Prep boys cross country: Middleton has the pieces in place for another dream season in 2018
PRESEASON AREA RANKINGS
1, Middleton; 2, Monona Grove; 3, Madison West; 4, Dodgeville/Mineral Point; 5, Madison East; 6, McFarland; 7, Madison La Follette; 8, Beaver Dam; 9, Sauk Prairie; 10, Watertown Luther Prep.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Another dream season: Last fall, Middleton set a WIAA state-meet record by winning the Division 1 team championship by an incredible margin of 101 points. Coach Brian Finnel’s Cardinals then became the third boys team in state history to earn an invitational to the Nike Cross Country Nationals, finishing 16th. Only two letter winners were lost from that team, and 11 runners return, hungry for more. Three national rankings services list Middleton entering this season, as high as 14th. “Middleton is by far and away the top team in the conference and one of the best in the state,” Madison West coach Tom Kaufman said. “Everyone else will see how close they can get — likely not close.”
Learning from giants: Jake Boll takes over as head coach of the Baraboo program after six years as an assistant under veteran coach Peter Arndt. Arndt has retired after 36 years leading the Thunderbirds’ program under the motto “A Tradition of Excellence.” It’s not Boll’s first experience working under a Hall of Fame coach: He ran at Darlington for veteran coach Arnie Miehe. “Both legendary coaches have been friends to me, and I hope to continue spreading their lessons and successes,” Boll said.
Bounty of talent: The Big Eight Conference isn’t the only area league that has made a big splash on the state scene. Middleton dominated the Division 1 state meet last year, with Sun Prairie fifth, Madison West sixth and other worthy teams unable to qualify out of a talent-packed sectional. Also, the Badger South’s Monona Grove took fourth in Division 1 last year; Dodgeville/Mineral Point of the Southwest Wisconsin took second in Division 2; and McFarland (sixth), Jefferson (seventh) and East Troy (11th) represented the Rock Valley Conference at Division 2 state.
RUNNERS TO WATCH
Bryan Bloomquist, so., Janesville Craig: As a freshman last fall, Bloomquist took 22nd at Division 1 state (16:29).
Caleb Easton, sr., Middleton: Won the Big Eight Conference meet and went on to take eighth at Division 1 state (16:03) for the champion Cardinals. “I really think he can repeat as conference champion, but also be in the top three at the state meet,” Middleton coach Brian Finnel said. “He has high goals this year and he’s done a lot of work over the summer to be one of the state’s best runners.”
Cade Ferron, sr., Beaver Dam: Ran to a 17th-place finish at Division 1 state last fall (16:22) and is the defending Badger North Conference individual champ (16:46).
Ash Francis, sr., Sun Prairie: After taking 21st at Division 1 state last fall (16:29), Francis opened this season by winning the junior-senior race at the Jamie Block Classic in West Bend. “He has an unassuming confidence that will propel him to do some amazing things,” Cardinals coach Kevin Hall said.
Colin Green, sr., Madison Country Day: The only runner on his team, Green hopes to improve on last year’s 27th place finish in the Division 3 state meet (17:20).
Max Loetscher, sr., Madison East: Finished 27th at Division 1 state last year (16:34). Had a standout track and field season and is expected to be a top challenger to Middleton’s Caleb Easton in the Big Eight wars.
Michael Madoch, sr., Middleton: Took 10th at state (16:07) and had a strong track and field season in the spring, setting the stage for big expectations entering this fall.
Erik Nuenninghoff, sr., Madison West: Won the season-opening Glenn Herold Invitational on Saturday in 17:24. After chasing faster and more experienced teammates the last couple of years, he’ll have to step to the forefront this fall — and bring along the rest of the young Regents lineup.
Andrew Pahnke, sr., McFarland: Pahnke won individual Rock Valley Conference and sectional titles last year, and ran to 12th in the state meet (16:41) — though his finished ranked second among non-senior runners. He leads a deep crew of returnees that has the Spartans thinking big this fall.
Elias Ritzke, jr., Poynette: Finished second in the Capitol North Conference meet and took 43rd (17:37) at WIAA Division 3 state last fall.
Coaches’ picks: 1, Middleton; 2, Madison West; 3, Madison La Follette.
Madison East appears poised to take a step up in the brutal battle that is the Big Eight. Max Loetscher leads the way, but last year’s Nos. 2 and 3 runners also return in seniors Henry Hansen and Gabe Wasserman. Junior Nelson Dresser also returns for coach Nancy Gritt, whose Purgolders took fourth as a team in the sectional last year.
Madison Memorial coach Casey Hopp wasn’t satisfied with last year’s eight-place finish in the Big Eight. “With a group of seasoned seniors leading a young group of up-and-coming sophomores, we look to have the right mix to get back into the top five,” Hopp said. Leaders will be senior Imaad Said and sophomores Aidan Peppard (who missed much of his freshman season due to injury) and Dylan Anthony.
