Girls cross country team wins state title

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Dennis Semrau/Special to the Times-Tribune
Middleton’s girls cross country team won its first state championship since 2006 last Saturday./Photo submitted

JANESVILLE – There was plenty to celebrate for Middleton’s girls cross country team last Saturday at the Blackhawk Golf Course.

But no one had more to celebrate than junior Lauren Pansegrau.

Not only did Pansegrau become just the second Middleton runner in school history to win an individual state cross country championship, she also led the Cardinals to their fifth state team championship and first since 2006 at the WIAA alternate fall state cross country meet.

“I knew that was our goal going in to this,” Pansegrau said of the team title. “I thought everyone ran really well. They were putting a lot of effort into this race. So we did really well.”

Pansegrau cruised to the individual title, covering the 5,000-meter course in 17 minutes, 7.3 seconds. She is the Cardinals’ first individual state cross country champion since Liz Reusser won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998.

It wasn’t even close as Pansegrau finished nearly 80 seconds ahead of Madison West junior Genevieve Nashold, the 2018 individual state champion, who was second in 18:27.0.

In the process, Pansegrau also shattered the previous state record for 5,000 meters of 17:44.6 set by Onalaska’s Kora Malecek at the 2019 state meet in Wisconsin Rapids.

“She looked awesome,” Middleton girls coach Alexa Richardson said of Pansegrau. “She looked amazing. She came out and did what she said she was going to do. It’s a different course (from Wisconsin Rapids), but, still, she’s very happy. I’m very happy. We’re happy with the whole team.”

Behind Pansegrau’s victory and sophomore Zaira Malloy-Salgado’s third-place finish in 18:45.3, Middleton easily won the team title with 41 points. Oregon placed second with 76 points, while Madison West was third (79) in the eight-team meet.

“This is my first time having a state title as a coach and also the first time having my athlete have a state title,” Richardson said. “So, it’s really exciting for me.

“I was very confident coming out, but at the same time, you never know. Anything can happen. I was just very hopeful that everything would play out the way we’ve been dreaming this whole season, and it did. It even surpassed that.”

Rounding out the top five finishers for the Cardinals were senior Bella Chirafisi, who was seventh in scoring (12th overall) in 19:24.6; sophomore Elizabeth Schwartz, who was 10tht in scoring (18th overall) in 19:53.2; and junior Amalia Morner, who was 20th in scoring (32nd overall) in 20:30.3.

Chirafisi, who was an alternate at the sectional meet, replaced freshman Morley Schroeder, the Cardinals’ seventh runner, in the lineup at state.

“It was awesome to get her back,” Richardson said of Chirafisi. “She’s such a calm spirit for the team. She is always very relaxed, very positive and very straight forward. It was nice to have her back in the team atmosphere, too.” 

For Chirafisi, who competed in cross country just two years in high school, it was a fitting end to her prep career.

“I was super excited to be able to compete. I wasn’t able to be part of the sectional group,” said Chirafisi, who missed the sectional meet when she was in Richmond, Va. for a triathlon competition. “But the girls were so consistent throughout the whole season. They were constantly dropping insane amounts of time. I knew they could do it. I was super happy for them.

“Then coming back this week and getting to train with them and get the group back together was really exciting. We did really well.”

The rest of the Cardinals’ lineup included freshman Meredith Pansegrau, who was 35th in 20:34.6, and junior Natalie Ahn, who finished 49th in 21:04.1.

“I’m so excited. I’ve been a coach for a little while, and we’ve been creeping up and creeping up,” said Richardson, who is in her fifth season as head coach. “It was such a weird season and so it’s nice to be able to come out with both of those titles.

“But it was also nice for them. They’ve worked so hard. They’re just very excited, one, that they got to actually compete, and two, they came out and did what they said they were going to do. All fall season, they said that they were going to come and win. We executed the plan.”

With Chirafisi the only senior in the starting lineup, the best could be yet to come for the Cardinals.

