Area cross country runners prepare for state
By Paul Lecker
Boys cross country
The Marshfield Columbus Catholic boys cross country team are getting a second chance—a chance at redemption.
The Dons will make their second-straight appearance at the state meet when they head to Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids for the 2014 WIAA State Cross Country Championships on Saturday morning. Columbus, as well as Stratford sophomore Cade Lehman, will be running in the Division 3 race at 11:30 a.m. to kick off the state meet.
Seniors Ben Behling and Jeremy Binder; sophomores Leonard Steinert, Benny Frericks, and Leo Pittsley; and freshmen Peyton Nystrom and Jeremiah Giles will run for the Dons.
Behling, Binder, and Frericks were part of the team that finished 16th and last among the Division 3 teams at the state meet last year. All of the Dons were caught near the back, finishing between 102nd and 141st place.
This year the Dons have tried to use an offensive approach. Yes, there is no “offense,” per se, in running, but coach Danielle Wojcik has employed an attack to keep Columbus always looking to grab team points.
“We try to use pack-running and teach them if one person makes a move, take another with you,” Wojcik said. “Everyone ahead of you, it is a goal to pass until you are in front. Every person you pass is another point for the team.”
Behling, who was the team’s No. 3 of 4 runners last year in most events, has catapulted himself into the unquestioned No. 1 spot on the squad this season. The senior finished fifth at the Cloverbelt Conference Meet on Oct. 18 in Eau Claire and fifth again at the WIAA Division 3 sectional at Athens on Oct. 24.
Behling’s dedication has made him into an elite runner this year, Wojcik said.
“He has been phenomenal and a great role model,” Wojcik said. “I give him a mark, and he meets it. You can see the drive in his face, and he is not about to give up until the very end of the race.”
Nystrom, Binder, and Giles all finished between 20th and 29th at the sectional, and the Dons will look for a strong grouping again at the state meet to propel their way up the standings.
“I want everyone to get a PR (personal record) and (we) are hoping to place in the middle of the pack,” Wojcik said.
Stratford’s Lehman placed eighth at the sectional last week, finishing in 17:56 taking the fourth spot of the five individual qualifiers.
After a disappointing finish last year when he took 30th at the sectional, Lehman put in a lot of extra time during the offseason to make sure it would not happen again.
“He knew he could do better,” Stratford coach Mark Guderski said. “So in his offseason he ran miles and miles and miles and miles. His goal was to go to state this year and was willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Our goal for Saturday for him is to be in the top 50.”
Girls cross country
The Stratford girls cross country team has gone through a lot this season and was left wondering if its goal of making it to the state meet was still in reach.
The Tigers started the season with one of their top runners out for the season with an illness, a promising freshman was ruled out after the first meet, and Nadia King, their second best runner early in the season, transferred mid-year to Spencer.
However, Stratford powered through and made the needed improvements at the end of the year to overcome all of that adversity and qualify for Saturday’s 2014 WIAA State Cross Country Championships in Wisconsin Rapids. It is the first time since 1980 that the Stratford girls team has qualified for the state meet.
The Tigers, along with Auburndale freshmen Kali Karl and King, will compete in the Division 3 girls race at 1:30 p.m.
“In the beginning of the year, we felt that is what we wanted to accomplish,” Stratford coach Mark Guderski said. “We felt we had a good enough team to get there. The feeling is unreal with all of the bad luck we have had throughout the season.”
Junior Johnelle Miner and freshman Kaylee Hollatz finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at last week’s Division 3 sectional at Athens to lead the way.
The Tigers finished fourth at the Marawood Conference Meet two weeks ago, just three points behind Marathon.
Guderski knew the Tigers would be fighting with Marathon for that second spot behind Phillips.
“We figured out, ‘Where do you have to move up?’ Johnelle has to pick up a place. Kaylee has to pick up one or two spots,” Guderski said. “We were on the same course (as conference), and we had to pick off some of our conference opponents.
“We told those two that they had to be in the top five, and they were. If one of those two had an off night, we were done for. Those two run together for the first 2 1/2 miles, Johnelle usually pulls ahead of her after that, but Kaylee was able to stay with her and gave us those high spots.”
The big difference came from Courtney Krall, who improved her time from conference to sectionals by 31 seconds to finish 26th. Sammy Griesbach was 29th and Gabby Leonhard 40th to provide the Tigers with enough to edge Marathon by one point for the final state-qualifying spot.
“We really didn’t think we were going to make it as a team,” said Miner, the Tigers’ top runner all season. “It’s pretty cool since we haven’t made it as a team in quite a while. We just wanted to do our best and run hard. We all tried really hard.”
Guderski has high hopes for his top two runners at state.
“We have a young squad with no seniors. … Nerves might get to them a little bit,” Guderski said. “Johnelle and Kaylee, I would say top 30, the other girls just do the best they can. Have fun, run, and enjoy it.”
King, who ran early in the season for Stratford, transferred to Spencer High School earlier this month and came onto the scene late in the year, taking fourth at the Cloverbelt Confrerence Meet on Oct. 18 in Eau Claire and then finishing sixth at the sectional in 21:00.
Karl has been Auburndale’s top runner for much of the season and placed 10th at the sectional in 21:15 to grab the fifth and final individual qualifying spot.
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times sports. You can reach him by email at [email protected].