Defending Great Northern Conference girls’ cross country champion Ashley Anderson began her 2018 campaign on a high note Friday. 
The Lakeland junior won the Highlander Invitational hosted by Homestead High School at Tendick Park in Saukville, besting a field of 86 other varsity runners. 
That was the highlight of the day as the LUHS cross country team took part in its first meet of the 2018 season. The Lakeland girls finished fifth in a field of 12 teams while the Lakeland boys were last in a field of 13. 
Peterson was near the front the entire race, running a second at both the one-mile and two-mile marks within a second of the leader at both check points. She turned it on over the final mile and change, her 6 minute, 40 second split following the two-mile mark was the best in the field and allowed her to pull away to a 3.34-second win over Hamilton’s Isabel Seay. Peterson’s winning time was 19 minutes, 19.68 seconds over the five-kilometer course. 
Fellow Lakeland junior Aubrey Anderson was in the lead pack much of the way before drifting back to ninth with a time of 20:31.24. She was sixth following the one-mile mark and eighth at the two-mile. 
Sophomore Kate Melms (29th, 21:25.54), senior Maddie Nelson (35th, 21:41.15), sophomore Kate Vizanko (46th, 22:14.49), sophomore Kate Tharman (47th, 22:18.87), senior Ashley Ullius (22:32.56) and senior Stephanie Mauzker (61st, 22:54.10) rounded out the Lakeland varsity. 
Lakeland showed its youth on the boys’ side after graduating a senior-dominated squad a season ago. Sophomore Scott Balas was the T-Birds’ top finisher, placing 47th in a field of 94 runners (18:59.90). The rest of Lakeland’s top five was separated by less than a minute. Junior Jake Van Hefty was 57th (19:14.43), junior Brady Edwards was 67th (19:27.02), sophomore Victor Masayesava was 70th (19:35.80) and freshman Nolan St. Germaine was 72nd (19:54.47).
Freshman Zach Peterson (90th, 20:54.29), Ben Gilkenson (91st, 21:22.59) and sophomore Alec Steinberger (92nd, 23:04.95) rounded out the Lakeland varsity. 
Lakeland placed fourth and 13th, respectively, in the girls’ and boys’ junior varsity divisions. Riley Mauzer (4th, 22:49.17) and sophomore Mia Case (6th, 23:06.63) led the JV girls, while Forrest Dorsey (34th, 20:45.19) led the Lakeland JV boys.
The T-Birds will not hit the course again until Sept. 15 in the Bill Smiley Invitational at Tribute Golf Course in Wausau. 
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.