Willis wins Sectional Title as SPASH girls advance to State Meet
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
Freshman Roisin Willis remained unbeaten on the season to help lead the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls cross country team to the WIAA Division 1 State Meet.
Willis won the Individual Title at the SPASH Sectional at Standing Rocks County Park Saturday, Oct. 20, as the ninth-ranked Panthers finished second in the team standings to advance to state for the third year in a row.
“I’m really nervous, but I’m also really excited to run against all of these girls from around the state,” said Willis. “It’s definitely a new experience.”
“That’s always our goal at the beginning of the season, to get to state,” said SPASH girls cross country head coach Mike Olsen. “I would’ve liked to have won this meet, I still think we could’ve, but I’m happy to go.
“And the girls are too,” he said.
SPASH entered this season with all seven of its runners back from last year’s State Meet, where the team placed 10th, but junior Maddie Hyland (23rd at state last year) ended up missing all of this season with a foot injury, and senior Carly Olsen (82nd at state last year) and junior Kamryn Meixner (149th at state last year) were unable to run until late this season and didn’t compete in the Sectional Saturday.
“(Maddie) was our No. 1 runner all last year, and usually that’s a devastating blow,” said Olson. “And it does hurt, we could be a lot, lot better if we had that, but the team stepped up.
“We never really talked about, ‘oh my gosh, this is what happened,’ it was just ‘next girl up,’ and they all did their job and did a very good job of that,” he said. “So I was very pleased with how the team dealt with that early on in the season.”
In the final of four races at the Division 1 SPASH and Division 3 Amherst Sectionals at Standing Rocks Saturday, patches of grass were beginning to emerge on the course after blizzard-like conditions just an hour earlier.
Willis, who had won her first six races this season coming into Saturday, was all alone as she headed down the final stretch and won the Sectional Title in 18:50.9 to finish ahead of the second-place finisher, senior Brooke Jaworski of Wausau West (19:30.6).
“I started off definitely very fast, and I think that kind of affected the end half of the race,” said Willis. “But it was like any race, hard, so it was good.”
“She’s the real deal,” said Olson. “She works extremely hard, is very goal oriented, and is a great team person.
“She’s the total package,” he said.
Senior Grace Belson placed eighth for the Panthers, followed by sophomore Sara Hopper (18th), senior Madelyn Schneider (29th), freshman Autumn Itzen (31st), freshman Emelia Johnson (32nd) and freshman Josie Reeve (40th).
“Grace had a couple of races where she struggled a little bit, but she had a good bounce-back race today, and I look for her to finish strong,” said Olson. “Sara’s been consistent all year, and she could’ve been a little closer to Grace, but she’s not far off.
“Maddie had her best race in weeks, she’s been nicked up too, and she’s finally feeling healthy,” he said. “The good news is, we ran in the pack, but the pack’s just got to move up.”
In the final team standings, 12th-ranked Appleton North won the Sectional Title with 80 points, while SPASH (87) placed second over Neenah (131) and Wausau West (131) to earn a trip to state for the sixth time in seven years, as the team will compete at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids at 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.
“The season has gone really well, and we have a lot of freshmen, so it’s about learning too,” said Willis. “It’s starting to come together right now, and I think everyone’s running well.”
“It’s just minor adjustments, and we can run the way we’re capable of,” said Olson. “So I’m looking forward to state.”