Madison West coach Tom Kaufman enters his 21st year with a younger lineup, as graduation hit the squad that took second in the Big Eight and sixth at state last fall. Nuenninghoff and senior Manix White return, as do juniors Julian Gary and Ryan Reed. Kaleb Kohn, a standout track athlete who had played fall junior hockey the last few years, has joined the team.
Middleton coach Brian Finnel has big goals for his squad, which has taken 15th, sixth, fourth, third and first in the state meet in the last five years. “I believe we are the favorites to win the state title … with the amount of experience we bring back,” Finnel said. “We need to stay healthy and not burn too (many) matches early on.” Caleb Easton and Michael Madoch will lead, and a solid supporting crew includes Roman Ystenes, Zach Leffel, Braedon Gilles, Egan Johnson and Frank Thornton.
Sun Prairie ran “an intelligent and courageous race” to take fifth at state last year, said coach Kevin Hall, who added that it was the program’s highest finish since 1980. And hopes are high for a transcendent 2018 season: “(The) Cardinals come into the season with arguably the greatest amount of competitive potential they’ve ever had,” Hall said. Francis will lead the lineup, with support from seniors Adam Tess and Juan Jimenez, junior Marquez Rodriguez, seniors Joey Barber and Jacob Starr and junior Hunter Tenniente.
Verona coach Randy Marks hopes his Wildcats can challenge for a top-three spot in the conference standings. “We will be improved but won’t know how much until we actually get into competition,” the coach said. Senior Jason Ford took third in the Glenn Herold Invitational in Watertown on Saturday and will be joined by senior Ian Grossenbacher-McGlamery and juniors Nathan Neitzel, Luka DiMaggio and Brad Tuomi atop the lineup.
Coaches’ picks: 1, Beaver Dam; 2, Sauk Prairie; 3, Waunakee and Baraboo
Baraboo won the Badger North title last year and took sixth in its sectional race. Two all-conference runners were lost to graduation, and veteran coach Peter Arndt retired. But new coach Jake Boll returns senior Matt Lane and junior Garrett Exo, both all-conference performers last year, and should challenge for the top half of the league standings.
Beaver Dam coach Hans Gochenauer Cade Ferron and sophomore Gavin Czarnecki.
Reedsburg coach Cory Boughton hopes the Beavers can move up in the conference race after taking eighth last fall. “We have been very young the past couple seasons, so I’m looking for many of those runners … to take a significant jump,” Boughton said. Senior Max Harsch leads the pack, and junior Nick Horzewski returns after missing most of last year with an injury.
Sauk Prairie coach Andy Sherman returns six letterwinners, led by state qualifier Hudson Haas. Also back to challenge for varsity spots are Camden Desroches, Noah Wankerl, Casey Vande Hey and Tristan Blechinger.
Waunakee coach Heather Martens-Raffel said the Warriors lost nine letterwinners to graduation, but returns six runners with varsity experience in a program that continues to grow in numbers. Seniors Cole Hinton and Triston Vogt will lead, along with juniors Logan Rynes, Alex Korth, Trenton Niles, Matt Stimson and Evan Voge.
Coaches’ picks: 1, Monona Grove; 2, Watertown; 3, Monroe.
Monona Grove is shooting for a third consecutive Badger South title despite the loss of Charlie Ellenbecker to the UW-Milwaukee program. Coach Jeremy Duss’ team features seniors James Giftos and Reed Anderson. Also back are seniors Eddie Gnewuch and Caden Nelson. Sophomore Jake Giftos returns after missing last season with an injury. “We have plenty of experience from our veteran runners. They should be ready to take the next step this fall,” Ross said.
Monroe faces a rebuilding project after the graduation of Drake Ingold, last year’s No. 9 finisher at Division 2 state.
Oregon finished last in the Badger South last year but coach Erik Haakenson, Jr., returns two regulars from that team and expects big things from sophomore Brenden Dieter and freshman Yordanos Zelinski and Turner Sieren.
Stoughton coach Patrick Schneider is hoping for improvement on last year’s sixth-place conference finish, with “four strong letter winners returning and others who ran well in track.” Sophomore Alex Wicks, senior co-captains Parker Flint and Garrett Herbst are back, along with junior Gavin Model, and newcomer Colton Hanson, a freshman, is expected to challenge for the No. 1 spot. Four runners were members of Stoughton’s state championship wrestling team last winter.
Watertown finished second in the Badger South last year but suffered some graduation hits, including conference champ William Kitzhaber, and will be part of the pack chasing Monona Grove this fall. Matthew Engel will lead the Goslings.
Coaches’ picks: 1, Watertown Luther Prep; 2, Lodi; 3, Lakeside Lutheran.
Lake Mills features a senior-dominated lineup, with Ethan Lewellin, Abe Flores, Jesse Ritter and Joseph Reuss joined by sophomores Sam Giombetti and Jaren Laws.
