Sean Korsmo knew he was hunting big game at the state cross country meet on Saturday.
Korsmo, a Bismarck sophomore, was ranked second going into the meet at the Parkhurst Recreation Area near Jamestown. The top dog was Dickinson sophomore Brady Yoder, who had won the first two times they tangled this fall.
But Korsmo had learned from those first two races, and he executed what he'd learned on Saturday, covering five kilometers in 15:45.42 to Yoder's 15:48.80.
"The first time I raced him he blew me out of the water in the middle of the race and I couldn't keep up," Korsmo recalled. "At the WDA he led most of the race and I tried to go in front of him a little bit.
"My strategy (Saturday) was to stay behind him the whole race and out-kick him at the end. He was able to create that separation the first two times we raced. This time I had to focus on ... keeping within striking distance."
Bismarck coach Darrell Anderson said Korsmo owned final stage of the race.
"He and Yoder were together until about the last 200 meters, then it turned into a sprint and Sean got the better of that," Anderson said. "They were in a group most of the race, and those two separated over the last kilometer and it kind of became a dual."
Korsmo was one of three underclassmen who were first into the chute on Saturday. Sophomore Meghan Ford of Jamestown took the girls Class A title in 17:56.9. Junior Reagan Baesler of Hillsboro-Central Valley placed first in Class B girls with a 18:40.97. Isaac Huber of Edgeley-Kulm, a senior, captured the Class B boys title with a clocking of 15:48.5.
Junior Kelby Rinas of Mandan, last year's Class A girls champion, placed seventh on Saturday.
Baesler was the only individual winner to lead her team to the top of the heap. Hillsboro-Central Valley claimed its eighth straight state championship. New Town captured its sixth straight Class B boys title.
Fargo Davies prevailed for the third straight year in the Class A girls race and Williston dethroned Century for the Class A boys crown.
Williston outdistanced Century 58-87. Davies opened a huge 66-118 gap on Grand Forks Central. New Town finished with a 47-103 edge on Hillsboro-Central Valley and the HCV girls outscored Rugby 102-120.
Korsmo placed 17th last season, battling back pain every step of the way.
He said physical therapy has controlled the back problem. This season, though, a broken toe in mid-September kept him out of a meet and forced him to rely on alternate training methods for awhile.
"I think it was four practices I had to practice on an anti-gravity treadmill and swim," he said.
The toe still isn't 100 percent healed, but it has allowed Korsmo to run more competitively the last few weeks.
"It aches a little bit now, but during the meet I was just so focused on running that the pain becomes irrelevant," Korsmo said.
Korsmo said he's well aware Saturday's victory isn't the end of the story. He expects to be facing Yoder on the track and on cross country courses many times in the next couple of years. And that, he said, is a good thing.
"It makes me a lot faster to run with him. ... Both of us are going to be going hard in the offseason, so I think we definitely make each other a lot faster," Korsmo said.
Anderson said Korsmo maintained his confidence all season long, Yoder's two head-to-head wins notwithstanding.
"I think Sean always maintained some confidence that he'd have a chance by the end of October," Anderson said. "We have a lot of respect for Yoder. This is his first loss. ... Sean is very competitive and today he persevered. It just turned out to be his day."
Anderson expects some great duels between the two sophomore standouts in the future.
"Those two guys are going to go after each other in several ways," Anderson noted. "They're going to bring out the best in each other and that's going to be good for North Dakota distance running. They're both improving, and that's what's nice."