SPASH girls cross country eyes return to state
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With some key newcomers joining a veteran lineup, the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls cross country team will look to get back to the State Meet this season.
The Panthers were set to return their entire lineup from last year’s team that finished 10th at state, but they’ve been without some of their top runners from a year ago so far this season.
SPASH still was able to win the SPASH Invitational at Standing Rocks County Park Saturday, Sept. 8, while the team is set to compete at the Smiley Invitational at Tribute Golf Course in Wausau Saturday, Sept. 15.
“By the end of the year, if we get everybody back healthy and everybody ready to go, we’ll be a force to contend with,” said SPASH girls cross country head coach Mike Olson. “Right now, we’ve got a lot of improving to do.”
Last season, SPASH finished second behind Wausau West at the Wisconsin Valley Conference Meet and Neenah Sectional to earn a trip to State for the fifth time in six years, where the Panthers were 10th with 287 points, with Wausau West in 15th (353).
SPASH was set to return its entire lineup from last year’s State Meet, but junior Maddie Hyland (23rd at state last year), senior Carly Olsen (82nd at state) and junior Kamryn Meixner (149th at state) have yet to run this season.
“Maddie’s out with a stress fracture and we’ve got a couple of other girls missing that would normally be varsity,” said Olson. “But it’s given the opportunity to other girls to step up and run, and they’re taking advantage of it.
“It’s only going to make us stronger, if we’re able to get those girls back,” he said.
Leading the returnees so far for the Panthers this season have been senior Grace Belson (63rd at state), sophomore Sara Hopper (130th at state), sophomore Sydney Milkowski (131st at state), senior Madelyn Schneider (137th at state).
“Grace is one of our captains, she’s a great leader, a hard worker and always runs her fullest, and you never question whether she’s giving 100-percent effort,” said Olson. “The same thing with Maddie Schneider, another senior that is a captain, and there is never any question that she is giving 100 percent. She’s dependable, and I wish I had 100 of her.
“And then Sara is running very well, she’s looking more and more confident each time, so I’m very, very happy with that,” he said.
Joining the varsity lineup this season has been freshman Roisin Willis, who has won the Individual Title in each of her first two high school races, along with freshmen Autumn Itzen, Josie Reeve and Emelia Johnson.
“Roisin’s an intense competitor, she’s a very hard worker and she’s got a great attitude,” said Olson. “I’ve had a lot of girls over my years that have had one of those three, or maybe two of those three, but it’s rare to find all three of those in one kid. She expects a lot of herself, she’s confident without being cocky, and if she stays healthy, she’s going to accomplish a lot.
“And then we’ve got Autumn, Emelia and Josie, I’ve been waiting for those three to get up the last two years when they were running junior high; I thought they were going to come up and challenge for a varsity spot,” he said. “I didn’t really know if all of them were going to get up there, but they’ve earned their spot and they’re doing a good job.”
SPASH opened this season at the Neenah Invite Aug. 31, where Willis finished in 18:53.17 in her first high school meet to beat sophomore Brooke Edwardson of Kimberly (19:03.14), while SPASH totaled 59 points to place second behind Pulaski (53) and ahead of Neenah (65) and Kimberly (80).
The Panthers were at home last Saturday for the SPASH Invitational, where Willis finished in 18:53 to win the Individual Title over senior Jada Beacom of Iola-Scandinavia (19:50).
“Roisin was looking forward to running against Brooke Jaworski (of Wausau West), but Brooke was taking the ACT, and they’ll have their times,” said Olson. “So all by herself, she ran as fast as she did at Neenah, where she had a little competition, today she was 57 seconds ahead of the second-place girl. So I’m excited for next week when we get to Smiley, and it’ll be loaded up.”
Belson placed fifth, followed by Hopper (13th), Itzen (14th), Johnson (20th), Schneider (49th), Reeve (54th) and junior Jayden Jones (73rd), as SPASH finished with 53 points to win the Team Title over Verona Area (108) and Neenah (159), with Wausau West (221) in eighth.
“I was real happy; we had good weather and good performances,” said Olson. “At Neenah we didn’t start off real hot, we finished second, but it wasn’t a typical SPASH performance.
“Today we were much better,” he said. “We’re not at full strength, but we still were aggressive and confident in our racing, and we’re a very young team, so I expect they’re going to improve greatly over the course of the season.”
The Panthers will be back in action at the Smiley Invitational Saturday morning, where they are expected to see the other the top contenders in the WVC, after Wausau West (41) won the Conference Title last season over SPASH (44), D.C. Everest (79) and Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln (127) to snap the Panthers’ run of five consecutive Conference Titles.
“Wausau West didn’t have Brooke today, but we didn’t have some people either,” said Olson after the SPASH Invitational. “They’ll be tough, Rapids looks tough, they’ve got three girls that are up there, and it’s kind of early to tell on that too, but we’ll see.
“I like the fact that we beat all of the conference schools here today,” he said. “I’m looking for constant improvement, and next week’s another big test, and then we go see some different schools at Oshkosh and then at Fond du Lac.”
SPASH will also host its WIAA Division 1 Sectional at Standing Rocks County Park Saturday, Oct. 20, where they will look to earn a return trip to the State Meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Oct. 27.
“Our goal is always to win conference and make it to state, and it’s not any different this year,” said Olson. “Whether we get those girls back or not, I still feel that we can get in there and give it a good shot and do that.
“We just can’t get satisfied with where we’re at, because we’re definitely not where we need to be by the end of the year,” he said.