Woller, Hansen Lead Area Runners at StateIssue Date: November 1, 2018
Every runner approaches the WIAA State Cross Country Championships a little bit differently.
In Division III, Oconto sophomore Josh Woller said he was trying to hang with Gibraltar senior Evan Henry, who took fifth in the field with a time of 16 minutes, 25 seconds.
Woller didn't quite hit that goal, taking 26th in the 151-runner field, but he was the fifth-highest finisher among underclassmen.
Woller said he had hoped to run a 5:20 first mile and improve as the race went on, but his adrenaline kicked in and he ran a little quicker out of the gate than he would have liked, running a 5:06 first mile, the same pace as Henry. He finished at a 5 minute, 32 second pace (17:10.2).
Regardless, Woller has hope for next year, when he'll look to return to the race as a junior.
"It just gives me hope for the future that I'll be able to come out with a title someday," he said.
Just as Woller took Henry as a runner to follow, Coleman senior used Woller as a measuring stick for his pace.
Casper took 34th (17:18.4), just ahead of Gillett sophomore Derek Hanson, another runner he had singled out when setting his goals for the race.
"Woller from Oconto and Hanson from Gillett were the ones I wanted to stick with the whole race," Casper, a four-year state qualifier, said. "This year was my best race and I rolled my ankle the second mile and I was in a lot of pain but I got through it and my goal was to beat Hanson from Gillett and I finally beat him, so that was awesome."
Hanson was 43rd. He, too, ran a 5:06 first mile but fell off a bit at the end with a 17:18.4 time (5:35 pace).
"I feel like it kind of just played itself out. I feel a little tired, but that's just part of racing I guess," Hanson said. "I think I really put in the work in the summer and that allowed me to be in tip-top in the beginning of the season and I just kept growing off that until I went to state. I thought the season went pretty good."
Casper's day, from warmups to the race, was different than his other three years at state because he had his team behind him.
The Cougars took 12th of 16 teams in Division III in their first-ever trip to the big race.
Senior Caleb Gross was 77th in the field (18:08.7). Freshman teammate Karson Casper took 90th, about 12 seconds behind Gross (18:20.2). The pair paced themselves off of not only one another, but Kasey Casper as well.
"Caleb and Karson, they're my two and three, and they stayed together pretty much the whole race," Coleman coach Becky Chaltry said. "At the end, Caleb pulled ahead of Karson a little bit, but otherwise I think they were pacing each other and they usually try to stay within eyesight of Kasey."
Senior Koltin Grzybowski took 123rd overall (19:07.2) and the next two Coleman runners did about as good a job pacing one another as they could have.
Cougar junior Seth Seefeldt and senior Bryce Karban finished with the same time to the tenth of the second (19:48.4). Seefeldt was credited with the 135th-place finish and Karban was 136th. Sam Seefeldt rounded out the Cougar finishers with a 150th-place time (21:43.8).
While running is mainly an individual sport, that team aspect helped the Cougars throughout the season, especially down the stretch.
"The season started out, our runners were a little slower than we were expecting to, but each day at practice, we worked a little harder and harder and toward the end we started coming together as a team and it started to show," Gross said after the race.
For Coleman, regardless of what the numbers said at the end of the race, it was a special season.
"This season was simply awesome. I looked forward to this season the day after last season and for good reason " because I knew in my heart it was going to be something big, something special, and it was," Chaltry said. "This group of boys and girls was outstanding. They worked hard and had great attitudes from day one. It's been so much fun getting to know these kids as athletes. The senior boys will be greatly missed because they really have been role models in our school. I feel very honored that I've gotten to coach such great athletes. They've become less my students and more my family."
Peshtigo freshman Sydney Lund took 50th of 152 runners in Division II (20:35.5). Her goals were to be under 21 minutes and keep up with a couple of Freedom's runners.
She was close with Freedom's top runners and hit her target pace.
"I felt really good on the second mile, but the third mile I just did not feel good after that," she said. "It was just really fun to take it all in and just experience state with so many people. It was really neat."
