Boys XC team gunning for second straight state title

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MTT News's picture
Adam Hatlan/For the Times-Tribune
Middleton's Caleb Easton (middle) won the Madison West Sectional on Oct. 20./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It’s October.

And that means three things: the weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing on the trees, and Middleton’s boys’ cross country team is heading to state.

Led by top overall finisher Caleb Easton and four runners in the top-eight, Middleton easily secured the WIAA Division 1 Madison West Sectional last Saturday with a score of 31 points at Lake Farm Park in Madison and earned a trip to state. The state cross country meet is Saturday, at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.

Middleton, the defending WIAA Division 1 state champion, won a second straight sectional title and will be headed to state for the sixth consecutive year.

“I have been here for six years and we have made state all six years,” said Middleton coach Brian Finnel, who spent his first three years at MHS as an assistant and the last three as the Cardinals’ head coach. “Consistency is great and it happens because of our athletes’ desire to work hard.

“Each year the boys have embraced that concept better since I have been here and each year we keep improving up the state ranks. To be the best, you need to run for the whole year and not just two or four months of the year when the season occurs. All the work and miles put in the offseason is where champions are made.”

Middleton dominated the rest of the field, with rival Madison West finishing in second with 68 points and Monona Grove in third with 81 points. Middleton’s 31 points beat its sectional score from last year when it finished with 34 and later won a state title.

“We came into the season with high expectations, and we’ve had some moments where we’ve struggled,” said Middleton assistant coach Andy Hartman.

Hartman keeps a wristband from the Roy Griak Invitational from earlier in the season to remind the team of a time they struggled, and that nothing will be handed to them.

“At the Roy Griak meet, Madison West beat us that race and we were a little salty about it,” Hartman said. “So we wanted to keep a reminder for myself and the rest of the coaching staff that we always have work to do.”

Middleton was without junior Roman Ystenes, who was nursing a sore Achilles. Ystenes had placed second at the Big Eight Conference meet a week earlier and is one of the top runners on the Middleton team.

“Roman was out today because his Achilles was bothering him. We are hopeful that it is small enough and that he will race the state meet next weekend,” Finnel said. “I feel if today was state, he would have raced. However, time will tell and we should have better idea in a few days on his status.”

Easton, a Northern Arizona recruit, was the top overall finisher with a time of 16:06 and won sectionals for a second straight year. Easton, who also finished in 16:06 at sectionals last year, gave Middleton an individual champion at sectionals for a fourth straight year.

Easton finished ahead of second-place finisher Max Loetscher of Madison East (16:10) and third-place James Giftos from Monona Grove (16:20). Easton will now be running in his fourth state meet on Saturday.

“We knew it was going to be really windy, so we kind of wanted to pack it up near the front. The main goal was to just win as a team and qualify and go through to state,” Easton said. “We had a pretty big week training, so my legs were a little tired coming in. With the weather it was kind of hectic and running on tired legs, we were happy to get the job done.”

Finnel has seen the type of leader Easton has become. 

“Gus Newcomb won sectionals as a junior and senior and now Caleb did the same. Gus was a great role model for the team when it came to work ethic and that really rubbed off on a lot of the boys,” Finnel said. “I know it's the same now with Caleb and our current team and as a coach it's awesome because the next wave of guys see what it takes to be at the level. He's worked very hard to be one of the best in the state and I'm excited to see his final cross country race.

Middleton junior Zach Leffel  was fourth overall in 16:24, while junior Egan Johnson was fifth (16:24), junior Peter Hoferle was eighth (16:32) and junior Braedon Gilles  was 13th (16:46).

Senior Frank Thornton (16:54, 17th), and senior Michael Madoch (17:13, 24th) ran strong races, but only the scores from the top five finishers on each team count.

“We’re really proud of the perseverance in the face of some tough weather,” Hartman said. “We’re not preparing for state all year- we’re preparing for the next race every single week. I think that’s the focus we had coming in here and I think they did a great job of executing the race they knew they could run.”

Finnel agreed.

“The team ran terrific today. Peter had a sensational race today, he stepped it up and had his best race of the year,” Finnel said. “I was extremely pleased with their ability to pack it up front and control the race from the start.”

Middleton now hopes to repeat as state champs after dominating the field in 2017. Middleton won that meet with a score of 76 points — 101 points better than second place Stevens Point.

“I expect Madison West to be up there with us, but I'm also anticipating Oconomowoc, Stevens Point, and Neenah to challenge us,” Finnel said. “We will need our depth to be on full display to win and if we can put five scorers under 16:40, that will bode well for us.”

Easton reflected on what he and the team has had to do to get to where they are. 

“A lot of our success is from adopting that ‘consistency factor.’ You really have to get a group of kids that buy-in to it and really want to be good and everything else kind of follows,” Easton said. “(Past Middleton runners) Gus Newcomb and Perrin Hagge did a good job of creating the team culture of the hard work ethic, and that’s carried down to us.

“I’m excited to give it my all one more time in a Middleton jersey on the cross country course. It’s kind of sad with it being the last time. It’s bittersweet that it’s coming to an end, but I’m really excited and I think we’re going to do some really good things.”

Finnel also reflected on what it meant to win sectionals and head to Wisconsin Rapids to defend their title.

“We are heading into state as the number one ranked team. We don't feel being the favorite is pressure. We know we have earned that ranking based on our body of work,” said Finnel. “There's a lot of experience on this team so we know what the big stage is all about and that gives us confidence heading into next weekend. The team is starting to peak at the right time and it's going to be an exciting state meet.”

Team scores: Middleton 31, Madison West 68, Monona Grove 81, Madison East 103, DeForest 157, Verona Area 176, Madison Memorial 180, Sauk Prairie 204, Tomah 234, Baraboo 262

Top 10 individuals: 1. Caleb Easton, MID, 16:06, 2. Max Loetscher, ME, 16:10, 3. James Giftos, MG, 16:20, 4. Zach Leffel, MID, 16:24, 5. Egan Johnson, MID, 16:26, 6. Jacob Burgener, DEF, 16:27, 7. Erik Nuenninghoff, MW, 16:31, 8. Peter Hoferle, MID, 16:32, 9. Reed Anderson, MG, 16:33, 10. Alex Grabowski, DEF, 16:34.

Middleton results: 1. Easton 16:06, 4. Leffel 16:24, 5. Johnson 16:26, 8. Hoferle 16:32, 17. Thornton 16:54, 24. Madoch 17:13



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