Girls cross country team has high hopes

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton junior Lauren Pansegrau finished second at state in 2019./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

When you saw them last, Middleton’s girls cross country was completing a magical, marvelous season in which they finished fourth at the WIAA Division 1 state meet.

It’s been a long, grueling path for the Cardinals to make it back to the cross country trails. But that’s exactly where Middleton found itself Monday afternoon when it kicked off its alternate-fall season.

“This season will obviously be different considering not all schools will be competing,” Middleton coach Alexa Richardson said. “However, I expect great things to come. I know the girls do too. This group of girls is very resilient and are good at looking at what the future holds and at the whole picture rather than letting the present obstacles overcome them.”

Getting to this point certainly wasn’t easy and took both patience and perseverance.

It was mid-March, 2020, when the WIAA canceled the remaining games in the girls and boys state basketball tournaments due to COVID-19 concerns. Shortly thereafter, spring sports were canceled, as well.

The WIAA proceeded with fall sports — and also gave schools the option of postponing those sports until the spring. Middleton picked the fall-to-spring plan, but Richardson & Co. were left in limbo for several months as Dane County kept things locked down.

Finally in early January, Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims and Superintendent Dana Monogue gave winter sports the green light to begin. That also ensured the fall to spring sports season would take place.

“My excitement level was an 11 out of 10,” Richardson said of learning Middleton would have a season. “It was quite overwhelming at first, with all of the unknowns related to COVID, but (boys coach Brian) Finnel and I knew we could make it work and started brainstorming immediately.”

Junior Lauren Pansegrau will lead the Cardinals this spring. At the 2019 state meet, Pansegrau finished second individually and seems poised for even bigger and better this spring.

“Lauren recently traveled to Arizona to race a 3200-meter, where she placed first in her heat with a time of 10:19,” Richardson said.

Sophomore Zaira Malloy-Salgado was Middleton’s second-highest finisher at state in 2019, coming in 18th overall. Senior Bella Chirafisi was 43rd at state, while junior Maddie Ruszkewicz was 57th.

“All four have been training together consistently and have been able to increase their training levels,” Richardson said. “Bella has recently committed to Triathlons in college, so she has been traveling the country training and competing for triathlons as well as keeping her endurance fitness up.

“Maddie and Zaira have stayed around the Madison area, however have been training together almost every day and have been extremely motivated to get through the winter to the spring season.”

COVID restrictions have prevented Richardson from spending much time with her newcomers. Still, the group of Leona Frinzi, Natalie Ahn, Elizabeth Schwartz, Brooke Mendenhall, Amalia Morner and Meredith Pansegrau show great promise.

“They have all been training almost every day over the winter and have really stepped up their motivation and commitment to the team,” Richardson said. “I expect these six ladies to be very competitive this year!”

Approximately 82% of the state competed in cross country last fall. That means there will be far fewer teams — and potential opponents — for the Cardinals.

The season has also been shortened and will end in early-May.

Richardson will have extremely high hopes, though, no matter who Middleton faces between now and then.

“I have high expectations for the girls coming into this spring alternate cross country season,” Richardson said. “At state, 2019, we placed fourth. After that race, the girls had it in their head that their goal would be to win state in 2020, and I think that was a very realistic goal especially knowing the dedication these girls bring to the table.”

No matter what happens over the next six weeks, though, Richardson and the Cardinals are just thrilled to have a season.

“This last year was full of ups, downs, weekly or even daily plan changes, and a lot of rejection due to COVID,” she said. “Coach Finnel and I would come out with plans, and then the COVID restrictions would change, so we would rehash our plans, and then the restrictions would change again!

“However, both of us have remained patient though this process knowing our athletes are determined to have a good cross country season, regardless of what time of year it may end up being.”

That time is now.

And the Cardinals can’t wait.



3/24 — at Verona

Boys 2 p.m., Girls 3 p.m.

3/27 — at Sun Prairie

Boys 10 a.m., Girls Noon

4/1 — at Stevens Point

Varsity 4 and 4:30 p.m.; JV 5 and 5:40 p.m. 

4/7 — HOME vs. Beloit and Wisconsin Heights, TBD

4/10 — at Janesville, TBD

4/17 — at GB Preble 

Boys Varsity - 10:30 a.m., JV - 11 a.m., JV2 - 11:30 a.m. 

Girls Varsity - Noon, Girls JV - 12:30 p.m., Girls JV2 -  1:10 p.m.

4/24 — at TBD

5/ 1 — Sectionals at TBD

5/ 8 — State at TBD


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