As the 2020 Great River Conference girls cross-country season progressed, two runners from the six schools that competed in GRC races emerged as tops: Onamia junior Molly Saboo from the Mille Lacs Raiders and Hinckley/Finlayson Jaguar freshman Reese Hartl.
Saboo came to the forefront by placing first in each of the four GRC, three-team races she ran, and in the process, she beat Hartl, a 2019 state tournament qualifier, in the two meets in which both competed.
The two stars were to be featured in the conference championship scheduled for Oct. 7 at Grand National Golf Course in Hinckley, but with a major caveat: Because of the protocols for running the race due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all six GRC teams would not be allowed to compete head-to-head at the same time. The six squads were divided into two three-team heats, three teams racing in the morning and the other three in the afternoon.
By happenstance, Saboo and Hartl were placed in separate heats with Hartl going out at 10 a.m. and Saboo racing at 3:30 p.m. As per the conference rules, Hartl’s morning score was not made available to those running in the p.m., which meant Saboo would not know the time to beat as she took off in her heat.
Saboo came up with this plan, however. She believed if she could match the time of 20 minutes, five seconds that she posted on this course earlier this season, she would have a chance to win.
As it turned out, 20 minutes and five seconds would have beaten Hartl that afternoon, but Saboo ran the course in 20 minutes, 55 seconds, which wound up 32 seconds behind her Jaguar foe.
Moments after thoroughly trouncing her 12-person field, Saboo was given the information that she had finished second overall, losing to Hartl. With stunned silence after that news, Saboo’s mother, Nancy watched her daughter try to hold back tears of disappointment as she walked dejectedly to her team’s camp.
Nancy Saboo said to a reporter near her, “Remember the old sports program that began with ‘the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat?’”
She was obviously referring to what Molly had experienced in just a matter of five minutes following the race. Her daughter had completely dominated the field that afternoon, thinking she had a good chance to win the GRC individual championship, only to find out she had lost by a few seconds to an opponent she had beaten twice before this season in head-to-head battle but did not even have the chance to compete against in person in this big race.
In fact, 16 of the 17 top finishers in the GRC finals ran in the morning. Saboo was the lone runner in the top 17 to have competed in the afternoon, in different weather conditions and not knowing who she had to beat.
Commenting on what had transpired at the GRC, Raider coach Jeff Walz said, “I believe if Molly would have had someone (like Hartl) on her heels throughout the race, the outcome may have been different.”
Sharing hugs and tears with her mom following the ordeal, Saboo summoned her composure to say, “I gave it all I had, but came up a bit short, but there is always next year.” Those words were spoken by a classy young lady who posted one of the most remarkable seasons in Raider and GRC cross-country history by winning all four of the GRC meets heading into the conference finals, but coming within 32 seconds from running the tables in the conference during the fall of 2020.