Minneapolis Southwest cross-country runners Benjamin Batalden and Owen Lindseth enjoy beating heralded teammate Sam Scott in practice. It doesn't happen often, but any small victory they earn puts the duo in select company.
That's because Scott, a sophomore holding the state's No. 1 ranking among the largest schools by enrollment in Class 3A, hasn't lost any of his five varsity races so far this season.
Friday's Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota's Les Bolstad Golf Course means Scott puts himself on the line against his fastest company to date. Scott and the third-ranked Lakers take part in the Larry Zirgibel High School Boys' Gold Competition starting at 3:45 p.m. Also running the 5,000-meter course are No. 1 Wayzata, No. 2 Rosemount, No. 4 Minnetonka, No. 5 Lakeville North and No. 6 Edina.
And to think, Scott didn't make the top five in the Class 3A preseason coaches' poll. Darn right he noticed.
"I did look at the rankings and said to myself, 'I think I could beat a couple of those guys,' " Scott said. "My goal this season was to finish in the top-3 or top-5. I felt more confident that I could finally race with the big guys."
He sent notice of his intentions by winning the St. Olaf Showcase to start the season. If things go to plan and he returns to run that course in November, he will be pursuing a state championship.
Scott enters the Griak meet with momentum, having ran a personal-best time of 15 minutes, 21.2 seconds at a meet on Tuesday.
"He leads right off and never lets go of the lead," Lakers coach Aaron Gerhardt said. "He runs with uncommon determination and grit."
The confidence fueling Scott's ascent this fall started with a new dedication in the summer. A club soccer player for years, even recently as he began to explore high school cross-country, Scott gave up chasing the ball this fall. His body indicated it was time to choose.
"I tried doing both sports in ninth-grade and I fractured my knee during my last soccer game," said Scott, who then missed the cross-country section race. Scott had qualified for the 2018 Class 2A state meet as an eighth-grader and placed 38th.
His knee injury wiped out the Nordic skiing season, too.
"I was definitely bummed," Scott said. "But I also realized that I was lucky to have this happen as a freshman versus my junior or senior year."
Scott returned to competition in the spring and took fourth in 3,200-meter run in June at the Class 2A state track and field meet. The success further convinced him to focus on distance running.
"I had extra motivation during the winter to come back strong and I've been more focused this year," Scott said.
As for those smart-aleck training partners Batalden and Lindseth, the ones who will chirp, "I just beat the No. 1 runner," Scott feels lucky to have them around. Batalden, a fellow sophomore, is Scott's neighbor. Lindseth, a senior, is ranked No. 6 in the Class 3A coaches poll and provides Scott added motivation.
"He has pushed me a lot," Scott said. "He leads our workouts and always wants to do extra work. I don't think I'd be running this fast right now without him."
It's Scott's appreciation for team success that endears him to Gerhardt.
"He's still a humble young man despite having the ability to show up and win whatever race he's entered," Gerhardt said. "He gets as excited when one our freshmen runs a personal best to get under 30 minutes as he is when he wins.
"I've been a football coach and a track coach," Gerhardt said, "and this is the best team I've ever coached in terms of them being genuinely happy for each other's success."
Scott said, "Races are tough, so it's fun to see everyone feeding off the energy of their teammates and improving."