Relay team wins Pacelli’s first WIAA State Title in track
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
When the relay team of seniors Andrew Blanker, Hayden Jurgella and Daniel Mitch and junior Xander Schmitz won the 4×400 relay at WIAA Division 3 State Meet at Veterans Memorial Stadium in La Crosse Saturday, June 2, they claimed the first WIAA State Title in Pacelli track history.
The relay team bounced back from a disappointment in the 4×200 relay earlier in the State Meet with a record-setting performance in the finals in the 4×400 relay, where they were nearly two seconds faster than in the preliminaries, to win the State Championship in 3:24.82.
“It’s an honor, just to know that we were able to accomplish this,” said Mitch. “We were the first team ever to do it, and it’s very humbling, just knowing how we did it.”
“I’ve been down there before multiple times with Hayden and we’ve tried pretty hard to get close, but we always thought that third place was good enough, and fourth place was good enough,” said Blanker. “And then we found out around mid-season, that we have a really good shot at this.
“So we’ve been working hard and expecting that we could do well,” he said.
Last year, the team of Blanker, Jurgella, Mitch and Schmitz earned a trip to the State Meet in the 4×400 relay, where they placed fourth in 3:29.19 to earn a spot at the podium.
With the entire group back this season, they set their sights on a return trip to state, and along way finished third in the 4×400 relay at the Rosholt Regional (3:35.38) behind Wild Rose and Rosholt, and placed second at the Marathon Sectional (3:27.16) behind Edgar (3:26.8) and just ahead of Wild Rose (3:27.19) to advance to state.
“We basically had five of the top six teams in the state in our 4×400 in that race at Sectionals,” said Mitch. “So we knew that was going to be our state competition.”
The four also teamed up in the 4×200 relay, which they won at both Regionals and Sectionals to earn a trip to state, where they were seeded fourth in the event.
They finished third in the preliminaries to earn a trip to the finals of the 4×200 relay Saturday, but they were disqualified in the finals after a dropped handoff kept them from reaching the podium.
“We were thinking we were going to do pretty well, we were hoping like top two at least,” said Blanker. “I saw Hayden come around, me and Hayden practice sticks every single day and we usually are on point constantly, and I just remember starting up and reaching back, and it hitting the tip of my fingertips.
“It dropped, and then I looked back for it and it was rolling everywhere, so I just picked it up and ran,” he said. “It was a disappointment coming around the corner, knowing that we were in last place and that we were behind that far, and that really kind of sparked me for the 4×400. I personally felt like I let these guys down, and I knew that I could try to make it up in one more event.”
The team also entered state seeded second in the 4×400 relay behind Edgar, and earned a trip to the finals after they finished third in the preliminaries Friday (3:26.47) behind Wild Rose (3:26.08) and Edgar (3:26.43).
In the finals of the 4×400 relay Saturday, Schmitz started off first for Pacelli and got the team near the front, as he handed it off to Blanker for the second leg.
“I can’t really see anyone when I run, so I had to try and make up the staggers while I’m running, and I know that I always have to come out really hard in the first 200,” said Schmitz. “In the prelims I came out kind of slow, so I was really trying to work hard to hit a fast first 200, and then just finish strong.”
“Xander caught up to a couple of staggers, and I knew that he had been doing really well,” said Blanker. “So when I got the baton, because we were on one of the inside lanes, I knew that I could try to catch up to these guys and at the cut line I could be in front.
“And then I came around at the last 100, and just knowing it was my last time I would be doing a sporting event in high school, I was like, ‘I really need to finish this,’” he said. “It was probably the fastest I’ve ever ran, and I didn’t know how much of a lead that I had.”
Blanker, who placed third at state last year in the 400 dash, put Pacelli in the lead, as he handed the baton to Jurgella, with Mitch to follow for the final lap around the track.
“Once I handed it off to Hayden, I looked up the big screen and I saw Hayden had like a 30-meter lead in front of everybody else,” said Blanker. “And I was just hoping that he was going to hold on to that.”
“I personally hate receiving the stick in first,” said Jurgella. “It makes me run better, but the pressure’s always on when you’re in the first, because you don’t want people to pass you.
“I didn’t want to let my teammates down, and I ran the fastest leg in my life,” said Jurgella. “And the anger of the (4×200), that was the motivation there, that’s what got me going the most.”
Pacelli was still in the lead as Jurgella gave the baton to Mitch, although freshman Ashton Schwartman, the individual State Champion in the 400 dash earlier in the day, was running the final leg for Wild Rose.
“Ashton was behind me, and I knew he could do a lot of damage, so I knew I had to go crazy,” said Mitch. “And then I hit about the 300 mark, and I thought I heard breathing and I looked and I saw a shadow, so I was like, ‘oh my gosh, Ashton’s right behind me,’ and I just pushed even harder and harder.
“And I realized it was my own shadow after I finished,” he said. “Because there was no one too close to me.”
Mitch continued to pull away down the stretch, as he crossed the finish line at 3:24.82 to give Pacelli the State Title over Wild Rose (3:27.62), Benton Co-op (3:27.82), Cambridge (3:28.04) and Edgar (3:28.46).
“Those guys were all standing in separate parts, watching me coming around, and it was just crazy to see the excitement in their faces,” said Mitch of his three teammates. “And I crossed and was instantly just smiling, the biggest smile I’ve ever had, and just ran to them right away.”
“It was amazing,” said Schmitz. “Just being able to work really hard these past few years, and then being able to come together and do that as a team.”
The team thanked Pacelli track coach Nate Nord, who was a member of Oconomowoc’s Division 1 State Championship 4×400 relay team as a senior in 2014, for his influence and for pushing them to get better, as they broke Pacelli’s previous 4×400 school record of 3:34 for the first time last year, and by the time they were done, had eclipsed that mark by almost 10 seconds in the finals at state.
Following their victory, the team celebrated with each other, then with friends and family, after they got a chance to stand at the top of the awards podium.
“I’ve never felt anything like it,” said Jurgella. “All that hard work finally paying off, and just to see all of the smiles and be done, and just know that you’ve finally accomplished what you wanted, it’s a feeling like no other.”
“I felt like I was on top of the world,” said Blanker. “Finally just earning a spot at the top of the podium with all of the guys that we had put so much hard work in with, it was an amazing feeling.
“I can’t even explain it, because it was just incredible,” he said.