Boys XC team chasing another title

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Rob Reischel
Roman Ystenes and Middleton’s boys cross country team are gunning for their second state title in three years./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Brian Finnel is in the process of building Middleton’s boys cross country program into a dynasty.

Finnel led the Cardinals to the 2017 WIAA Division 1 state championship. Middleton followed that up with a second place showing at state in 2018.

And Finnel expects nothing less than another run at a state title this season. Middleton begins its season Saturday at the Verona Invitational.

“Yes, absolutely,” said Finnel, who has a school-record 82 kids in the program. “We have some big-time experience on our side, arguably the most veteran group in the state at this level. 

“I think it will help temper the emotions compared to having a younger squad. These guys know what to expect in all facets of our season. They have a group sense of what they can do if they work together and are a confident group.”

With good reason.

Middleton returns four runners that earned first- or second-team all-Big Eight Conference honors last year and five that competed at the prestigious Nike Cross Nationals last December.

That combination of talent and experience is one reason Middleton will open the year ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 28 in the nation by DyeStat.

“I know rankings don’t mean much at this point,” Finnel said. “But that’s pretty neat to get that type of recognition.”

There’s no question it’s deserved.

Senior Roman Ystenes was the Big Eight runner-up in 2018, but didn’t run at state due to an Achilles injury. Had Ystenes been in the lineup at state — and put up a time similar to what he had been running — Middleton would have almost certainly claimed a second straight state title.

Ystenes has battled the injury bug, though, the last two years. And if the Cardinals are going to claim a second title in three years, they need to keep Ystenes healthy.

“Roman is very key for us,” Finnel said. “He’s displayed some great performances over the years, but has also had a lot of injuries the last two years. 

“He’s overcome a great deal of adversity, so I’m just really hopeful he’s healthy all season. Right now, he is coming in good shape, so I’m hopeful it’s going to be a fun season for him.”

Senior Egan Johnson was fifth at sectionals last year and was the Cardinals second-fastest runner at state. After a big track season last spring, Johnson seems poised for a terrific senior cross country season.

“Egan showed a lot of growth last year and came on strong in track, especially,” Finnel said. “I think this year we can expect terrific things from him as he’s had a great summer leading into the season. Egan has not been one to make excuses, he just makes time and gets things done.”

Senior Peter Hoferle was the Cardinals’ third-fastest runner at state last year and was eighth at sectionals.

“Peter had a breakout junior year and he’s put in a fair amount of miles to prepare for the season,” Finnel said. “I think he’s primed for a big senior year.”

Senior Zach Leffel was Middleton’s No. 4 runner at state last year after finishing fourth at sectionals the previous week.

“Zach is a very determined individual who puts in a great deal of time into distance running,” Finnel said. “He’s shown much growth over the years and developed into an awesome leader for the team. 

“He’s very versatile as a distance runner, as he’s run very fast in the 800 and 1600 and he can crush the 5K, too. His track and cross country performances rank very high in the state. I think he’s poised to have a stellar senior year.”

And senior Braedon Gilles is coming off a season where he was Middleton’s fifth-fastest runner at state after finishing 13th at sectionals.

“Braedon displayed arguably the best speed of the team from last spring in track and is coming in great shape for the cross country season,” Finnel said. “He’s a veteran leader who has been clutch for us over the years. He’s a guy we can count and can expect great things from during his senior campaign.”

In all, Finnel has enormous expectations for this quintet. 

“I think our five key returners should be setting their sights on being all-conference runners in the Big Eight,” Finnel said. “They have the experience, as all five have been to (Nike Cross Nationals) and competed at various big meets. 

“They put in the time and effort to prepare for the season because they are, simply put, highly motivated. I’m beyond excited to see how this group performs since they have embraced the hard work mentality, set big goals, and aren’t afraid of a challenge.”

Middleton has several other gifted runners that will be vying for varsity positions.

