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They got the band back together on Saturday — and it rocked.

For the first time all season, the top seven runners on the Middleton boys cross country team competed in the same race. The result was a dominating victory in the Big Eight Conference meet at Lake Farm County Park.

“We look at this as being the start of the season,” said Cardinals senior Caleb Easton, who won the race with a 5,000-meter time of 15 minutes, 50 seconds. “It hasn’t been the typical high school season, but we’ve been focused on our goals.”

The Cardinals’ four other point-scorers finished among the top 15 — including runner-up Roman Ystenes (16:01), giving Middleton a winning total of 35 points. Two other runners for the third-ranked Cardinals finished in the top 20 in the 69-runner race.

Top-ranked Madison West took second with 59 points and Sun Prairie finished third.

Easton said the reunion almost didn’t take place because he battled a sinus infection all week.

“I wasn’t planning on racing until (Friday). That’s when I started to improve and gave it a go. It was nice having Roman running beside me,” he said.

It hasn’t been injuries so much as big-picture plans that split up the Cardinals’ lineup so many times during the regular season. Easton, for instance, ran in a national race outside Los Angeles last month.

“It can be frustrating running for the team when you know the whole team isn‘t going to be there,” said Ystenes, a junior. “Sometimes it was just me and one other (varsity) guy, and three (junior varsity) guys. Knowing everyone was out there today, that pushed us to be at our best.”

The familiar course was changed due to standing water, and the runners still faced a few unavoidable puddles on the otherwise leaf-covered trail.

Janesville Craig sophomore Bryan Bloomquist, the early pacesetter, finished third in 16:09, followed by Sun Prairie senior Ash Francis (16:12) and Madison East’s Max Loetscher (16:17).

Only two races remain for the Cardinals, if things go as planned: Saturday’s Madison West sectional, back at Lake Farm County Park, and the state meet in Wisconsin Rapids — where Middleton hopes to defend the Division 1 championship it won by a record margin last year.

Two-time defending state champion and top-ranked Sun Prairie won the girls title, placing four runners in the top eight to match the Middleton boys’ total of 35 points.

Runner-up Madison West, the state’s fourth-ranked team, produced the individual champion in freshman Genevieve Nashold, whose time of 18:16 was 25 seconds better than the runner-up, Sun Prairie sophomore Kate Kopotic (18:41).

Freshman Lauren Pansegrau of sixth-ranked Middleton took third (18:50), followed by Sun Prairie senior Maddie Thompson (fourth, 18:50) and junior Hannah Ray (fifth, 19:13).

In her first year of competitive running, Nashold said that even with a season of competition behind her, she still gets butterflies before a race.

“I’m always nervous before,” she said, “but when I start running, it goes away.”

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