The race to state
Auburndale girls, Stratford boys make return trips to WIAA State Cross Country Meet
By Paul Lecker
For many of the Auburndale girls and Stratford boys cross country team members, going to the WIAA State Cross Country Meet is nothing new.
However, that does not mean it is any less exciting.
The two local teams will make return trips to the state meet, competing at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday with hopes of improving on last year’s finishes.
Four of the Stratford boys and three of the Auburndale girls will return to the state course, bringing experience, more confidence, and, hopefully, a better final result.
“For me, personally, it will calm me down more (returning to the state course) knowing, ‘I can start off this fast. I can push my pace this much,’” said Auburndale sophomore Isabella Jewell, who finished fourth overall (20:11) at the WIAA Division 3 sectional at Nine Mile Recreation Area in Rib Mountain on Oct. 21. “With our experience, we can keep ourselves level, you could say, and hopefully we get a good ranking as a team.”
Senior Cade Lehman has been Stratford’s top runner all season, finishing fifth at Nine Mile sectional in 17:08. Fellow senior Lucas Heidmann was ninth overall at the sectional 21 seconds behind, providing the Tigers’ with a strong second runner.
Heidmann was 77th and Lehman 79th at the state meet last year as Stratford took 11th out of the 16 full teams in the Division 3 boys field. Seniors Chris Zuelke and Issac Guyer are also returning to state for the Tigers. Freshman Isaac Thompson, sophomore Sam Schoenfuss, and senior Jacob Danen round out the team’s seven-runner lineup.
Last year Stratford only had one senior, John Geissinger, but the Tigers still experienced much turnover as two of its top eight runners did not go out for the team, and another transferred schools.
“We knew it would be tough to get this group to state again,” Stratford coach Mark Guderski said. “Each meet they set small goals, such as beat Columbus at the Auburndale Invite, beat or be close to Marathon at conference, beat Prentice/Rib Lake at conference.
“They concentrated on each meet and used each meet as a stepping stone to get themselves to state. We set one team goal: to do better than last year’s 11th-place finish.”
The Auburndale girls were 13th in the Division 3 girls standings last year and, as with Stratford, have their collective eyes on moving up this time around.
Along with Jewell, sophomore Anna Kollross and junior Kali Karl are back to represent the Apaches. Karl, in fact, is making her third state appearance after being an individual qualifier as a freshman in 2014.
Fourth-year coach Joren Anderson said the Apaches have a strategy of trying to stay in a pack as much as possible and stay calm among the sea of runners in such a big race.
“We’ve talked about not starting out too fast and sticking together as a team and knowing their pace instead of what’s going on around them,” Anderson said. “We want to improve upon last year. We hope we can be competitive for the top half. From looking at times, it seems like a realistic goal. The older ones can hopefully help pace our younger ones because it’s a whole new experience for our freshmen.”
Freshmen Vanessa Mitchell and Taylor Stanton and sophomore Julianna Kollross also finished in the top 24 at the sectional — along with Jewell, Anna Kollross, and Karl — to make the state appearance possible. Freshman Emmalee Richardson finishes off the Apaches roster that will be competing.
“We had really good competition (against us) and were really fighting to make it to state again,” Jewell said. “We really worked hard and pushed each other and ourselves to our limits. It’s so exciting to see our work pay off and for us to make it to state.”