VERONA — A perfect Saturday morning provided hundreds of cross country athletes a chance to take advantage of new beginnings and make bold statements.
Madison West sophomore Genevieve Nashold and Madison La Follette senior Chris Wolfe accomplished both those tasks. So did their teams, though West needed a little help from the outside to get there.
Nashold and Wolfe won individual titles in the 43rd annual Verona Invitational and led their improved teams to overall championships in the 23-team event at Verona High School’s 5,000-meter Country View course.
Last year, Nashold won this meet to open her high school career and kept on winning all the way through the WIAA Division 1 state meet.
On Saturday, Nashold made it clear she has elevated herself to a new level.
Although she was 6 seconds behind Onalaska’s Kora Malaceck at the midway point, Nashold turned on the jets during her second tour through the woods and wound up beating Malaceck by 13 seconds with a time of 17 minutes, 40 seconds.
“I didn’t see the clock until after I finished,” Nashold said, “but when I did, oh yeah, that was a PR (personal record).”
Nashold’s time was 30 seconds better than her state championship run of last year, 61 seconds better than the course record for sophomores and 44 seconds better than the overall girls course record — set in 2014 by University of Wisconsin standout Amy Davis, then running for Madison Edgewood.
Nashold said she wasn’t alarmed to find herself a little off Malaceck’s pace early.
“She was encouraging me,” Nashold said. “I was trying to keep up until I felt strong enough to pass. I’m not sure, but I guess it was around the two-mile mark.”
Said West coach Cory Hayden, “Not only has her strength, her endurance and her determination come a long way, (but) her tactics have come so, so far.”
Hayden saw Nashold’s performance as not only a statement about the coming year, but an announcement that she has erased the letdown of the 2019 track and field season.
“She worked so hard during the winter, she got a little dinged up and wound up missing the whole first half of track season,” Hayden said. “And when she came back, she wasn’t 100 percent.
“We gave her time to let her body recover, and then we got to it. Every day, she was thinking about running on the grass.”
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Nashold and Hayden agree that the experience of 2018 — when everything was fresh and new to Nashold — will pay dividends in tough races this year.
“I have gotten more used to racing, instead of just going out there and running,” Nashold said.
Nashold isn’t the only West runner who prepared for a big season. Senior Kristina Rohrer finished fifth (19:19) and sophomore Cecily Greblo took seventh (19:27).
“I’m really proud of the team. They all worked so hard during the summer,” Nashold said.
Still, the Regents needed help from another team to hold off Onalaska, 64 points to 65. That help came from Monona Grove junior Peighton Nelson, who used all her remaining strength to pass Onalaska’s Jillian Lonning by the slightest of margins at the finish line. That gave one more team point to Onalaska — and West won by one point.
“I know her father. When I see him, I’ll ask him to thank her,” Hayden said.
Middleton sophomore Lauren Pansegrau took third (18:40), with junior Kiara Malloy-Salgado taking 10th (19:44) to lead the Cardinals to third place. Madison Memorial took fifth, led by junior Natalie Rhodes (20:14), and Sun Prairie junior Kate Kopotic finished fourth (19:13) to help the Cardinals take sixth.
In the boys race, Wolfe surprised even himself by taking the early lead and holding it all the way to finish in 16:21.
“It’s my first time ever winning a race. Not just varsity. Any race,” Wolfe said. “I wasn’t expecting to go out front so early, but it felt good.”
Wolfe said he spent time this summer training with former La Follette star Finn Gessner, the 2016 WIAA state champion.
Junior teammates Karl Olson (third, 16:33) and Christian Jaeger (11th, 16:46) helped the Lancers total 61 points, well ahead of runner-up Madison West’s 100.
“(The La Follette team) has been kind of in the shadows the past few years,” Wolfe said. “They all killed it today. They showed what we can be.”
Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld senior Christian Patzka ran to second place in 16:25. Middleton seniors Egan Johnson (16:36) and Zach Leffel (16:37) took fourth and fifth, respectively.
Verona senior Luke Dimaggio was sixth (16:44) and West senior Ryan Reed eighth (16:45).