Running with the pack helps Port girls, boys secure third-place honors in Div. 2
Pack running, the team approach that served the Port Washington cross-country squads well throughout this fall, paid dividends again in the biggest meet of the season last Saturday.
Placing all of their scoring runners in the top 50, the Pirates raced to third in both the girlsâ and boysâ standings of the WIAA Division 2 finals at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
âWeâve been taking the team approach all year and setting ourselves up for this meet,â said Port girlsâ coach Joe Adamak, whose team ended up with 136 points, just 13 behind first-place Dodgeville/Mineral Point.
âThe girls went into this season with high goals, and they achieved them.â
In the boysâ competition, Port finished a bit closer to top honors by scoring 155 points â only nine back of champion Shorewood â despite not having a runner in the top 15.
The Port boys became part of a four-team logjam that also included second-place Dodgeville/Mineral Point with 154 points, and fourth-place Ashland with 156.
âIt went about as well as we could have hoped for,â Port boysâ coach Mark Pasten said. âI thought we could place third, but I didnât think there would be so many teams that close.â
As she has most of the season, Bianca Benkley led the Port girls. She finished with a 4,000-meter time of 15 minutes, 34.21 seconds, good for 18th overall in a field of 151 runners and ninth among teams with full lineups.
The Piratesâ other scoring finishers were Ashley Hilton in 32nd overall (15:50.77), Diana Seer in 36th (15:54.91), Allison Hilton in 73rd (16:29.44) and Payton Greisch in 81st (16:36.0).
Also for Port, Abby Kotecki was 86th (16:37.31), and Bonnie Allen was 90th (16:41.15).
Adamak was impressed with the cohesiveness of his team, which blended four seniors â the Hilton twins, Seer and Greisch â with junior Allen, sophomore Benkley and freshman Kotecki.
âIt was nice to have a veteran crew that was as hard-working as they are,â he said.
âThey were a very focused group that has been together for a long time. I think they should be very proud of themselves.â
Dodgeville/Mineral Point and Onalaska both scored 123 points in the girlsâ race, but Dodgeville/Mineral Point was awarded first place based on the highest-placing sixth runner.
The Division 2 individual champion was Allie Woodward of Green Bay Notre Dame in 13:59.53.
The Port boysâ top finisher was senior Jake Verfuerth, whose 5,000-meter time of 17:13.1 was good for 17th in the team scoring and 28th overall among 148 runners.
Also scoring for the Pirates were Augie Yates in 43rd overall (17:25.0), Justin Fote in 52nd (17:33.2), Jared Sandlin in 61st (17:38.6) and Jason Marhal in 79th (17:45.2).
Portâs other finishers were Brandon Hinneberg in 90th (17:52.1) and Jared Burris in 106th (18:12.8).
All the Port boys are seniors except Marhal, whoâs a sophomore.
The boysâ individual champion was Valdersâ Michael Evans, who finished in 16:07.9.
Pasten noted that his team had one of the tightest groupings of runners in the meet.
âOur spread was only 32 seconds from No. 1 to No. 5,â he said. âWeâve never had that tight of a gap before. The guys just did a great job of group running.â
Pasten praised Verfuerth for his leadership.
âThroughout the season, we never knew who would be our top runner in each meet, but Jake really stepped up at the end of the season,â he said. âLast year, he was on the junior-varsity team, and this year he leads us at the state meet.â
Sandlin, a team captain, was also singled out for persevering despite a nagging ankle injury.
âJared did an excellent job of keeping us focused,â Pasten said.Â Â
The Port squadsâ strong showings culminated a season in which they both advanced to the state level for the first time in the same year.
Merritt-led CG-B boys dig down to come away with Div. 3 runner-up trophy
Joel Merritt and the rest of the Cedar Grove-Belgium boysâ cross-country team wandered away from the results area shortly after last Saturdayâs WIAA Division 3 state meet in Wisconsin Rapids.
The Rockets didnât think they ran well enough to finish in the top two and reach the awards podium for the third straight year.
But in the end, Merritt and his teammates climbed onto the stand to accept second-place honors. They scored 146 points, well behind champion Kenosha St. Joseph (107) but just ahead of third-place Rosholt (150).
Expectations were high for the Rockets after they won a Division 3 state title last year and were second in 2008.
Coming into the meet, the Rockets figured Kenosha St. Joseph would win it but that they should be near the top.