The advantage for Lund and other underclassmen who made the race is they know what to expect from the large race, with the crowds of spectators and steep hills.
"I think it helps me to understand what this whole experience is like and it helps me understand how to run a race better and pace myself easier instead of just going out right away and not doing very well," she said.
Peshtigo coach Keith Nault said he set an aggressive goal of a top 35-to-40 spot for Lund. She didn't quite hit that, but she'll be better prepared for next year if she's able to make it back to Wisconsin Rapids.
"Going forward, if she's able to qualify for state next year, she knows the course. The experience in a race like this is invaluable. There's so much that happens and so many people and it's a lot to take in and have your best race your first shot at it, so I think going forward she's only going to get better," Nault said. "The first race at a meet like this is really hard to have high expectations, but I think we felt she could get out in the top third of the race. Of course, we set our goals a little more aggressively, hoping for a top-35 or top-40. That didn't happen, but she ran an aggressive race, she ran a PR, season-best time, so everything was right for her to peak at this race and we got lucky that it did, I guess."
Gillett's star sophomore Sylvia Hansen came up short of her lofty goal of winning the race, but factors out of her control had something to do with that.
Hansen ran an 18:44.5 time on Sept. 27 in Pulaski, which would have won her the DIII state race by 22 seconds and given her fourth in DII.
Hansen hasn't needed anyone to pace her all year long, as she dominated most races the Tigers ran at. At the sectional race last week, however, a hip problem arose for Hansen, an injury that followed her to state.
She finished 27th (20:20.9), a time she bested time and time again during the season.
"That hip issue I had during sectionals definitely started kicking in at the same time it did last race, so that was definitely another difficult thing to go through," she said. "The hills were definitely bothering it a lot more than going straight."
Gillett coach Bill DeJung said Hansen had the necessary pace to win the race after one mile, but the injury held her back.
"She had a goal of winning it and went out the way she needed to to put herself in a position to win it or place very high and her hips just didn't hold up for her the rest of the race," he said. "Very, very proud of her. She had a great year. Unfortunately, the sore hips wouldn't let her finish the way she wanted to today."
Suring freshman Ryann Wagner, in her first year running cross country and Suring's first year as a program, took 41st in Division III (20:45.1).
"I really enjoyed it. I wasn't super nervous because it's kind of my first year and I'm just learning, but it was a great experience," Wagner said. "Our school just got it this year and I haven't run it before. It's a great learning experience to see all these really good athletes at state around you."
Suring coach Monica Wagner said Ryann does a good job of getting herself prepared for a race with a gameplan, despite being so new to the sport.
"Very level-headed young lady," coach Wagner said of Ryann. "She does a nice job preparing herself. We don't have to work too hard on that. She's pretty internally-driven and likes to have a gameplan and we try to help her with that."
Like Lund, Hansen, Hanson and Woller, the future is seemingly bright for Wagner.
"It's amazing," coach Wagner said. "I can't even explain how neat this is. Like I said, she's brand new to this sport, brand new to this season, just soaking it all in."
With all the youth in area runners, one athlete sticks out.
Marinette senior Carson Polomis took 63rd of 152 in DII (17:28.8).
The senior's goal? Just have fun in his last go-around.
"Give it all he's got. If it ended with a PR today, that would be great, and if it doesn't, enjoy the moment," Marinette coach Jenni Campbell said.
Polomis said he "just wanted to run" and "have a good time."
When it was all done, Polomis finished the race like he always did, waiting for every runner to cross the line, talking with as many as he could.
"For me, running cross country is more than just racing," Polomis said. "The people you meet running, they're all phenomenal. I've never met a single guy running that I didn't like. For me to just go out and have a conversation with people I don't see too often, it's special for me."
According to Campbell, that's what makes this sport special.
"Kind spirit and true sportsmanship, and I think that's something that makes cross country very different than a lot of sports is that heart of the runner. It's like a family," Campbell said. "There's something to be said when you are pushing your body to its physical and mental limits that people can appreciate together."
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