Boys XC team thinking big

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Caleb Easton is one of several returnees this fall for Middleton’s boys cross country team./File photo

Middleton’s boys cross country team has been on a remarkably impressive upward trend in recent seasons.

And the Cardinals’ ascent could very well continue in 2017.

Middleton finished 15th at the WIAA Division 1 state meet in 2013, then has been sixth, fourth and third in the three years since.

Now, with a gifted group of returnees and a number of talented newcomers, this could be the year Middleton breaks through and pushes for a state championship.

“I think we can replicate third place or better this year,” said Middleton coach Brian Finnel, whose team opens its season Saturday at the Verona Invite. “Placing third last year made the returners very hungry and they really want to get on that podium.

“Last year, I think we thought we were capable of a team podium finish (top two), but with (injuries) and a young squad it just wasn’t quite in the cards. We keep getting closer every year. We would love for this year to finally be the year.”

Middleton brings back seven runners who have varsity experience.

The best of the bunch is senior Jack Rader, who was a second-team all-Big Eight Conference selection and a second-team all-state performer a year ago.

Rader suffered an Achilles’ tendon tear just days before the state track and field meet in June. Rader rested and rehabbed the injury much of the summer, and is nearing a return to full health.

“He's getting stronger each week,” Finnel said of Rader. “At this point, it appears his Achilles is not quite 100%, but each week it gets closer to that figure. We are just trying to get him back into aerobic shape for the season and increasing his workload.

“I would say it’s 50-50 right now if he runs the Verona Invite. We are hopeful with rehab and training to have him at peak fitness at the very end of the season.”

Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have a deep roster to fall back on.

Senior Sam Jaeger was a second-team all-conference runner last year who finished 32nd overall at state. Junior Caleb Easton was a second-team all-conference runner who finished 39th at state.

Junior Frank Thornton and sophomore Braedon Gilles both ran at state last year, while junior Michael Madoch and sophomore Zach Leffel both have varsity experience.

Freshmen Thomas Blumer and Michael Easton have impressed during early practices and could crack the varsity lineup.

“Both seem like naturals at running,” Finnel said of Blumer and Easton. “They'll be fun to watch over the years with the program.”

Sophomore Roman Ystenes and senior Nick Lindberg could both factor in, as well.

“We definitely have our work cut out for us this year, but I think this is a talented, experienced group with some great depth,” Finnel said. “I really feel this might be the best Middleton cross country boys team, top-to-bottom, in school history.”

The Big Eight Conference appears as daunting as ever.

Madison West is the defending state champions, while Sun Prairie was ninth at state.

Middleton, which has been second in the conference the last two seasons, would love to capture its first Big Eight title since 2001.

“The conference is just brutal every year and it prepares us well for big meets and the championship season,” Finnel said. “West, Sun Prairie and us should be the favorites going into the season. It's a pretty tough conference every year.”

But Middleton is awfully tough, too. And this could be another year where the Cardinals’ upward climb continues.

“It's tough winning the title. All seven boys racing have got to be firing on all cylinders on the same day,” Finnel said. “We have high expectations this year and it will be quite challenging to obtain our goals.

“I strongly believe we can hang with anyone in the state this year. It's going to be a battle … and we are looking forward to a fun season. The guys have worked hard during the off-season and we will be ready to race.”

 

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