âI would say going into the race, we kind of looked at it and said of the top five teams we could definitely compete for those top two spots,â said Merritt, a senior.
Not that the Rockets felt that way after the race, however.
âNone of us individually ran all that great. None of us were happy with our performances,â Merritt said.
âBut when you put us all together, we met our team expectations.â
Merritt, participating in his fourth state race, finished seventh for team scoring (and 12th overall) with a 5,000-meter time of 17 minutes, 2.05 seconds. Teammate Alex Holle, a junior, was 17th overall in 17:14.18.
Among other Rockets, Richard Beabout finished 52nd (17:42.23), followed by Brandon Krauska in 72nd (18:00.81), Michael Merritt in 98th (18:24.04), Zacke Lyons in 126th (19:05.02) and Josh Beaudry in 144th (20:00.99).
âI donât think they were real confident,â Rockets coach Ron Wood said of his runnersâ post-race mood. âIt was pretty exciting to take second, especially when you werenât really expecting it.â
Among other top teams in the Division 3 standings, Chequamegon was fourth with 166 points, Darlington and Gillett tied for fifth (181), and Albany was seventh (191).
Times were a little off last yearâs pace because the course changed slightly due to part of it being flooded.
For Merritt, it was a sweet finish to a season that started just six weeks ago. He had a bad leg and couldnât train last summer and much of this year. He started the season as the second-fastest returning runner from last yearâs state meet.
âIt was one of those things that started off a little bit bitter. Youâre looking forward to your senior year and want to get the best out of it,â Merritt said.
He couldnât train and didnât get back to the level he wanted, but he left Wisconsin Rapids with a medal and as the fastest runner on his team.
âI am pleased with the end of the season given the circumstances,â Merritt said.
After placing 67th at state as a freshman, Merritt was 13th as a sophomore and eighth as a junior.
Paul, Depies step up for CG-B girls Marina Paul led two Cedar Grove-Belgium girls who qualified for the Division 3 state meet by reaching her goal of a top-five finish in her fourth state race. The senior was fifth with a 4,000-meter time of 15:12.43.
Teammate Kiera Depies, a junior, was 11th forÂ the second straight year. Her time of 15:29.33 was 23 seconds faster than her state effort last year.
âAs can be expected, they rose to the occasion,â Wood said. âMarinaâs time was the best sheâs had, and Kieraâs time was best by 20 seconds. They didnât fold under the pressure.â
Paul said she was happy with her finish but could have done better.
âI hoped to have a better time. I was hoping to go sub-15,â she said.
Paul edged two runners who finished less than three seconds behind her. She passed them with 400 meters to go and had her sights set on fourth but came up short.
Paul said the race seemed tougher than the sectional race when she finished in 15:13. But her state time was 23 seconds faster than last season when she took seventh and led the girls to second place.
Paul has placed in the top 22 at the state meet each of the last four years, improving each season. She was 22nd as a freshman, 13th as a sophomore and seventh as a junior.
âThe state meet has been the highlight of my school year. Going all four years has been amazing for me. I love it,â she said.
Despite failing to reach state this year as a team, the Cedar Grove-Belgium girls have had âanother fine, productive successful season,â Wood said.
As for the Rocket boys, âtheyâve raised the bar pretty high,â he added. âItâs difficult to think of doing anything else now. Itâs been exciting.â
SENIOR JOEL MERRITT (right) led the Cedar Grove-Belgium boysâ team in its second-place finish at the WIAA Division 3 state cross-country meet last Saturday at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. MARINA PAUL (167) and Kiera Depies (168) of Cedar Grove-Belgium finished fifth and 11th, respectively, in the WIAA Division 3 girlsâ state cross-country meet Saturday. SENIORS Ashley Hilton (785) and Diana Seer (784) helped the Port Washington girlsâ team place third in the Division 2 state meet by finishing 32nd and 36th, respectively, in the overall standings Saturday (top photo). Above, members of the Port boysâ and girlsâ squads posed for a photo at the final. They include (front row, from left) Allison Hilton, Ashley Hilton, Payton Greisch, Diana Seer, Bianca Benkley, Abby Kotecki, Bonnie Allen, (back row) Brandon Hinneberg, Jared Sandlin, Jake Verfuerth, Justin Fote, Augie Yates, Jared Burris and Jason Marhal.Â Photos by Tim Greisch