SPASH boys cross country earns 10th consecutive trip to state
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) boys cross
country team won its WIAA Division 1 Sectional at Standing Rocks County Park
Saturday, Oct. 24, to earn a trip to state for the 10th year in a row.
The fifth-ranked Panthers totaled 45 points to beat D.C.
Everest (65) and Wausau East (69) for the Sectional Title and advance to the
WIAA Division 1 State Meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids at Saturday, Oct. 31, for the 37th time
in the last 39 years.
“We’re the only ranked team in our Sectional, so we’re
heavily favored to win this, and we know coming in that we are going to
qualify,” said SPASH boys cross country coach Donn Behnke. “We just sent our
kids out to run some of their better times this season, and we didn’t run very
well time-wise, or place-wise for that matter.
“So that was disappointing,” he said. “I’m a little puzzled
by the fact that we’re pretty healthy and pretty well-rested, and still this
wasn’t a real strong performance for us.”
After winning the WIAA Division 1 State Title in 2013 and
finishing as the State Runner-up last year, SPASH returned only two runners
from last year’s State Meet in junior Derek Franz and sophomore Liam Belson,
but went on to win its 28th consecutive Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) Title
Oct. 17 to head into the Sectional Saturday.
There, freshman Ricky Perez was second overall in a time of
16:04.3 to lead the Panthers, while Derek Franz finished fourth.
“Obviously our No. 1 runner ran very, very well,” said
Behnke. “Ricky is a talented young man, and Derek Franz ran very well as our
No. 2 runner.
“Ricky’s time is within 11 seconds of the course record, set
by (Ben) Eidenschink from Nekoosa, who’s now a Division 1 runner at Madison,”
he said. “So it’s a pretty good way to start your career as a freshman.”
Belson came in 10th, followed by sophomore Johnny Hyland
(11th), junior Mark Stoskopf (18th), freshman Chad Franz (20th) and senior Sam
Smith (53rd), as SPASH totaled 45 points to win the Sectional Title, while D.C.
Everest (65) finished second over Wausau East (69) to also advance to state.
“Liam is struggling with some low iron, we’re trying to get
him healthy, and Johnny Hyland ran reasonably well; he’s been real consistent
for us,” said Behnke. “But our guys really didn’t do much in the last mile of
“They were in pretty good position at the mile, looked OK at
two miles, and then usually we run well in the last mile, we just didn’t today,
which was a bit of concern,” he said. “We sure didn’t look like the
fifth-ranked team in the state today.”
The Panthers have been ranked among the Top Eight in
Division 1 all season and entered the State Meet in the
Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Poll behind top-ranked Madison La
Follette, West Bend West, Kimberly and Milwaukee Marquette.
“We ran a really good race at Manitowoc (Sept. 26), and we
really felt that we were a potential Top Five team at that point,” said Behnke.
“We’ve been ranked fifth, and we didn’t run terribly well at Stoughton (Oct.
3), but we ran pretty well last week, so we began to feel that maybe with a
good effort, we could be a Top Five team.
“I think we’re certainly a Top 10 team, but the State Meet’s
very unkind if your fourth and fifth runners don’t run well,” he said. “That’s
what it hinges on for every team, and we’re no exception to that.”
Without much varsity experience returning from last year and
a lot of unanswered questions heading into this season, Behnke said his team
has been real committed, dedicated and has worked hard along the way, as they
went on to earn a trip to state.
“I told the guys at the beginning of the season, ‘this might
be the year where we don’t go to the State Meet,’” said Behnke. “But then a
month later I apologized for sounding negative, but I said, ‘I wanted to sound
the alarm early,’ and they answered that.
“And so I am terribly proud of them,” he said. “Despite the
fact that today was a bump in the road, we’ve had a really nice season, and we
hope to perform better next week.”