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WIAA cross country: DeForest boys earn first state meet berth since 1999

WIAA cross country: DeForest boys earn first state meet berth since 1999


WYOCENA — Two weeks prior to the start of practice, DeForest boys cross country coach Joe Parker didn’t even know whether the Norskies would have a season this fall.

As the season progressed, uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic left the Norskies competing like each race might be their last. While other teams couldn’t compete or had runners lost from their lineups, the Norskies remained healthy and available to compete.

On Saturday, DeForest’s lineup put together an effort that qualified the Norskies for the WIAA Division 1 state meet for the first time since 1999.

“Every year, you are going to deal with injury and every year you are going to deal with health concerns, but this year it’s not just your health you have to be concerned with,” Parker said. “It’s the people around you and who you are around. We are giving ourselves an opportunity to go to the state meet for the first time in 21 years. … That’s what I will talk to the guys about, making sure they are being smart about what they are doing.”

Sophomore Isaiah Bauer finished fourth and his brother, junior Elijah Bauer, placed sixth in leading DeForest to the boys title at the Portage sectional in 38-degree weather Saturday at Wyona Park.

“This is the biggest race we’ve had so far, and this meet it took a whole team,” Elijah Bauer said.

DeForest (37 points) and second-place Onalaska (39) advanced to next Saturday’s Division 1 state boys meet at Hartland Arrowhead.

Four teams competed for the two berths, after the WIAA added a subsectional round this year to decrease the number of teams competing at sites during postseason amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s a very, very thick silver lining,” Parker said. “We appreciate what we have been allowed to do. There are a lot of really, really good runners and a lot of really, really good teams out there that are sitting at home, and my heart breaks for them.

“But that doesn’t mean that we are going to lay down and just let people roll over us. We are going to take the hand we are dealt and play to the best of our advantage.”

Onalaska junior Tyler Lee was the boys winner in 16 minutes, 27.88 seconds. Sauk Prairie sophomore Jack Boerger finished second (16:32.99) and Beaver Dam senior Gavin Czarnecki was third (16:41.70), earning two of the five individual state spots.

“This is really the first large meet I’ve had this season,” Boerger said. “It was a good experience to race with some of the best from this sectional.”

Dodgeville/Mineral Point’s Will Aurit (seventh place) also advanced to state as an individual.

In the girls race, Onalaska swept the top four spots in winning the sectional title with 16 points. Senior triplets Kora Malecek (17:43.81), Lydia Malecek (18:58.89) and Amalia Malecek (19:41.80) finished 1-2-3.

That left the drama for which team would claim the second berth. Waunakee, without three of its top seven runners, finished second with 74 points — one point better than Holmen and two points ahead of fourth-place Beaver Dam.

“We basically pulled up our group behind them and they did a phenomenal job today,” Waunakee coach Heather Raffel said. “I’m so proud of them after the last few days. It’s been a whirlwind for me. … I’m so thrilled with how they did today with everything we’ve been through this entire season. Hats off to them. They just did so great.”

Raffel declined to specify reasons for the absences.

“It’s one of those races I don’t think I’ll ever forget,” Raffel said. “It’s one for the ages for me.”

Waunakee junior Lila Branchaw, in her first season running cross country because girls volleyball wasn’t offered this fall at Waunakee, was the top Warriors’ finisher in 16th place. Freshman Charlise Smith was 18th.

“The people here, the community that is here, is so amazing,” Branchaw said, adding: “It’s so much fun because when you do good, everyone is so excited for you.”

Beaver Dam freshman Makenzi Gritzmacher was the top area finisher in the girls race, placing sixth (20:06.98) and advancing to state.

“It’s really cool I was able to pull this off and be with my team,” she said.

Gritzmacher said teammate Kylie Hackbarth, a subsectional winner Tuesday, couldn’t run Saturday after coming in contact with an individual who tested for the coronavirus.

Watertown senior Emma Gilbertsen (seventh place) and DeForest sophomore Logan Peters (ninth place) also advanced as individuals.

Instead of the state meet being at its usual site in Wisconsin Rapids, the WIAA has scheduled three individual division state meets at separate sites next Saturday.

Photos: WIAA girls and boys cross country sectional

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.

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