SPASH boys overcome snowstorm to advance to state
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) boys cross country team overcame sudden, blizzard-like conditions to earn a trip to state at the WIAA Division 1 SPASH Sectional at Standing Rocks County Park Saturday, Oct. 20.
Senior Chad Franz finished second overall to lead the second-ranked Panthers, who ended up with 46 points to place second behind seventh-ranked Neenah (39) and qualify for state for the 40th time in 42 years.
“It was a real blizzard out there for about 20 minutes, and it got really cold,” said Franz. “Before the race, it was kind of windy and it was probably 40 degrees.
“And then it’s snowing and windy,” he said.
“We scored 46 points, which is a great total at a Sectional Meet, especially when you consider we had five teams here that had been ranked during the year,” said SPASH cross country coach Donn Behnke. “We told the guys during the week that it was going to be 10 points (that would decide it), we kind of thought it would be 10 points in our advantage, but these are tough conditions for anybody to run in.
“Coming in we felt that there wasn’t going to be much difference between the two teams,” he said. “And there wasn’t.”
Reigning State Runner-up SPASH had won each of its eight meets this season heading into the Division 1 SPASH Sectional at Standing Rocks Saturday, where the Panthers ran in the second of four races on the day.
While large snowflakes were in the air, nothing stuck to the ground until just after the start of the Boys Division 1 race, when it quickly developed into what resembled a blizzard.
Franz finished second overall in 16:17.8 behind Neenah senior Matthew Meinke of Neenah (15:42.2), with junior Jake Lepak (16.23.6) right behind in fourth.
Freshman Zach Scharbarth placed 10th, senior Alex Strojny was 13th and freshman James Jacobs came in 17th to close the scoring for the Panthers, followed by sophomore Jake Bourget (25th) and junior Daniel Kiefer (28th).
Along with Meinke, Neenah also had the fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-place runners, then had its fifth runner take 20th.
That gave Neenah the Sectional Title with 39 points, while SPASH had 46 points to advance to state for the 13th year in a row over 12th-ranked Hortonville (99), 19th-ranked Marshfield (115) and previously 18th-ranked Appleton North (124).
“We knew Neenah was a team that was getting better,” said Behnke. “We knew about their No. 1 runner and that they had a really strong 2, 3, and we knew that their No. 4 kid was injured and getting healthy, so it was going to be really a fight there.
“We felt we had an advantage at 5, and we did, but it wasn’t the advantage we thought that we would have,” he said.
“The most important thing is we’re going back as a team,” said Franz. “I ran OK as an individual, and we had Jake Lepak, who somehow managed to run his best time, and who knows how he did that?
“There were some guys who didn’t run what they wanted to or what they should have, but the most important part is getting the chance next week to really show what we’ve got,” he said.
SPASH will compete in the WIAA Division 1 State Meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids at noon Saturday, Oct. 27, as it entered the Sectional ranked second in the state behind top-ranked and defending State Champion Middleton, and ahead of third-ranked Madison West, fourth-ranked Germantown and fifth-ranked Oconomowoc.
“Our goal is to be in that top few teams, and we know that Middleton is the best team in the state,” said Behnke. “But then there’s a group of four, maybe five teams that, everybody wants to come home with that silver trophy.
“That’s the prize, we got it last year, and we were thrilled to be second,” he said. “Somebody’s going to be thrilled to be second to Middleton again this year, and I think we’re in the mix. It depends on what the conditions are, and it depends how our guys handle it, but (the conditions) can’t be any worse than this. There’s just no way.”