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Joff Pedretti knows what an imposing force Verona sophomore Jackson Acker can be as a running back.

“Come football season, I wouldn’t want to get in his way,” the Wildcats’ boys track and field coach said. “He’s that fast and he’s that strong.”

In the spring, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Acker uses that speed and strength to be the rarest of track and field athletes: He throws the discus and the shot put while also running sprints.

Friday night, Acker (pronounced ache-er) drew a loud roar from the spectators watching the discus competition at Mansfield Stadium when he unleashed a throw of 173 feet, 8 inches during the preliminary round.

That wound up as the first-place effort at the 51st annual Spartan Invitational boys track and field meet, hosted by Madison Memorial.

It also established a new sophomore record in the Verona program, breaking three-time state champion Luke Sullivan’s sophomore program mark of 170-3 in 1992, Pedretti said.

Verona was the winner with 103 points in the 11-team meet, finishing just ahead of runner-up Stevens Point (101) and third-place Neenah (100).

Verona senior Max Herkert was named the outstanding field event performer.

Herkert cleared 14-6 in winning the pole vault, ahead of Madison Memorial senior Peter Sorge (12-0), who was second. Herkert also placed third in the high jump.

After Acker, Stevens Point senior Gage Haack finished second in the discus with a toss of 158-4. Baraboo sophomore Jake Schaefer was third (155-0) and Madison Memorial senior Colin Kennedy fourth (151-11).

Acker said when he was in middle school, Pedretti thought he should focus on the throws.

“But I wanted to do both, and it’s been great,” Acker said. “I stuck with both. It seems to be working.”

Monona Grove senior Michael Williams-Davis won the shot put with a throw of 53-1½. Madison West senior Patrick Horvath (50-10) finished fourth, Verona senior Dylan Bourne (50-5) was fifth and Acker (50-3½) placed sixth.

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“Not being as big as some of the other guys (in the throws), it’s definitely about technique,” Acker said. “I have been able to prove that.”

Acker finished third in the 100-meter dash in 11.45 seconds behind champion Jayden Joe-Wright, a Verona senior who won the race in :11.24 and runner-up Kelvin Opoku-Appoh, a Madison West senior who finished in :11.30.

Acker was part of the Wildcats’ third-place 400 relay, an event won by Madison West in :43.19.

Pedretti said Acker splits his time on the throws and sprints during practice.

“To be able to do both, you have to be really coordinated,” Pedretti said. “You have to be really skilled to be able to go against the guys who just do this (the throws) all the time.”

Madison East senior Max Loetscher won the “Stan Richter” 1,600 in 4:22.33, which Loetscher said was a personal best.

Loetscher — who has committed to the Ivy League’s Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, for track and cross country — took the lead on the second lap and won comfortably. Stevens Point junior Jake Lepak was second (4:26.83).

“I was trying to get under 4:20,” Loetscher said. “I think I just missed it, but that’s OK. I’m looking forward to sectionals and state.”

Loetscher, who’s recovered from a shin injury that bothered him last summer, said he might try to double in the 3,200 and 1,600 during postseason.

“I feel great,” he said. “I think I’ve done a good job keeping my body healthy and not getting injured. I think (the stiff competition among area distance runners) makes you better, having so many guys to key off of and learn from. I feel like the distance runners, there is such a great community. I rarely meet a distance runner who I don’t think is a great person.”

Racine Horlick junior Mike Weaver, who won the 110 hurdles and was part of his team’s victorious 800 relay, was named the outstanding runner in the meet.

Other winners included Madison Edgewood junior Travis Drumm in the 400 (:51.20); Monona Grove senior Nathan DeVault in the 800 (1:58.67); and Madison East junior Jalonzo Jackson in the long jump (20-8).

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.