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ALEXANDRIA - The Stillwater boys' cross country team finished third at Saturday's Lions Alexandria Meet of Champions at Arrowwood Resort - the first time the Ponies have slipped outside the top two in a race all season.

Stillwater, which has dropped from fourth to sixth in the most recent state rankings, were outscored by second-ranked Brainerd (70) and then 12th-ranked Roseville (91) on Saturday. The Ponies finished with a score of 104, narrowly holding off fourth-place Willmar (105).

In four previous races, Stillwater has two wins and two runner-up finishes.

The Ponies started out slowly on Saturday and never recovered entirely, despite making some gains.

We had 159 points at a mile, Ponies coach Scott Christensen said. We've gone from going out way too fast at Marshfield to way too slow six weeks later.

This was like being down 21-0 after the first quarter and playing catch up. Brainerd had four in front of our first guy at a mile and we picked away at one of them, but the other ones we couldn't catch.

Peter Corcoran was Stillwater's first runner across the line, covering the 5,000-meter course in 17:09 to place 14th. Teammates Reid Gilbertson (17:10), Josh Kaul (17:10) and Lucas Zenk (17:11) followed in succession in 15th through 17th place.

You think, wow, 14, 15, 16 and 17, that's good pack running - except they were only 14, 15, 16 and 17 for the last 100 meters of the race, said Christensen, who added 1986 was the last time the Ponies failed to land an individual finisher in the top 10 at this race.

Rio Bailey completed the scoring for the Ponies in 42nd place with a time of 17:58. Ryan Nichols followed in 51st at 18:10 and Pat Hlavacek finished 78th in 19:07.

Willmar's Hassan Mahad posted a winning time of 16:11, holding off runner-up Danny Docherty (16:16) of Cretin-Derham Hall.

The Ponies are hoping to rebound on Thursday when they compete in the Suburban East Conference Meet at Falcon Ridge Golf Course. The conference meet is the smallest Stillwater runs at all season, but Christensen is placing more emphasis on this meet than in most years.

If we don't have momentum over these last three meets we're dead in the water, Christensen said. It's very frustrating. If we were average at practice and average in meets, but when you're great in practice and average at meets it's frustrating. We've got 4:25 milers in our top five so talent is not the issue.

The coach was hoping for more internal competition without an undisputed No. 1 runner setting the pace this season, but that has not happened to this point.

A good team goes through four stages, Christensen said. The first stage is forming, where you get all the kids together and the second stage is storming, where people fight for position on the team. Then the third stage is norming, where you kind of settle into your position on the team and the fourth stage is performing - and that's where you have to put it all together. That's what makes a good team good, or a good business good. If you follow that model you're going to be good, happy and productive.

We can't get into the storming stage. There's no real fight for position and you just can't make the next step to the elite level until you've stormed your way through position and try to get back to normal so you can perform. There's no storming on this team. There's just no fighting for position.

n Stillwater posted a score of 34 to win the JV race on Saturday, outdistancing runner-up Chaska (56) by 22 points.

The Ponies landed four runners among the top eight, led by Patrick Swanson in second place with a time of 17:48. Drew Nelson (18:01) finished fourth while Gabe Hanson (18:06) and Dan Sandor (18:07) followed in seventh and eighth place.

They ran great, Christensen said. I think they think they're unbeatable.

In the junior high race, Stillwater placed sixth with a score of 161, led by Brett Parendo with a sixth-place showing in a time of 11:43.

Team standings

1. Brainerd 70; 2. Roseville 91; 3. Stillwater 104; 4. Willmar 105; 5. Mounds View 136; 6. Chaska 140; 7. Alexandria 171; 8. Red Wing 175; 9. Cretin-Derham Hall 212; 10. St. Cloud Cathedral 301; 11. Marshall 313; 12. Benilde-St. Margaret's 331; 13. Staples-Motley 336; 14. St. Louis Park 344; 15. Prior Lake 426; 16. Little Falls 438; 17. Fergus Falls 456; 18. Wahpeton 500.

Top 5

1. Hassan Mahad (Wil) 16:11; 2. Danny Docherty (C-DH) 16:16; 3. Drew Paradis (Al) 16:20; 4. Nicklawsky (Wil) 16:25; 5. Thomas Ruttge (Br) 16:31.

Stillwater results

14. Peter Corcoran 17:09; 15. Reid Gilbertson 17:10; 16. Josh Kaul 17:10; 17. Lucas Zenk 17:11; 42. Rio Bailey 17:58; 51. Ryan Nichols 18:10; 78. Pat Hlavacek 19:07.