Junior Max Foland ran cross country his freshman season, switched to volleyball last year, and is back following a big spring in track and field.

“Max was one of the top 400 runners on the (track) team and was a key member of the 4x400 state team,” Finnel said. “He’s a very hard worker who has big goals and can really help the team.”

Sophomore Griffin Ward played soccer last year. Like Foland, though, Ward had a big track season last spring and is now trying his hand at cross country.

“Griffin ran distance in track as freshman this past spring and really just kept improving each week,” Finnel said. “Eventually he ran a sub 4:40, 1600. He will step into the varsity lineup at the Verona Invite after having a great time trial race last week.”

Junior Ryan Schollmeyer and senior transfer student Santiago Romero are both in the running for varsity spots, as well. Others such as seniors Julian Engle, Jackson LeRoy and Aniket Ahuja, juniors Blake Thor, Thomas Blumer, Ian Bohachek and sophomore Ethan Mladucky all could crack the varsity lineup, as well.

Finnel expects Madison West to be the Cardinals’ greatest challenger in the Big Eight and at sectionals. And if Middleton makes it back to state — as expected — Finnel expects Stevens Point to challenge.

“I really believe it’s going to be battle between us and (Stevens Point) for the state title,” Finnel said. “They have a very talented group coming back this year, and knowing how that program operates they will be ready to go from the start. But of course, it’ll be interesting to see who else worked hard over the summer to prepare for the season.”

Finnel knows his team has done exactly that.

And that could mean big things await.

“I’m excited for this group of boys as they have collectively done a great job in our workouts up to this point,” Finnel said. “I feel this group has the possibilities of doing something extra special and quite memorable this season. It just has that feel this year. 

“I’m looking forward to the spending time with the team this year. We have 24 seniors out for the team and they have been truly remarkable to get to know and it’ll be very weird not having this group at this time next fall. 

“The seniors have just established this new persona and leadership to the team, unmatched by any of the other groups I have coached. I think we are all curious to see how the first big meet at Verona goes. I know there’s still work to be done, but I’m intrigued for what lies ahead.”



Seniors: Aniket Ahuja, Conner Bills, Kevin Chang, Alex Coffini, Daniel Ross, Daniel DeJarlais, Julian Engle, Braedon Gilles, Henry Hartung, Peter Hoferle, Stephen Holland, Egan Johnson, Tommy Kreiwaldt, Zach Leffel, Jackson LeRoy, Ethan Lin, Caleb Radtke, Tommy Richards, Santiago Romero, Rohan Shah, Stephen Shi, Abhav Soni, Owen Szot, Roman Ystenes.

Juniors: Alex Ashley, Thomas Blumer, Ian Bohachek, Elliott Buxton, Jeremy Cho, Sam Eggert, Max Foland, Christian Glassford, David Hurd, Ethan Konietzko, Alex LaCour, Max Maeder, Alex Marrione, Aiden Meinholz, Logan Pinka, Ryan Schollmeyer, Tyler Theis, Blake Thor, Charles Wood.

Sophomores: Zaid Arkhagha, Malachi Brown, Ethan Ewer, Jacob Folsom, Jack Gilles, Jack Hartman, Leo Jacoby, Danny Johnson, Evan Kratochwill,  Jacob Mandlebrot, Mihir Manna, Ethan Mladucky, Aayush Mohan, Brandon Novak, Zachary Ostreng, Will Schultz, Alex Seaborg, Erich Streuber, Liam Utter, Griffin Ward.

Freshmen: James Baker, Cooper Bartkowiak, Mason Bauer, Will Cleary, Joseph Cristoforo, Tim Drogobetskiy, Bryson Dunn, Anuj Gali, Gabe Jakubczak, Riley Johnson, Nathan Kurtz, Reed Madden, Dean Montour, Michael Mounalled, Brock Paulisse, Levi Rudolph, Marcio Sierra, Marc Wareiug, Parker Worden.




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