MHS' 3,200-meter relay team wins state title

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Rob Reischel
Caleb Easton (2) helped Middleton’s 3,200-meter relay team finish first at state last weekend./Photo courtesy of Christopher Hujanen

LA CROSSE — It didn’t matter that the Middleton Cardinals’ 3,200 relay was seeded fourth entering the WIAA Division 1 state track and field meet at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium last Friday evening.

Their goal was to come home with a spot on the top of the podium, a gold medal and a memory to last a lifetime.

Mission accomplished.

Middleton’s 3,200 team of junior Zach Leffel, senior Michael Madoch, junior Braedon Gilles and senior Caleb Easton got the meet off to a tremendous start when they finished first in 7 minutes, 48.65 seconds. Kenosha Bradford/Reuther was second in 7:51.18.

“Our goal was to win and just to win is cool,” Madoch said.

Middleton coach Joe Line said regardless of their seeding or previous times, the quartet was thinking about running in the 7:40 range.

“They knew they were capable of doing it,” Line said. “They just went out to race and win it. It was awesome.”

Easton said with all four runners returning from last year’s distance relay, winning a state championship was their primary focus all season.

“We were pretty confident we could do this,” said Easton, who will be running at Northern Arizona next year. “We have a very deep team. We have a lot of younger guys coming up doing great things. A lot of guys who were really close to qualifying for state in their events.

“So I think we were pretty confident about these four. We’ve been running together forever. We’re all best friends. We’d do anything for each other. That gives us a good advantage over the other teams.”

Leffel got the Cardinals off to a solid start, and Madoch and Gilles did their part to hand the baton off to Easton with a lead heading into the final two laps.

Easton then brought it home, raising his arms in celebration as he crossed the finish line.

“These guys got me in a real good position,” Easton said. “It was a little difficult running in the front. Taking the baton with the lead is a little bit scary because people are coming up on you.

“I was pretty confident that would be the case, so I was prepared for that very well. I ran my own race, and I was happy these guys could set it up for me.”

Easton, who was also a member of the Cardinals’ 2017 state championship and 2018 state runner-up cross country teams along with Gilles, Leffel and Madoch, said the team’s seed after running an 8:02.26 at sectionals didn’t matter.

“The sectional goal was just to get in the fast heat,” Easton said.

“It’s kind of nice not having the number one seed going in. But at the same time, we definitely knew what we were capable of running, and we held ourselves to higher standards We shot for higher goals.”

Middleton tied for 11th in the meet with 18 points, following Easton’s third-place finish in the 1,600 and Madoch’s seventh-place finish in the 800.

Kimberly won the meet with 46 points. Waukesha North (39), Mequon Homestead (37), Fond du Lac (24.5) and Oconomowoc (24) rounded out the top five.

Easton recorded a time of 4:14.59 to finish third in the star-studded 1,600, trailing only two-time state champion Drew Bosley of Mequon Homestead (4:12.14) and runner-up Rowen Ellenberg of Kimberly (4:12.28).

Bosley set a state-meet record in winning the 3,200 on Friday night, while Ellenberg won the 800 on Saturday.

“Those guys are really good,” said Easton, who finished runner-up to Bosley in the 1,600 at state a year ago. “Hats off to them. They had a really good race, better than mine today.”

Leffel finished 12th in the 1,600 in 4:23.82.

“It wasn’t exactly my race, but I did the best I could,” Leffel said. “I wish I could have scored some points for my team.”

Line said Leffel handled the pressure of competing in one of the meet’s elite events.

“It was a tough mile, especially when you’ve got those top three guys,” Line said. “What Zach did was special. I’m so proud of him.”

Madoch ran a 1:57.78 in the 800 and his seventh-place finish just missed making the podium by 33/100ths of a second, while Gilles was 17th in 1:59.92.

“Michael kind of got boxed in on his 800, but he made a charge and laid it all out there,” Line said. “You could tell he wanted it. He came so close to being on the podium.”

Sophomores Jackson Meyer and Quinn Calvin also made the trip to state a successful one although neither advanced to the finals in the jumps.

On Friday night, Meyer finished 15th in the triple jump with a leap of 43 feet, 6.5 inches. Then on Saturday, Calvin finished 13th in the long jump with a mark of 20-8 on his first attempt in the trials.

Calvin was seeded eighth and Meyer was seeded 16th following sectional competition.

“We were just happy the sophomores made it and gained the experience of being in a state meet,” Line said. “Whatever they did, we were proud they were here. They did good, getting marks, being able to compete and being up in the mix.”

The Cardinals closed out the meet with hopes of reaching the podium in the 1,600 relay after sophomore Max Foland, senior Ian Casper, Gilles and senior Eagan Peters-Michaud ran a 3:23.80 in prelims to earn the fourth seed in the finals.

But a collision entering the fourth leg of the race, which knocked down anchor Peters-Michaud, left Middleton with a seventh-place finish of 3:29.89, just over two seconds out of sixth-place.

“It was really tight, and Neenah got disqualified for crossing lanes, which pushed Bay Port into our path and knocked our anchor down,” Line said. “It started a ripple effect.”

After an hour delay, the top five finishing teams decided to let their times stand, while Appleton North, Middleton, Bay Port and Elkhorn opted to rerun the race.

Line changed the lineup, subbing sophomore Thomas Blumer and Easton for Casper and Peters-Michaud, the later who was injured in the mishap.

“When you rerun it, you’re allowed to use fresh guys,” Line said. “It’s really tough to run it a second time especially for the guys who are running it again. But we thought that was our best chance to podium.”

While Appleton North (3:24.13) and Bay Port (3:24.32) recorded better times when the race was rerun to vault them into first and second place, respectively, Elkhorn (3:28.39) finished eighth and Middleton (3:32.35) ninth in the revised results.

“If you reran it, you got your new time,” Line said. “The four bottom teams all thought they were going to do better. We ran a 3:29.89 originally so we would have ended up ninth no matter what. The top five teams decided not to run it and kept their times and the top two teams ended up getting bumped.”

Line said rerunning the relay allowed Blumer, an alternate, to make his state meet debut, while Easton had one final lap around the track as the anchor.

“Thomas got to run at state unexpectedly, which was cool,” Line said. “But the 1,600 relay was something I’ve tried to get to state since I became head coach four  years ago.

“When it was all said and done, I don’t think we were feeling too bad about that race. We were pretty excited to be in that race and be able to compete with all of those other teams.”

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