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St. Paul Highland Park cross-country coach Brad Moening starts each season with a 1 ½-mile time trial and logs results on a leaderboard he's kept for almost 20 years.

Next to runners' names, Moening lists in-season accomplishments. His talented girls' team is hoping to add "state champions" to their entries.

All seven Scots runners who competed at last season's TC Running Company Cross-Country Showcase return. Highland Park placed third at the state meet-caliber event created after the Minnesota State High School League canceled all fall sports state tournaments.

Great talent and even better timing are fueling high expectations. Cross-country expanded to three classes, moving Highland Park away from the largest schools by enrollment and into Class 2A favorites status.

"We're all really excited for this year; we think we can achieve a lot," sophomore Luna Scorzelli said. "I'm a little upset to lose that great competition, but everyone is super strong mentally and we serve as competition against ourselves."

Six of the Scots' top seven runners from last season dotted the waves of runners hustling down Edgcumbe Road on the time trial's final stretch: Molly Moening (second at the TC Running Company Showcase last fall), Scorzelli, Ellie Moore, Chloe Koch, Delia Johnson and Alex Pundsack.

The group, along with Libby Roller, won a section title last fall for Highland Park — the program's first since 1975.

Beyond speed and a willingness to, as Scorzelli put it, "embrace the pain," the Scots draw strength from team achievements.

With winds reaching 30 miles per hour at the Section 4 competition last fall, the taller Johnson and Koch ran interference for smaller teammates during the first half of the 5,000-meter race.

Brad Moening praised his "windshields" for their sacrifice.

"To be able to help others and get a better team score," Koch said, "really shows that we are not just doing it for our own results."