Girls XC team 4th at state

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Rob Reischel
Middleton’s girls cross country team was all smiles after finishing fourth at the WIAA Division 1 state meet last Saturday./Photo submitted

WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Maddie Ruszkiewicz found herself in the last place she expected last Saturday afternoon.

On the ground.

Just moments before reaching the finish line at the WIAA Division 1 state cross country meet, Ruszkiewicz — a Middleton High School sophomore — collapsed. As Ruszkiewicz briefly laid on the cold and wet soil at Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids, she had one overriding thought.

“I thought about my teammates and how they probably already were there,” Ruszkiewicz said. “And then one of them passed me, and I was like, ‘We’re probably not going to place if I don’t crawl across the finish line.’ ”

So that’s exactly what she did.

In a remarkable display of grit, determination and perseverance, Ruszkiewicz gathered the strength to crawl across the finish line and became the fifth Middleton runner to complete the 5,000-meter course. In doing so, Ruszkiewicz ensured that the Cardinals notched a fourth place finish, their best showing at state since 2013.

Muskego won the race with 72 points, while Onalaska was second at 111. Sun Prairie was third with 134, while Middleton (147) and Hartland Arrowhead (218) rounded out the top five.

Cardinals’ sophomore sensation Lauren Pansegrau was second individually, finishing in 18 minutes, 14.2 seconds. Freshman Zaira Malloy-Salgado was 18th (19:15.9), junior Kiara Malloy-Salgado was 27th (19:36.8) and junior Bella Chirafisi was 43rd (19:59.1).

Ruszkiewicz, who finished 57th overall, felt her legs begin to give out on one of the final hills. One year earlier, Ruszkiewicz broke bones in both of her legs at the Big Eight Conference, then was in casts and a wheelchair.

Now, healed from that brutal injury, Ruszkiewicz had a chance to help her team secure fourth place. So she found her last bit of strength and crawled home, something her coach and teammates were buzzing about afterwards.

“She exerted herself so much that her body just couldn’t handle it after a while,” Middleton coach Alexa Richardson said. “She’s what helped our team get fourth. The fact she was able to crawl across that line and get us those points — I can’t believe that.”

Several other Cardinals enjoyed unbelievable days, as well.

Pansegrau, who finished 31st at state as a freshman, continued her remarkable rise in the sport.

Onalaska junior Kora Malecek won the race in 17:44.6. Pansegrau was second, more than six seconds ahead of Stevens Point’s Roisin Willis (18:20.9).

“I just wanted to start out fast and be near the front,” Pansegrau said. “I wanted to not fall too far back, but be running next to someone, too.”

Richardson said it helped Pansegrau immensely to have her entire team at state this season.

“She did well today because she had her team with her,” Richardson said. “She’s a very team-oriented person, and she was much more relaxed and confident going into this race knowing she had her girls by her side.

“She knew that she was going to be a contender and that she was going to be up there somewhere in the front — we just didn’t know where she’d be. She’s a very positive person, so she gets excited rather than anxious, so it’s fun to watch her race because I don’t have to deal with the nerves or anything beforehand.”

The Malloy-Salgado sisters moved to Middleton this year when their mother took a job with the microbiology department at the University of Wisconsin. The two proved to be huge additions to the Cardinals’ program.

Zaira got acquainted with several teammates on summer runs. She could tell right away she liked the “chill” coaches and that she was alongside experienced runners.

At state, Zaira’s strategy was run in a pack for the first mile, spread into a line for the second mile, and then break off in the third. She followed her coaches’ instructions to start passing people down the backstretch, then started gaining momentum and sprinted to the tape.

“I try to make sure I have a tiny bit left so I can give it my all,” Zaira Malloy-Salgado said. “We have all trained so much. It’s amazing to see how far everyone has come. To see it all pay off is awesome.”

Kiara Malloy-Salgado competed at the state meet in Iowa when she attended Iowa City West High School the past two years. She had virtually no knowledge or preconceived notions of the course in Wisconsin Rapids, but that was nothing new.

“Having no experience with any of the courses is something that definitely shook me a little bit at first,” Kiara said. “But then I got into the rhythm of, OK, new course — what do I need to know about? It made for a crazy experience.”

Kiara’s entire first year with the Cardinals wound up being crazy — crazy good, that is.

