Boys XC team headed back to state

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Dennis Semrau/For the Times-Tribune
Zach Leffel (left) and Middleton’s boys cross country team won the Madison West Sectional last Saturday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

MADISON — The mission was clear for Middleton’s boys country team moments before the Cardinals lined up to compete at the WIAA Division 1 Madison West Sectional at Lake Farm County Park last Saturday.

Middleton girls had already gotten the day off to a stellar start, securing its first berth at the state meet since 2013.

Now it was the boys’ turn to join the party.

“After they won, we were hyped to win it, too,” sophomore Griffin Ward said.

Despite the absence of their top two runners — Ryan Schollmeyer (calf injury), who could be available for state, and Roman Ystenes (knee), who is likely sidelined for the rest of the season — the Cardinals did what they had to do.

Second-ranked Middleton cruised to the sectional team championship with 35 points, placing all five of its scoring runners in the top-10. Fourth-ranked Madison West was second with 73 points to also earn a state berth, while 13th-ranked Verona (86) took third, and 16th-ranked Madison Memorial (108) finished fourth.

“I thought overall we felt relaxed all week, and we felt confident,” Middleton boys coach Brian Finnel said. “We are starting to feel the taper coming in. They performed very well today. To get five in the top-10 is pretty impressive in this sectional.”

The top two teams and the top five individual finishers who aren’t on the state qualifying teams advanced to Saturday’s WIAA state meet at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.

DeForest senior John Roth, the Badger North Conference champion, won the individual title, covering the 5,000 meters course in 16 minutes, 6 seconds. Madison West senior Julian Gary was runner-up in 16:07.

Middleton senior Egan Johnson finished third in 16:17 to lead the Cardinals, who earned their seventh consecutive trip to state.

“I’m excited to go back as a senior,” said Johnson, who is making his third trip to state. “It’s been a journey. We’ve really improved. I’m watching the season come to a close, but we’re not done yet. We’ve still got a ways to go.”

Ward was sixth (16:30), senior Zach Leffel placed seventh (16:34), senior Braeden Gilles came in ninth (16:43) and senior Peter Hoferle rounded out the scoring with a 10th-place finish (16:47).

A soccer player as a freshman, Ward was making his sectional debut after joining the cross country team this summer. After competing in the mile and two-mile in track and field last spring, his distance buddies convinced him that maybe he should continue his running career this fall.

Ward flashed a big smile and said he didn’t regret his decision one bit.

“Overall, it’s been a great experience,” Ward said. “Coming over from soccer, it’s totally different. I love the team and the atmosphere.

“We do a lot of hills, and my time has improved a lot ever since I ran my first-ever 5K race in August to now. I felt good. I smiled a lot. It was fun.”

Finnel said he was particularly impressed with Hoferle’s performance.

“Peter’s been sick all week. It was a rough day for him,” Finnel said. “But I was glad he could pull through and help the team out.”

The Cardinals recorded a sizzling 30-second split from their top five finishers with Hoferle finishing in front of Madison West’s third runner.

“It could have been any of five guys finishing first for us,” Finnel said. “Egan was our top guy at Verona, so we just cycled back through now. Having the five up there was the hope. Sometimes you can talk about the strategy but having it go your way is another story.”

Sophomore Ethan Mladucky was 30th in 17:25, while senior Aniket Ahuja finished 41st in 17:40 to round out the Cardinals’ lineup.

Finnel said while the boys’ team qualifying for state has become a regular habit, the girls’ victory provided added inspiration for his squad.

“It’s pretty awesome to get both squads (to state),” Finnel said. “It’s pretty rare. Hopefully we can represent the Big Eight well.”

Despite being without their top two runners, the Cardinals stuck to their basic team-first philosophy.

“We definitely wanted to pack it up, be smart the first mile,” Finnel said. “They know how to work well together. They know how to push each other. We’ve got some good camaraderie amongst all the guys. Having five seniors up there is nice.”

Middleton won the program’s second state title in 2017 and was second a year ago.

Leffel said the goal of reaching the top of the awards podium hasn’t changed.

“We knew we could do it coming into the season,” said Leffel, who will also be making his third trip to state. “State’s our goal so we tailor everything to that. There were times in the season where we were feeling out of sorts. There were some tough races. We were trusting the process and knew we were going to peak at right around the time we needed to for conference, sectionals and state.”

Finnel said despite the team’s injury issues, the Cardinals’ depth has been a strength they can count on.

“We got our No. 8 and No. 9 runners to step up and contribute which was pretty impressive,” Finnel said. “I still think that 2017 squad was pretty darn good and last year’s squad was good as well. This one’s probably on par with last year. The 2017 (team) was a special group. But this year’s group is very resilient.”

After performing well at the prestigious Griak Invitational last month and winning the Big Eight Conference title a week ago, the Cardinals believe there is plenty left in the tank.

Top-ranked Stevens Point, which placed fifth at state a year ago, enters as the favorite to win its 11th overall title and first since 2013.

The Cardinals would like to change that script.

“They know what’s coming next weekend, and we’re not the favorite,” Finnel said. “So, there’s a little less stress and weight on our shoulders. They look at it as a challenge they want to tackle.”


Oct. 26

Madison West Sectional


Team scoring: 1, Middleton, 35; 2, Madison West, 73; 3, Verona, 86; 4, Madison Memorial, 108; 5, Monona Grove, 124; 6, Madison East, 163; 7, Sauk Prairie, 171; 8, Tomah, 188; 9, DeForest, 248; 10, Baraboo; 261; 11, Waunakee, 272; 12, Reedsburg, 386.

Team state qualifiers: Middleton, Madison West.

Top 10 individuals: 1, John Roth, D, 16:06; 2, Julian Gary, MW, 16:07; 3, Egan Johnson, Mid, 16:17; 4, Aidan Manning, V, 16:22; 5, Luka Dimaggio, V, 16:30; 6, Griffin Ward, Mid, 16:30; 7, Zach Leffel, Mid, 16:34; 8, Ryan Reed, MW, 16:34; 9, Braedon Gilles, Mid, 16:43; 10, Peter Hoferle, Mid, 16:47.

Individual state qualifiers: 1, John Roth, D, 16:06; 4, Aidan Manning, V, 16:22; 5, Luka Dimaggio, V, 16:30; 11, AJ Ketarkus, MM, 16:49; 12, Eli Traeder, MG, 16:49.

Middleton finishers: 3, Egan Johnson, 16:17; 6, Griffin Ward, 16:30; 7, Zach Leffel, 16:34; 9, Braedon Gilles, 16:43; 10, Peter Hoferle, 16:47; 30, Ethan Mladucky, 17:25; 41, Aniket Ahuja, 17:40.

At Lake Farm County Park, 5,000 meters.






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