Sometime between his Bantam-A hockey practice, schoolwork and just being a teenager this week, Wayzata freshman Connor Olson will get the chance to envision Saturday's state cross-country meet.
It's when he'll get another shot at running against "the big boys."
"I can't really say I'm intimidated," he said. "I just try my best every day to compete, and whatever happens, happens."
Odds are Olson, the fifth-ranked runner in the final Class 2A coaches poll, will do just fine over the 5,000-meter course at St. Olaf.
He won't be the only young gun with a shot.
Chaska's Joey Duerr, also a freshman, is rated seventh in the Class 2A poll.
Veteran Wayzata coach Bill Miles said he cannot remember another time where two runners this young were so highly touted.
Miles said it comes from a combination of talent, maturity and competitive desire from the pair.
"We had a really good one, Josh Thorson [now a senior], who was part of a state championship as a freshman but he was a half-second slower than what Joey and Connor are running now," Miles said. "This is highly unusual."
Other talented young runners come to mind, too, such as Burnsville's Rob Finnerty, Nick Schneider of Benilde-St. Margaret's and Worthington's Mubarik Musa. Each eventually won individual state championships.
In boys' cross-country, though, older runners tend to grab the top spots. Musa, then with Park Center in 2008, was the last freshman to finish in the top 10 in the Class 2A meet. Finnerty, in 2005, was the last freshman to contend for a state championship. He finished second that fall.
It's a stark contrast from the girls' race, where the younger runners are in the spotlight. Shakopee's Maria Hauger, a junior, is the two-time defending Class 2A champion. She was also in the top 10 as an eighth-grader.
Winning Saturday's race might not be in the cards for Olson or Duerr, but it would say something about the two if they were to be among the 10 medal winners.
"If you give it everything you've got, it can't be a disappointment," said Duerr, who finished second at last week's Section 2 race and just ahead of Musa. "I remember in seventh grade running my first [varsity] race and those guys were so big and scary. I didn't even want to go out on the course. I just ran. I didn't even think about it, I guess."
It's a much more calculated feel now.
While both young runners agreed experience on the state-meet course doesn't factor too much going forward -- a race is a race, they concurred -- having been there before does have its advantages.
"I'm running smarter," said Olson, who finished 68th as an eighth- grader last year running for Maple Grove at state and was runner-up to Thorson in this year's Section 6 race. In the past, "I had that adrenaline rush where I would just burst out. Now I'm running smart, even races. Not going out super-fast; just a nice pace."
Duerr finished 113th in the 156-runner field a year ago, and has his sights set much higher on what he called "an even course."
He'll have plenty of competitors trying to reel him back, chief among them some older runners who no doubt respect the talent level of a young runner but want to show the kids a thing or two.
It would be a well-earned feat.
"If you want it, you're going to have to beat the other guys," Miles said. "When the gun goes off, it's engine against engine, it's not class against class."