LA CROSSE — Area storylines were like the sunshine Friday at Veterans Memorial Stadium on day one of the WIAA state track and field championships: plentiful.
And perhaps the one with the biggest twist was authored by Waupun’s Josh McLinn, who ran in the slow heat of the Division 2 boys 800 meters and thought there was no chance he would end up on the medal stand as he watched the fast heat unfold.
“I was looking at the times and I didn’t think I got it — I was kind of bummed out — and then I was watching the screen as I was walking off the track and I looked over and my name popped up in sixth place and my jaw just dropped,” he said. “It was the happiest moment ever.”
Who can blame him for such jubilation? After all, he came in seeded 11th with his time from sectionals of 1 minute, 59.70 seconds and needed every last ounce of sweat in order to take sixth Friday in 1:58.77 — less than a quarter second-better than seventh-place Tommy Martin from New Berlin West for the last spot on the awards stand.
“I don’t know where it came from to be honest. I just wanted it — I wanted to be on the podium,” he said. “I kind of visualized before the race that I wanted to get up front and stay up front — I wanted a good first lap so I could kind of pace myself and go from there for the second lap.”
McLinn certainly wasn’t alone in making noise Friday, though — there was also Dodgeland sophomore Rachel Parbs filling in as an alternate in the Division 3 girls 3,200 relay and helping the Trojans take fourth; Wayland junior Gracien Jules taking fifth in the Division 3 boys discus while increasing the school record he set last week at sectionals; and Dodgeland’s Zach Schmitt and Meygan Benzing both adding to their career medal total by taking third in the Division 3 boys pole vault and Division 3 girls 3,200.
“My heart was racing before the race — I was really nervous,” said Parbs, who joined Jada Kohn, Kaitlin Pickart and Benzing on the way to a time of 10:06.89. “But my teammates calmed me down, and once I got up there it was really just, ‘Run as hard as I can.’”
Parbs had to fill in at sectionals last week as well because Jamie Huber came down with mono the day before the meet.
“I just kind of put it all out there at sectionals and it gave me confidence that I could do well at state,” Parbs said.
She and the others on the team also had a little added motivation since Huber was out.
“We definitely ran harder for her,” Kohn said. “She said she’d be with us in spirit.”
Meanwhile, Jules was busy making more history. And then making it again. And then just for good measure, one more time.
Six days after eclipsing Hugh Walton’s 39-year-old school record of 145 feet, 1 inch with a toss of 146-6, he had a toss of 148-1 during prelims and then a few minutes after that a better throw of 149-9, also in prelims.
“I was really pleased with that so I was like, ‘Let me just go full effort, all-out and see how it goes,’” he said of feeling like he was playing with house money in the finals. “I just tried to rip off my arm — put it all out there, you know?”
It worked. He had one last record throw in the tank, spinning one out a distance of 152-4 to finish comfortably ahead of sixth-place Nick Vander Grinten from Deerfield (149-5) and seventh-place Austin Moser from Webster (147-7).
Jules was seeded ninth in the discus, so the move up to fifth was welcome, but he immediately had to head over to the triple jump pit and couldn’t duplicate his throwing success. He took 15th in the triple jump with his best mark of 39-5.
The Trojans’ Schmitt couldn’t match his PR of 13-9 set at sectionals but took third nonetheless by clearing 13 feet — with no misses at any height before failing in his three attempts at 13-6.
“It was all right. I would have liked to have done better, but it was hot conditions — I have no regrets,” said the senior, who also took third at state in the pole vault a year ago.
Keeping a clear mind was key for him, he said.
“I just had to keep it in my head, ‘It’s just another track meet,’” he said. “The only thing that gets to me every year is the heat, but there’s nothing you can do about that — everyone’s in it.”
By the time Benzing ran again Friday, the sun had dipped pretty low in the sky and temperatures had dropped a good 10 degrees. The conditions were perfect for her to bookend her day with another medal — this one by taking sixth in the 3,200 with a time of 11:36.15.
She was running in eighth or ninth most of the way, not far back of the next three but with ground to gain all the same.
And she gained it right before the final backstretch, passing two runners and never looking back.
“It felt good but it hurt; I knew I had to work for it,” she said. “But I was like, ‘If I’m hurting, I know they’re hurting, too. So I’ve just got to push it and make them work for it if they want it.’”
Still, she was in no mood to let them actually earn it.
“I was just kind of running scared and hoping I could get in quick and just be done,” she said of her kick around the final turn and down the homestretch.
The two medals for Benzing Friday upped her career total to six after she medaled in the 3,200 relay and 1,600 last year and 3,200 relay and 3,200 two years ago as a freshman.
Rounding out the list of successes for the area Friday was Mayville sophomore Alaina Wagner, who sprinted to a PR time of :26.01 in the prelims of the Division 2 girls 200 to claim eighth place and a spot in today’s finals.
“I just really kept calm,” she said. “I was really nervous waiting all day for it, but I was like, ‘You know what, I’m just going to give it all I got.’ And I did.”
Several other area athletes were in action Friday, though they either failed to medal or failed to advance to today’s finals.
They include Waupun’s Syd Flier (11th, 36-0¾) and Mayville’s Sydney Schultz (16th, 33-5) in the Division 2 girls shot put; Mayville’s Division 2 3,200 relay team of Mallory Firari, Amber Schraufnagel, Samantha Falstad and Faith Danner (16th, 10:22.27); Dodgeland’s Evan Finger in the Division 3 boys 800 (14th, 2:05.81), Dalton Klentz in the Division 3 boys pole vault (no height) and the team of Dan Moynihan, Cameron Nelson, Finger and Kyle Engels in the prelims of the Division 3 boys 800 relay (13th, 1:35.99); and Fall River’s Josh Oliver, Damen Salzman, Cole Maloney and Tanner Liebenthal, also in the prelims of the Division 3 boys 800 relay (12th, 1:35.80).