Boys cross country team wins state title

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
From left, Middleton cross country runners Braedon Gilles, Jack Rader, Michael Madoch, Caleb Easton and Zach Leffel celebrate after winning the state championship last Saturday./Photo submitted

Caleb Easton crunched the numbers in his head.

As Middleton’s boys cross country standout totaled the results from last Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state meet, Easton figured the Cardinals would be exiting Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids with a championship trophy.

It wasn’t until those results were officially posted, though, that Easton and his teammates could breath a giant sigh of relief.

“I think really the highlight was when we saw the scores and saw that we won,” Easton said. “It was just a great time.”

And a great performance.

Middleton finished with just 76 points to easily outdistance runner-up Stevens Point (177). South Milwaukee (191), Monona Grove (197) and Sun Prairie (203) rounded out the top-five.

Middleton won its first state title since 1992. And the Cardinals’ 101-point margin of victory was the largest in state history at any level.

“I knew when all our guys had finished we had won and that there was some distance,” Middleton coach Brian Finnel said. “So we were all smiles and feeling confident.

“But when that scoreboard showed SPASH was second and that we were first, we all were going nuts. There was a large contingency of Middleton fans there and that was pretty darn cool to see lots of people cheering.”

There was a lot to cheer about.

Easton was fourth individually among runners that had teams at state. Easton finished the hilly, challenging three-mile course in 16 minutes, 2.01 seconds.

Junior Michael Madoch was sixth in 16:06.06, while senior Caleb Easton finished seventh (16:07.47). Senior Jack Rader battled through an Achilles’ injury and finished 21st (16:39.16) and sophomore Zach Leffel was 38th (16:48.69).

“Our depth is, simply put, sensational,” Finnel said. “Terrific guys who work very hard.”

Easton had a solid race, finishing eighth among all 189 runners and fourth among team participants.

Easton was in 11th place after the first mile and 10th after the second. But Easton kept working his way up on the demanding course.

“I think the cold weather took a toll,” Easton said. “I started to feel not too good on the hills and lost a little bit on the rolling hills falling back. I think I would have definitely liked to do even better, but it was good.”

Finnel was thrilled with the race Easton ran.

“Caleb had a good race,” Finnel said. “He positioned himself very well and was with the chase pack at two miles. Once he got to the rolling hills in the back he said he just felt rather fatigued, so I was glad he could hang on for a top-10 finish.”

Madoch and Jaeger both had outstanding performances, as well.

Madoch was in 40th place after one mile and 21st place after two miles, before closing with a bang and finishing 10th among all runners. Jaeger was in 18th place at the one- and two-mile mark, then also closed strong and placed 11th among all runners.

“Michael and Sam had wonderful performances,” Finnel said. “I think what's most impressive with their races is the final mile. Both were together at about 20th place at the two mile and closed very hard. To go from almost the 20th position to 10th and 11th is fantastic and really helped to lower the team score.”

Afterwards, Finnel knew the trio of Easton, Madoch and Jaeger was critical in the Cardinals’ drive to a title.

“Caleb, Michael, and Sam were very critical to the team score and to win the title,” Finnel said. “When I analyzed the other teams, they were lacking some up-front firepower, but had pretty good depth. 

“I knew going in if these three kept running how they had been all season it would be hard for a team to take us down. Three guys putting up a single digit score is very rare at the state meet. I thought all three boys could be top-10, and that was so close to happening, too.”

Middleton also got a huge boost from the return of Rader.

Rader suffered an Achilles’ injury late in the track and field in June, and ran in just two races prior to state. But Rader began feeling better last week, was cleared and gave a memorable performance in his final high school race.

“After the conference race (Oct. 14), I really thought my season was over,” Rader said. “I couldn’t finish that day and really thought I might be done.

“But I was wearing a boot and doing (physical therapy) and started feeling a lot better last week. Honestly, it was kind of a miracle.”

Finnel was certainly thrilled to get Rader back.

“Having Jack available was a huge safety net to claiming a state championship,” Finnel said. “It came down to risk-reward and I believed he would help the team the most. 

“He has the experience and strength, it just made so much sense in the end. I knew he would help the team in many ways, obviously the score being the biggest. We talked strategy, mainly being a bit more conservative, and wearing trainers instead of spikes. I told him I just needed him to run 16:40-45 range and that would be a huge help to the team. He finished in 16:39. He was just one of five individuals to run state these past four years. Very impressive.”

Leffel had a strong race, as well. Leffel was in 41st place after one mile, 42nd at two miles and settled for 61st place among all runners.

“Zach got out and stayed near Jack for the most part and I think this was a great strategy so he had someone to key off of,” Finnel said. “I know (Leffel) faded a little bit in the last mile, but he expended his energy well throughout the race. I'd rather have that than a super big kick in the last 50-100 meters. He gave it his all today and that was what we needed as a team.”

Middleton sophomores Braedon Gilles and Egan Johnson both had terrific races, as well, eveb though their scores weren’t counted.

Gilles was 42nd among team participants and 69th among all runners. Johnson was 45th in the team race and 72nd among all runners.

“Braedon and Egan have worked together now for four races in a row and they push and pull each other,” Finnel said. “Saturday was no different as they were together until the very end. Both got out smart, not too aggressive, but not conservative either. Both finished pretty close to where they were at in the mile.”

Middleton loses just two of its top-10 runners to graduation. So naturally, talk of a repeat began almost immediately.

“We started talking about it right after the race,” Easton said.

Finnel agreed.

“I think we can start talking repeat already,” Finnel said. “We will lose Sam and Jack, however I think the depth is still there.

“As we saw this year, if we can stay relatively healthy, with that depth and some firepower up front, we really can repeat next year. I fully expect our guys to continue to improve and working hard in the off-season. I know we will be excited to repeat!”

And the while the future looks remarkably bright, the Cardinals were going to savor this title for quite some time.

“It was an amazing day for our program,” Finnel said.

Added Rader: “When they did the countdown on the big board, it was just magical. That image is so fresh in my mind, it was just awesome. Honestly, there’s no better way to go out than this.”

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