Boys XC team second at state

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton's boys cross country team finished second at the WIAA Division 1 state meet,/Photo submitted

There’s just one problem when you’re No. 1.

There’s nowhere to go but down.

Everybody guns for you. The target on your back is the size of Montana.

Middleton’s boys’ cross country team found that out the hard way last Saturday.

The Cardinals had a sensational performance at the WIAA Division 1 state meet where they finished second overall behind champion Neenah.

Just one problem. Middleton — the defending state champions — expected to be first again.

So when the final scores went up on the board at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids, Middleton’s reaction was predictable.

“The boys were pretty devastated when the scoreboard showed we placed second,” said Middleton coach Brian Finnel. “Any other year, we are probably stoked about second, but this is a unique bunch who expected to win. We had the pieces to win, but the stars just didn't quite align for us.” 

Middleton senior standout Caleb Easton agreed.

“After seeing that we finished second, the guys and myself were very upset,” Easton said. “Looking back to my 2015 and 2016 seasons, we would have been very excited with second. This year it hurt because we knew we were capable of much more, but we did not execute well.”

Just one year ago, Middleton came to this same course and defeated runner-up Stevens Point by 101 points. That was the largest victory in Division 1 history.

This time, things were much tighter.

Neenah finished with 122 points, while runner-up Middleton had 131. Germantown was third at 162, while Madison West (165) and Stevens Point (169) rounded out the top five.

In most years, a second-place finish at state would be memorable. In fact, this marked the third-best finish in school history.

But these Cardinals believed another state title was well within their grasp, making a runner-up finish somewhat disappointing.

“We didn't have our best day overall,” Finnel said. “Neenah ran basically how we expected them to perform. I told the guys it would be close, probably near 15 points either way and we ended up losing by nine.

“We knew they could get four runners in front of our two. We were hoping to counter that a little bit, but didn't unfortunately. The next thing we discussed was getting all seven runners in before Neenah's fifth runner. We got six in, so again we didn't quite capitalize there.”

Neenah senior Matthew Meinke won the individual title, finishing the 5,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 33.9 seconds.

Easton was the Cardinals’ top performer, finishing fourth overall among team participants in 15:51.9 seconds. Easton, a Northern Arizona recruit, finished eighth a year ago and 39th as a sophomore.

But Easton wasn’t happy at all with his showing.

“Personally I was very disappointed with my individual performance,” Easton said. “I know that I am a lot more fit than I displayed, and I am still trying to put the pieces together on what went wrong.”

The problem for Middleton is Neenah then had three runners — at No. 12, 14 and 17 — finish before Cardinals’ junior Egan Johnson came in at No. 21 in 16:28.4. Junior Peter Hoferle was 26th (16:33.0), junior Zach Leffel was 39th (16:45.0) and junior Braedon Gilles was 41st (16:46.6) and that group all bested Neenah’s fifth runner.

“Honestly, when all of our guys crossed the finish line I wasn't sure,” Finnel said. “I was about 600 meters from the finish and a lot happened in that last bit. Talking around, Braedon caught quite a few guys so I was thinking we may have it.

“Peter and Zach said they lost some position and we weren't sure at that time just how much. It was a toss-up as to how we finished in my head. I didn't think another team edged us out based on the singlets running by.”

Middleton’s five runners totaled 131, while Neenah’s first four were at just 44. That meant if Neenah’s No. 5 runner was 88th — or worse — the Cardinals would repeat as state champs.

Unfortunately for Middleton, Neenah senior Joseph Murray came in 78th which gave the Rockets the title.

Afterwards, the Cardinals refused to use injuries as an excuse. But there’s no question they played a large part in the outcome.

Middleton junior Roman Ystenes, one of the Cardinals’ top runners, didn't compete due to an Achilles injury. And senior Michael Madoch, who was 10th at state last year, tried battling through an undisclosed injury but settled for 93rd place.

“Michael and Roman have been battling health-related things all season,” Finnel said. “We all tried our best to get them ready for today.

“Michael gave it his best effort and I'm happy he gave it a shot. I know it's not what he wanted, but as a senior it was great to see him compete one last time. Roman obviously didn't run. His Achilles was still a bother earlier in the week. We all believed and trusted each other that we could still win despite some adversity.”

Most years, a second place finish would have led to jubilation and euphoria inside Middleton’s camp. But this wasn’t an ordinary year.

“I'm proud of these boys,” Finnel said. “It's tough to repeat as champs in this sport, especially when not at full strength. I can't think of any team in recent Division 1 history, where a team would place second without two of their best not racing or not at 100%.

“It's a testament of this deep, hard-working team. They battled and ran their best on that day and that's all I can ask of them. Running is always a humbling sport and days like today make us reflect and appreciate just how hard it is to win even more. This is a character building moment and I know we are going to thrive in the future because of this day.”

Easton found some positives after the Cardinals’ disappointing day.

“This year will definitely be remembered as a year of rolling with the punches,” Easton said. “Not every race will be ideal, but you have to work with your situation that you are given. Overall this team means the world to me. They have shaped me as an athlete and as a person and I am very lucky to have them.”

 

DIVISION 1 BOYS

Team scores: Neenah 122; Middleton 131; Germantown 162; Madison West 165; Stevens Point 169; Oconomowoc 181; Sussex Hamilton 232; Whitefish Bay 256; Hudson 264; Green Bay Preble 272; Slinger 278; Sun Prairie 280; Brookfield East 285; Hartland Arrowhead 288; West Bend West 321; De Pere 346; Eau Claire Memorial 351; Muskego 425; West Allis Hale 443; Kenosha Indian Trail 464.

Top 20 individuals: 1, Bosley, Mequon Homestead, 15:21; 2, Ellenberg, Kimberly, 15:30.9; 3, Meinke, Nee, 15:33.9; 4, Devries, HA, 15:43.0; 5, Schnoor, Ger, 15:48.4; 6, Kisting, Oak Creek, 15:50; 7, Easton, Mid, 15:52; 8, Vance, Ocon, 15:53; 9, Holmes, Glendale Nicolet, 15:55; 10, Bloomquist, Janesville Craig, 15:56. 11, Scherer, Oshkosh North, 16:01; 12, Wellenstein, Wauwatosa East, 16:05; 13, Sodemann, South Milwaukee, 16:06; 14, Kuhlenbeck, SH, 16:06; 15, Franz, StP, 16:06; 16, Loetscher, Madison East, 16:08; 17, Hartman, Wausau West, 16:07.2; 17, Hartman, Wausau West, 16:08; 18, Dyer, WFB, 16:09; 19, Nadolski, Mukwonago, 16:09; 20, Tome, Franklin, 16:09.

Middleton results

4, Caleb Easton 15:52; 21, Egan Johnson 16:29; 26, Peter Hoferle 16:33; 39, Zach Leffel 16:45; 41, Braedon Gilles 16:47. 

 

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