Middleton enjoys a gold rush

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s boys cross country team won its second WIAA Division 1 state title in three years last Saturday./Photo submitted

WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Brian Finnel’s message was simple. Executing it was far more challenging.

Finnel, Middleton’s boys cross country coach, told his team before last Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state meet that everyone had to try performing like they were the Cardinals’ No. 1 runner. Finnel stressed that if they all ran to that level, the Cardinals could surprise and win a state championship.

Amazingly, that’s exactly what happened.

Middleton placed five runners in the top-25 and upset favored Stevens Point to win its second state title in three years and the third in school history.

The Cardinals finished with 104 points, while Stevens Point was second at 116. Hortonville (179), Madison West (182) and Oconomowoc (183) rounded out the top five at the 20-team race held at The Ridges Golf Course.

“I’m feeling really proud of the guys,” Finnel said. “What a resilient, tenacious group. In my eight years of coaching, this group was definitely the most resilient, that wanted it most. It speaks to the character of the guys.”

Sophomore Griffin Ward, the only non-senior in Middleton’s top-five, was thrilled how the Cardinals executed Finnel’s plan.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have all been No. 1,” Ward said. “We just had to go out there and run like No. 1s together.”

And that’s exactly what the Cardinals did.

Middleton was shorthanded due to late-season injuries. But the Cardinals still had a remarkable group of seniors to lean on.

Seniors Braedon Gilles, Egan Johnson and Zach Leffel all ran at state on the 2017 team that brought home a title. That trio, along with fellow senior Peter Hoferle, helped Middleton finish second at state last year — a finish that left the group somewhat unfulfilled.

“Last year, we didn’t have a good ending,” Gilles said. “We wanted a good ending for our senior season. I knew we could do it. I knew I could do it. I was tired of losing — I just ran all-out there.”

He sure did.

Middleton was without No. 1 runner Roman Ystenes, who suffered a knee injury late in the year and didn’t compete. So without Ystenes, Finnel implored everyone on his team to act like they were No. 1.

The Cardinals listened.

Gilles finished the 5,000-meter course in 16 minutes, 19.1 seconds and set a personal-best time by nearly 24 seconds. Gilles also became the sixth Middleton runner to be the Cardinals’ top finisher this season.

“The best race I’ve had all season,” Gilles said of his performance. “We knew at conference we’d have to do it without (Ystenes) and we knew we could — it was just a matter of doing it.”

Johnson, a steady presence who was 21st at state in 2018, finished 21st again in 16:29.8.

“It feels good to come back after that narrow defeat last year and pull off a victory,” Johnson said. “We knew we could do better than that, and we did.”

Ward, who played soccer as a freshman, made the switch to cross country this fall and was a huge addition to the lineup. Ward finished 23rd overall at state in 16:33.6.

“I’m glad I made the move from soccer to cross country,” Ward said. “They’re totally different. Cross country feels more like a team sport than soccer does.

“As a sophomore with seniors, it’s been great. You’re running alongside your teammates, and you’re pushing and pulling each other. You’re all in it together. You’re all suffering together. You’re all finishing together.”

Hoferle was 23rd overall in 16:34.5 and Leffel was 25th in 16:38.7. Middleton’s top five runners were separated by just 19.6 seconds.

Sophomore Ethan Mladucky battled through a calf injury and finished 89th overall (17:29.9), while junior Ryan Schoolmeyer was 97th (17:34.8).

“We know what it’s like to come in second-best and to lose, and we didn’t want that again,” Johnson said. “We’ve got more people we can be resilient with, and also the mentality of resiliency.”

The Cardinals were certainly that — and then some.

Middleton’s season was at a crossroads after a disappointing performance at the Roy Griak Invite in late September. The Cardinals finished seventh that day at a star-studded event, and afterwards, Finnel and his team talked for 20 minutes about what they needed to do to get headed in the right direction.

“That was the turning point for us,” Finnel said. “From there on, it was, we just have to trust in what we’re doing and execute.”

Middleton did just that at state, and completed a remarkable run for the senior class.

That group was part of state titles in 2017 and 2019, and a runner-up finish in 2018. That’s easily the greatest three-year run in school history.

“I’m most proud of this (title), absolutely,” Finnel said. “They should be absolutely elated to win this, because on paper we weren’t supposed to win. These guys came in without a lot of pressure and just went out there. Of our three podium finishes, this is the one I’m most proud of, for sure.”

 

Nov. 2

WIAA Division 1 state meet

Team scores — Middleton 104; Stevens Point 116; Hortonville 179; Madison West 182; Oconomowoc 183; Hartland Arrowhead 191; Brookfield East 211; Germantown 223; Green Bay Preble 243; De Pere 258; Madison La Follette 264; River Falls 293; Slinger 294; Kenosha Indian Trail 302; West Allis Hale 328; Milwaukee Hamilton 385; New Richmond 411; West Bend West 420; Greendale 424; Westosha Central 456.

Top 20 individuals — 1, Krause, Hor, 15:34; 2, Grotenhuis, Sli, 15:43; 3, Kuhlenbeck, MH, 15:44; 4, Truchon, WAH, 15:46; 5, Holmes, Nicolet, 15:48; 6, Richey, Kimberly, 15:55; 7, Scherer, Oshkosh North, 15:56; 8, Hartman, Wausau West, 15:56; 9, Gary, MW, 16:04; 10, Wesley, HA, 16:07; 11, Vance, Oco, 16:07; 12, Schnoor, Ger, 16:11; 13, Kain, Muskego, 16:14; 14, Bourget, SP, 16:15; 15, Czarnecki, Beaver Dam, 16:15; 16, Martinez-Ort, Whitefish Bay, 16:16; 17, McKee, Marshfield, 16:16; 18, Lopez, DP, 16:17; 19, Shea, RF, 16:18; 20, Lepak, SP, 16:18.

Middleton: 22, Gilles 16:19; 35, Johnson 16:30; 38, Ward 16:34; 39, Hoferle 16:35; 44, Leffel 16:39.

 

 

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