Merritt-led Rockets earn shot at defending their state cross-country title; Paul, Depies also advance
After winning Division 3 sectional titles in team and individual competition in 2009, the Cedar Grove-Belgium cross-country squads had a tough act to follow last Saturday.
The Rockets nearly duplicated their sweep at the Sheboygan Lutheran Sectional before settling for one team championship.
Led by Joel Merritt’s second-place effort, the Cedar Grove-Belgium boys took top honors and earned a chance to repeat as WIAA state champions this week.
The Rocket girls fell short of the two team qualifying spots but finished a solid third.
Merritt, a senior, took second at the sectional level for the second straight season with a 5,000-meter time of 16 minutes, 58 seconds. He helped his team finish on top with 49 points, comfortably ahead of second-place
Sheboygan Lutheran (64).
In the girls’ 4,000-meter race, Marina Paul led the Rockets with a second-place time of 15:13, which was 43 seconds faster than her sectional effort last year.
However, the Cedar Grove-Belgium girls ended up with 86 points, trailing St. Mary’s Springs (62) and Sheboygan Lutheran (75).
Among other teams, Ozaukee was 13th with 287 points.
Paul will be running in her fourth state meet after qualifying with a full team the last three seasons. She will be joined by junior Kiera Depies, who was fourth in 15:50, trimming 10 seconds off her 2009 sectional time.
Merritt, who was second at last year’s sectional behind teammate Josh Mulloy, struggled with a leg injury before coming on strong late in the season. He will participate in his fourth state race after qualifying as an individual as a freshman and with a team three straight years.
In four sectional meets, Merritt has finished sixth, fifth and second twice.
Among other Cedar Grove-Belgium boys, Alex Holle placed fourth in 17:12, knocking 35 seconds off his time last year. He was followed by Richard Beabout in eighth (17:29), Brandon Krauska in 13th (17:47), Michael Merritt in 22nd (18:20), Al Murphy in 45th (19:39) and Josh Beaudry in 49th (19:46).
“They’re both looking at top 10 on the podium if they have a great day,” Rockets coach Ron Wood said of his two front runners’ chances at the state meet.
Duplicating the boys’ team title won’t be easy but is within reach, Wood believes.
“I think we match up pretty well with most of the contenders,” he said. “It would take a solid plus effort, but it certainly is in the realm of possibility.”
As they have all year, the Ozaukee boys ran with an incomplete lineup. The Warriors’ Doug Grimm took 33rd (19:06), and Vince Cardarelle was 78th (22:00).
The sectional boys’ individual champion was Ryan Mugan of Howards Grove (16:49).
In her four sectional races, Paul has finished fourth, second, first and second.
“She’s solid. She’s got a fine work ethic,” Wood said. “She’s in the top eight seedwise as far as time is concerned.”
Depies “has been consistent all season,” Wood said.
Among other Cedar Grove-Belgium girls, Erika Meinen was 12th (16:18), followed by Chloe Paul in 22nd (17:10), Carina Deppiesse in 52nd (18:47), Maria Schueller in 54th (18:49) and Tammi Del Ponte in 58th (18:53).
The Ozaukee girls were led by senior Ali Hughes, who finished 20th (16:54). She was followed by Sarah Brown in 43rd (18:08), Amanda Lallensack in 73rd (19:36), Marissa Thill in 86th (20:44), Annalena Feix in 89th (21:09) and Carissa Conine in 90th (21:14).
The sectional girls’ title went to Miranda Brown of St. Mary’s Springs (15:06).
The state meet will be held Saturday, Oct. 30, at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. In Division 3, the boys will run at 11 a.m., followed by the girls at 1 p.m.
This week, the Cedar Grove-Belgium boys, Marina Paul and Depies will be working mainly on mental preparation, Wood said. Everyone but Mike Merritt has run the state course, he noted.
“We want to capitalize on their experience,” Wood said. “Most of them know the course and can run it through their mind.”
In the boys’ race, Wood said Darlington is a perennial favorite, and other contenders include Oshkosh Lourdes, Gillette and Rosholt. He said having his team run in large meets against Division 1 and 2 squads will help.
“It will be a dogfight,” Wood said. “It’s whoever can overcome the aura of the state meet and not become emotionally drained.”
Last season, the Cedar Grove-Belgium boys won their school’s first state title in any sport. The girls nearly made it a double, trailing champion Edgar by only one point.