of 8,000 about 100 miles north of the Twin Cities on a meandering Mississippi that is but a sliver of it big muddy southern self?

“It just seemed like a really neat thing to do,” said Lalim, a’97 graduate of Little Falls Community High School who had been trying to organize a trip to his hometown for years.

Myron Ahle, Lalim’s former high school coach, started the invitational back in 1965. And though the course has changed somewhat over the years, it is still run on the grounds of the Little Falls Country Club. In Minnesota, girls run 4,000 meters or about 2.5 miles, while boys run 5,000 meters or about 3.1 miles.

As a senior at the 32nd Lucky Lindy, Lalim finished seventh overall with a time of 16:34, which would have landed him in 11th place last week and second among Wittkop’s squad. “It brought back so many memories,” Lalim said of returning to his home town, where he earned all-State honors his junior and senior seasons.

Lalim did his homework before the trip, assessing the local talent before telling his girls he thought they had a shot to win. When they reached the mile mark, “I had a feeling it was over,” said Lalim. “We looked really strong.”

Sophomore Kirsten Landsiedel finished first for Laguna and fifth overall with a time of 15:30. Senior and defending Orange Coast league champ Natalie Kimball ran a 15:35 to finish 10th. Junior Pearl Shoemaker came in 14th with a time of 15:53. And seniors Brenna Merchant (15:55) and Janie Crawford (15:59) finished 18th and 21st respectively for Laguna’s scoring five.

Juniors Allison Konno (37th, 16:30) and Taylor Alvarez (42nd, 16:37) finished sixth and seventh for the Breakers. In the earlier JV race, junior Lauren Alvarez clocked a 17:06 to take top individual honors out of 133 runners.

Senior Cameron Zuziak led the boys with a fourth place finish overall in a time of 16:05.

Fellow senior Grant Barton (22nd, 17:05) finished second for the Breakers. Junior Drake Butler, (27th, 17:13) was third. Senior Liam Corrigan (30th, 17:16) was fourth. And junior Mason Pitz (32nd, 17:17) rounded out the scoring five.

Juniors Penn Nielson (34th, 17:24) and Carter Fraser (59th, 17:51) finished sixth and seventh respectively.

The kids from the west coast were taken aback by the friendly midwestern charm of their coach’s home state. “The girls are really nice here,” Landsiedel told the St. Cloud Times after the race. “They actually talked to me during the race, saying: ‘Good job.’ It’s different.”

Throw in a backyard bonfire at Lalim’s parents’ Little Falls home, a small town corn maze adventure, a night out at the local pizza parlor, a trip to Mall of America in Bloomington, and several training runs around a few of Minnesota’s “10,000 lakes” and “I think the kids were surprised how nice Minnesota was,” said Lalim.

Both Laguna squads were runners up at last year’s state meet in Fresno. The girls are currently ranked second in Division IV behind a Bishop Amat squad, which finished fourth at state in Division III last season before moving down to Division IV when CIF increased the enrollment ceiling from 1,200 to 1,500. Still, Lalim likes his team’s chance of claiming its first-ever state title. “I think we’ll be able to run with them,” he said.


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