Kiara wasn’t thrilled about packing up and moving with only two years of high school left. But the Cardinals’ tight knit cross country team helped Kiara adjust quickly, while she helped Middleton reach impressive heights on the course.

“I definitely did not accept the change at first,” Kiara said. “I was very frustrated. I was upset with everyone around me, because I was like, ‘I don’t want to be here — I want to be with my team back home.’ At this point, (Middleton) is home. There’s no way to change that. If I were to go back home now, I’d miss them terribly.”

Kiara said her teammates helped her blossom as a runner this fall.

“They are amazing. They are so supportive,” she said. “They tell me about past courses, past races, teams I should keep an eye out for.

“Upperclassmen are typically expected to lead, so I came into a bit of an awkward situation, where I felt like I needed to help inspire the other girls and I didn’t know how. Honestly, they did the work — they helped me become the runner I am right now. From last year to this year, I feel very different. I feel like I’ve grown as a person because of the change.”

Richardson said she was thrilled to see the Cardinals embrace the Malloy-Salgado sisters from Day 1 — a relationship that clearly benefitted everyone involved.

“They’ve been so sweet,” Richardson said.” Right away when they came, they were like, ‘We miss home, we miss home.’ I think they’re coming to terms that this is their new family. We really accepted them in, and they’ve said that has helped them transition in a little easier.”

Chirafisi, a standout swimmer the past two years, switched to cross country this season and was another huge addition. Chirafisi was voted a captain, and her leadership and speed were instrumental in Middleton’s success this year.

“She’s just been a great leader for this team,” Richardson said of Chirafisi.

Middleton’s two non-scoring runners also had strong races. Senior Megan Schwartz was 76th overall in 20.31.2, while freshman Elizabeth Schwartz was 82nd (20:32.0).

Overall, Middleton’s chemistry was a big reason why it captured fourth place at state.

“Our team this year has meshed better, and been more supportive of each other, than any team I’ve ever had,” Richardson said. “I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we’re doing well, because not only do they push each other, they have fun together. They really enjoy running together and watching each other race.”

No one enjoyed watching Ruszkiewicz run out of gas, though, and tumble near the finish line. But her remarkable resolve and fortitude provided a lasting image for this magical Middleton season.

“I was kind of sad, because I’ve never not finished a race before,” Ruszkiewicz said. “That’s been one of my goals since freshman year, to not drop out of a race. It was hard because I didn’t know if I was going to make it across. But I made it across, and I was happy.

“I love our team. I think we raced as well as we could have. We’re really happy, knowing we gave it everything we had.”

Ruszkiewicz was certainly proof of that.


Nov. 2

WIAA Division 1 state meet

Team scores — Muskego 72; Onalaska 111; Sun Prairie 134; Middleton 147; Hartland Arrowhead 218; Appleton North 227; Whitefish Bay 238; Waukesha West 241; Madison West 246; Brookfield Central 267; Mequon Homestead 282; Stevens Point 290; Eau Claire Memorial 293; Kimberly 324; De Pere 340; Janesville Craig 376; Fond du Lac 392; Slinger 454; Greendale 474; Racine Case 528.

Top 20 individuals — 1, K. Malecek, Ona, 17:45; 2, Pansegrau, Mid, 18:14; 3, Willis, Ste, 18:21; 4, Sperka, Mus, 18:26; 5, Collett, FdL, 18:27; 6, Edwardson, Kim, 18:30; 7, Kopotic, Sun, 18:35; 8, Nashold, MW, 18:39; 9, Fauske, Kaukauna, 18:41; 10, Longnecker, DP, 18:43; 11, Willemse, MH, 18:46; 12, B. Helm, Mus, 18:49; 13, Ross, Oak Creek, 18:50; 14, R. Helm, Mus, 18:50; 15, Neustedter, BC, 18:52; 16, Heth, ECM, 19:01; 17, Durham, BC, 19:02; 18, L. Malecek, Ona, 19:02; 19, Lovejoy, Fort Atkinson, 19:04; 20, A. Malecek, Ona, 19:08.

Middleton: 2, Pansegrau 18:14; 18, Z. Malloy-Salgado 19:16; 27, K. Malloy-Salgado 19:37; 43, Chirafisi 19:59; 57, Ruszkiewicz 20:09. 



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