MHS' boys cross country team is set to shine

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Michael Madoch and Middleton’s boys cross country team are gunning for a second straight state title./File photo

Never has Middleton’s boys’ cross country program been in better shape than it is today.

Never have the Cardinals had this amount of talent, depth and experience.

Never has Middleton enjoyed this level of quality coaching.

Add it all up and it figures to be a memorable season for the Cardinals.

“I'm excited for this season on so many levels and I think we can have another special season,” Middleton coach Brian Finnel said. “We have a great group of guys and this group knows how to get it done. I can't wait!”

The Cardinals proved last season they understood how to get it done.

Middleton won its first WIAA Division 1 state championship since 1992. At state, the Cardinals outdistanced runner-up Stevens Point by 101 points — which was the largest margin of victory in state history.

Middleton followed that by becoming just the third school in Wisconsin history to qualify for the National Meet (NXN) in Portland, Ore., where the Cardinals placed 16th.

“Last year was an unforgettable year, just incredible,” Finnel said. “To win a state title was something the team was working towards for many years. So to win on the 25-year anniversary of the 1992 Middleton state championship team and by the largest margin ever … was icing on the cake.

“(At nationals), I think we were just in awe of the whole experience. The boys got to meet professional runners, coaches, and hung out on the Nike Campus.”

Amazingly, the Cardinals return a group of runners that could be just as good — and perhaps even better.

Middleton brings back five of its seven runners that competed at state, welcomes several other potential standouts to the lineup, and begins the season nationally ranked in several polls.

Senior Caleb Easton is the defending Big Eight Conference champion and placed eighth at the state meet. Just four runners return that beat Easton at state, and he’ll be gunning for individual and team success in his final season.

“I think he's really elevated himself in this last year and has great confidence going into this season,” Finnel said of Easton. “He's worked very hard this offseason and he's poised for a big year. I know he wants to win the state title on an individual and team level and I love that about Caleb. He's a person you can build a team around, because he's super motivated and can get others fired up.”

Senior Michael Madoch placed second at conference last year and 10th at state. Madoch just finished competing at the USA junior triathlon championships, where he placed 11th.

“I really expect Michael to move up the state ranks this season,” Finnel said. “He's a very dedicated and hard-working athlete. We will ease Michael into the season … but he's so strong, I know he won't miss a beat when he races.”

Junior Zach Leffel was Middleton’s fifth runner at state last year and just finished a big track season.

“I think he's primed for a big jump this fall,” Finnel said of Leffel. “I'm very excited to see what he does this season as he brings some great leadership, terrific work ethic, and experience to the team.”

Juniors Braedon Gilles and Egan Johnson both ran at state, as well, and seem ready for breakout seasons.

“Braedon also had a fantastic track season and ended his season with a 4:22 at Wisco Mile,” Finnel said. “He's got a ton of speed and is getting stronger each year in the 5k and I'm very excited at the prospects after some great summer mileage. 

“Egan finished the season in the 9:50's in the 3,200 last spring. Based on the first few weeks of practice, I think he's going to make a big splash this year and we can except big things from him.”

Junior Roman Ystenes didn't compete at state in 2017 and was injured for a large part of the season. However, he was Middleton’s third runner at nationals and should be a major contributor this fall.

“He's definitely one of the most talented athletes I've coached and he's a highly motivated young man,” Finnel said. “In other words, he’s probably one of the most dangerous runners in the state and somewhat unknown, too.”

Senior Frank Thornton competed at state in 2016 and has lowered his times substantially.

“I'm excited for his senior year as he's worked hard to put himself in position to be up there in the conference ranks,” Finnel said.

Junior Peter Hoferle, junior Julian Engle, and senior David Schwartz are all expected to challenge for varsity spots, as well.

In many places, complacency rears its ugly head after a team accomplishes what the Cardinals did a year ago. In Middleton, though, the opposite result seems to have taken place.

“The varsity squad did a great job this summer and prepared very well,” Finnel said. “This was one of those times where I was more concerned that they'd do too much, especially in terms of hard efforts.

“With a squad like this, things need to be balanced out just right and that can be challenging for an eager group. It's going to be hopefully a long season, so we needed to stretch out those efforts more appropriately. Having said that, it's not about August and September, it's all about October and beyond this year.”

Which is why Middleton’s goals are extremely lofty — and certainly attainable.

Middleton will aim to win the ultra-competitive Big Eight Conference title. The Cardinals are gunning to win all of their events. And Middleton hopes to return to nationals and crack the top-10.

But there’s one goal that trumps all others.

“I think the biggest goal is to win the state championship again,” Finnel said. “We definitely have the pieces in place to win, but we need to stay healthy during the season. I think our depth is a tad down from last year and being healthy is going to be a big piece of the puzzle this season.”


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