Lakeside Lutheran coach Cameron Ausen said junior August Gresens is “very motivated and committed” and has worked his way into the discussion of potential individual conference champions. Also back are junior Ben Ertman and sophomore Cooper Clark. Junior Jacob Holmes, a second-team all-conference pick in 2016, has transferred to Fort Atkinson.
Lodi, under 27th-year coach Kurt Wilson, has to rebuild after the loss of eight letterwinners from last year’s conference championship team, which just missed out on a state team berth. Brandon Grover (second-team all-conference last year) and Mason Marchand lead the returnees, and freshmen Luke Collins, Parker Heintz and Sean Crowder are expected to make instant impact.
Poynette, under 22nd-year head coach Kevin Frehner, has only one senior in the program, but junior Elias Ritzke brings back state experience and there is a large and competitive group of freshmen to build for the future.
Watertown Luther Prep coach Naomi Fritz welcomes back juniors Cameron Sulzle, who took fifth in the conference race last year, Caleb Arndt (who was 10th) Elijah Strutz, Christopher Baumann and William Carroll. The youth brigade has enough experience to make the Phoenix the favorite’s pick of most coaches.
Coaches’ picks: 1, Marshall; 2, Wisconsin Heights; 3, New Glarus/Monticello.
Deerfield/Cambridge suffered some graduation losses but will be led by senior Wills Manning and sophomores Jack Nikolay (ninth in conference meet last year), Austin Trewyn-Colvin, Jonathan Jones and Liam Brown, and freshman Zach Huffman.
Marshall coaches Jeff Looze and Pete Jaeger face some rebuilding work after the loss of three seniors, but with lots of young talent, some see the Cardinals as a conference favorite. Back are sophomores Kobe Grossman, Logan Kosbau and Mason Haberkorn and seniors Blake Luzenski, Noah Harrison and Quinn Killerlain.
New Glarus/Monticello, under 33rd-year coach Steve Wehrley, expects the end of last season to serve as a springboard for this year’s team. The Glarner Knights upset three of the top four teams at its sectional to qualify for state with a crew of five sophomores and two freshmen. The team returns all but one of its runners: Back are juniors Adam Nelson, Garrett Grossen, Simon Blohowiak and Kellan Zweifel and sophomores Dane Duerst, Conor McCoy and Joe Quaglia and Ty Ready.
Waterloo brings back Carlos Olvera-Garcia, who took seventh in the conference meet although the Pirates finished last in the team standings.
Wisconsin Heights, which edged Deerfield/Cambridge for the conference title last fall, returns juniors Christian Patzka, the runner-up in the conference meet, and William Hanson.
Coaches picks: 1, McFarland; 2, East Troy; 3, Jefferson
East Troy has a powerful lineup led by seniors Nathan Fox (who won last week’s Palmyra-Eagle Invitational) and Jake Smith, and juniors Tommy Larson and Michael Rosin.
Edgerton coach Adam Gold is hoping to lead his team to a top-half finish in the conference. The team returns its top two runners, Ryen Hazzard and Trevor Wilkinson, both of whom earned all-conference honors last fall.
Jefferson got off to a solid start as seniors Ryan Nelson, Alex Marin and Logan Dzielinski earned top-10 finishes in the Palmyra-Eagle invitational.
McFarland coaches Andrew Garvey and Scott Fischer led the Spartans to a sixth-place finish in the WIAA Division 2 state meet last year. The team returns five of its top seven runners, led by Pahnke but also returning seniors Eli Kemna, Patrick Fasick and Evan Crane and junior Matthew Klumpyan to battle in what should be a top-heavy Rock Valley race.
AROUND THE AREA
Dodgeville/Mineral Point earned a Division 2 state runner-up finish last year with a couple of sophomores leading the way. Back as juniors are Henry Keith (29th at state) and Peyton Tranel (42nd), along with senior Dylan McGraw (85th).
Johnson Creek has a new coach in Chad Hayes and must replace four varsity runners. Back are sophomore Dylan Gross and seniors Cole Ducklow and Jon Karczewski. It’ll be a tough go, as 11 of the 21 all-conference runners from last year’s Trailways Small conference race return.
Pardeeville coach Wes Babcock is back for his 38th season with the Bulldogs (and 40th overall). This year’s lineup features no seniors and one junior (Alex Shaw), and the top four runners are underclassmen, led by sophomore Peter Freye and freshman Nathan Brant. Senior Tanner Johnson, last year’s No. 3, decided to compete as a bicycle racer this fall.
Wisconsin Dells coach Dean Knetter returns three all-South Central Conference runners in junior Pablito Schulz, senior Nick Kruschke and junior Dylan Nevar, and has strong numbers in the program. Senior Jayce Dickman returns after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries.
— Art Kabelowsky