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Prep cross country photo: Middleton's Egan Johnson

Middleton senior Egan Johnson stays ahead of Hudson's Noah Lundeen during Saturday's Division 1 race in Wisconsin Rapids. Johnson placed 35th, the team's second-highest finisher.

WISCONSIN RAPIDS — After all the training and hard work, Middleton senior Braedon Gilles wanted to see the payoff.

He didn’t want the Cardinals to experience a second consecutive runner-up finish in the Division 1 boys race at Saturday’s WIAA state cross country meet at the Ridges Golf Course.

“I wasn’t having a good season, but the last few weeks I have been focused,” Gilles said. “I just really wanted it. We lost last year. I just wanted a good ending for my senior season. I knew we could do it. I knew I could do it. I was tired of losing.”

After winning the state title in 2017 and finishing second last year, Middleton again was on top after Saturday’s race.

Led by Gilles and a pack mentality, second-ranked Middleton finished first with 104 points and surprised top-ranked Stevens Point, which took second with 116.

The Cardinals’ team title and Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld senior Christian Patzka’s victory in the Division 3 race were the top results for area competitors on a day that included blowing snow, blustery winds and temperatures in the 30s.

After last week’s sectional victory, Middleton boys coach Brian Finnel wasn’t sure his team had enough to surpass Stevens Point due to injuries to Ryan Schollmeyer and Roman Ystenes. But Finnel, reflecting on Middleton’s recent state efforts, said he left this state meet feeling proudest of this team.

“What a tenacious, resilient group,” Finnel said.

The Big Eight Conference champion Cardinals ran much of the race as a pack and placed their five scoring runners in the top 44 overall and in the top 25 among team placing.

“We knew SPASH was going to be tough and (Madison) La Follette had some top-tier runners,” Finnel said. “For us, we didn’t feel like we had that upfront firepower like we’ve had with Gus (Newcomb) and Caleb (Easton). So, we had to be a pack and we had to own it.

“The thing we said all week was to pretend and believe they are the No. 1 guy on the team. And Braedon Gilles is the sixth different No. 1 we’ve had this season. They just bought in and believed in each other.”

Gilles was the top Middleton finisher — 22nd overall in 16 minutes, 19.1 seconds — followed by senior Egan Johnson (35th), sophomore Griffin Ward (38th), senior Peter Hoferle (39th) and senior Zach Leffel (44th).

“That was the best race I’ve had all season,” Gilles said.

Hortonville senior Jake Krause was the individual champion in 15:34.2 over the 5,000-meter course.

Senior Julian Gary was ninth (16:03.6) and led Madison West to fourth place (182).

“I think it went well,” Gary said. “I’m happy about how I did. It’s a tough course, especially the last (kilometer).”

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Beaver Dam junior Gavin Czarnecki was 15th (16:14.7). Junior Karl Olson was 23rd (16:19.6) for 11th-place Madison La Follette.

Division 3

Patzka, who finished fifth in Division 2 last year, claimed the Division 3 championship in 16:08.7 and became emotional thinking about his prep journey to the title as a senior.

“It means everything,” Patzka said. “My first year coming with my team I was (96th overall). Sophomore year, I didn’t even qualify. I just worked so hard.”

Patzka, who said he’s strong running hills, was in the top 10 but in a pack behind the leaders when he made his move around the two-mile mark in a hilly stretch of the course.

“I know a lot of these guys on flat ground have more speed than me,” said Patzka, who’s a Wisconsin Heights student. “But I knew when it came to hills, I just had to be patient.”

Poynette senior Elias Ritzke finished 13th (16.54.9).

La Crosse Aquinas finished first with 68 points. Brillion was second (96).

Division 2

Shorewood senior Lucas Florsheim was the Division 2 champion in 15:58.8. Madison Edgewood junior Leo Richardson was second (16:11.9), Evansville junior Riley Siltman fourth (16:22.7) and Edgewood senior Jack Brolin fifth (16:33.2).

“It went pretty well for me,” Richardson said. “For the first mile, I was just trying to hang on. I took a little surge in the second mile. I was just hanging on for the third mile.”

Said Brolin: “I left it all out there. That last 200 meters for me summed up my entire four years — just hard work and dedication. So, I’m really happy. … Top five I will take every day of the week.”

Deerfield/Cambridge sophomore Zach Huffman was 15th (16:52.7), Wisconsin Dells senior Pablito Schulz 19th (16:56.6) and Dodgeville/Mineral Point senior Henry Keith 20th (16:58.0).

Valders finished first (78). Green Bay Notre Dame was runner-up (108).

Deerfield/Cambridge placed ninth (212), Jefferson was 12th (278), New Glarus/Monticello 15th (344) and Mount Horeb 16th (347). 

Bucky!

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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.