“It’s really cool to see how everything’s developed over time,” Malloy-Salgado said. “Nobody had any expectations for what the season was going to look like. To see it turn out at this huge meet is really pleasing. It’s really remarkable. I never really thought about running on a championship team.”

Lauren Pansegrau completed an individual goal of winning a state title — one that had been on her bucket list since she finished second to Malecek in Division 1 in the fall of 2019.

But more importantly, Panesgrau helped Middleton accomplish its season-long team goal.

“I was just thinking about running,” Pansegrau said. “I was just going for place, not time. It was fun with all the spectators around here.”

Malloy-Salgado, who moved to Middleton from Iowa before her freshman year, agreed.

“This is one of the first meets that actually felt like a meet,” said Malloy-Salgado, breaking into a wide smile. “The other meets, there weren’t that many teams. There weren’t that many spectators allowed.

“But running this race and having lines of spectators cheering for you, I was so happy to feel that we finally had cross country back.”

Pansegrau said she wasn’t sure if there would be an opportunity to compete this year after Middleton opted out of the fall season due to COVID-19 restrictions in Dane County.

The Cardinals, though, just had to wait a little longer to improve upon their fourth-place team finish at the 2019 state meet.

“It’s just really exciting getting the opportunity to run here,” Pansegrau said. “No one knew that we were going to get a chance for a meet like this. I was just really happy it all worked out.”

The previous week, Pansegrau became the first state high school girl to run sub-17 minutes while winning the sectional title in Cross Plains.

Pansegrau said she was aware of the state-meet record time but wasn’t focused on it.

“I wasn’t really going for time in this race. I was mostly just going for place,” she said. “I just wanted to feel relaxed while I was running, but it’s really exciting to see I did that.”

Pansegrau was also scheduled to compete along with Chirafisi on Saturday evening at the Distance Night in Palatine (Ill.) track and field meet. Pansegrau completed her trifecta of titles when she won the main 3,200-meter race in Palatine in 10:13.91, edging Onalaska rival Kora Malecek (10:17.02).

“It’s really exciting,” Pansegrau said of her day even before competing in her first track and field meet of the season. “I was just happy getting an opportunity to run cross country this year.”

Richardson said the conditions, which included temperatures in the low 50s with little to no wind, were perfect.

“You could not ask for a better day,” she said. “Today felt like a real meet.

“Even though Lauren didn’t have anyone up close to her, for everyone it felt like a real meet. All of the other girls were excited to have some competition and get their nerves back a little back, get the jitters. I think it really pushed all of them to do what they did today.”


WIAA Alternate Fall Season

State Cross Country Meet

May 8


Team scores: Middleton, 41; Oregon, 76; Madison West 79; De Pere, 87; Eau Claire Memorial, 108; Fond du Lac, 162; Oshkosh West, 165; New Glarus/Monticello, 174.

Top 10 finishers: 1, Lauren Pansegrau, Mid., 17:07.3; 2, Genevieve Nashold, MW, 18:27.0; 3, Zaira Malloy-Salgado, Mid., 18:45.3; 4, Madelynn McIntyre, Brod./Juda, 18:51.7; 5, Dasha Vorontsov, Ore., 18:53.0; 6, Katie Rassbach, Eau Claire No., 18:58.1; 7, Jillian Heth, ECM, 19:01.6; 8, Hope Dragseth, DP, 19:11.1; 9, Natalie Rhodes,  Mad. Mem., 19:11.6; 10, Annika Cutforth, Mad. Mem., 19:13.7.     

Middleton: 1, Lauren Pansegrau, 17:07.3; 3, Zaira Malloy-Salgado, 18:45.3; 7/12, Bella Chirafisi, 19:24.6; 10/18, Elizabeth Schwartz, 19:53.2; 20/32, Amalia Morner, 20:30.3; 35, Meredith Pansegrau, 20:34.6; 49, Natalie Ahn, 21:04.1.


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