Runners battle sudden snowstorm at Cross Country Sectional
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
What started as a typically cold, October morning in Wisconsin, quickly escalated into an all-out snowstorm during the WIAA Division 1 and Division 3 Cross Country Sectional Meets at Standing Rocks County Park Saturday, Oct. 20.
Snow flurries were in the air for the first of four races on the day, and by the second race, the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) boys team battled blizzard-like conditions, as runners fought for a trip to the State Meet.
“We figured it would possibly be some precipitation, some flurries, but not a snow squall like it really came to for 15 minutes,” said Rosholt boys and girls cross country head coach Mike Trzebiatowski. “It couldn’t snow much harder than that.”
“It’s a little hard to comprehend what I saw, because I actually saw very little of the race,” said Donn Behnke, who is in his 41st year as the coach of the SPASH boys cross country team. “For those of us wearing glasses, in those conditions, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
“And that includes 1985, when we ran in a blizzard in Madison,” he said. “For 20 minutes here today, that wind was coming at you and the snow was coming at us sideways, and I don’t know how anybody ran well in these conditions. And we ran pretty well.”
Temperatures were in the low-40s just before the start of the competition at Standing Rocks, as Amherst hosted boys and girls teams for its Division 3 Sectional, and SPASH hosted boys and girls teams for its Division 1 Sectional.
Light snowflakes were in the air for the start of the boys Division 3 race, and it developed into flurries by the end of the race, as Rosholt senior Adam Rzentkowski won the Individual Title to lead third-ranked Rosholt (47) to the Sectional Title over eighth-ranked Wisconsin Rapids Assumption (80) and earn a trip to state, while Amherst senior Adam Wise qualified for state as an individual.
It wasn’t until just before the next race for the Division 1 boys that the snow began to pick up, although nothing was sticking to the ground as the race started, and runners went out in their normal gear.
“We talked to some of the guys we know from Rosholt, and how they thought it was going to run and what they wore, and they said, ‘hat and gloves,’” said SPASH senior Chad Franz. “And when we got to the line and started running the actual race, then it started really snowing hard and getting really windy.”
“It was fairly comfortable, and then as soon as they got to the line, the snow started and you thought it was going to be flurries, and it was going to last two, three minutes,” said Behnke. “But it lasted for 20.”
Just a few minutes into the race, the weather began to resemble a blizzard, and team busses were radioed by meet personnel to have them warmed up and close to the course in case runners developed hypothermia.
A little over 15 minutes in, Neenah senior Matthew Meinke rounded the final corner toward the last 400 meters of the race, where he was barely visible from the finish line.
Meinke finished in 15:42.2 to win the Individual Title, with Franz behind in 16:17.8 to place second in the race for SPASH, as he approached the finish line with one eye open to see where he was going through the falling snow.
“I just used my glove to wipe off my eyes, and I followed the (pace) biker pretty much,” said Franz. “Luckily it’s our home course, so I knew enough of where to go, but for other people, I wonder how they knew where to go?
“I came up with 800 (meters) to go, and I couldn’t see anybody,” he said. “And that was one of the craziest things. That’s one of the things I’ll remember, coming up and not being able to see anybody.”
In the final team standings, the second-ranked SPASH boys team, which had won each of its previous eight meets this season, ended up second with 46 points to finish behind seventh-ranked Neenah (39), as both advanced to state.
A solid inch of snow was on the ground by the start of the next race for the Division 3 girls a half hour later, although only small flurries were coming down.
“Obviously the D1 boys had to run in most of it, but then when the D3 girls got out there, the footing was probably the worst,” said Trzebiatowski. “It was still snowing somewhat, but the footing was treacherous for those girls.”
Defending State Champion Marissa Ellenbecker of Edgar chased down Iola-Scandinavia senior Jada Beacom (19:30.6) in the final 200 meters to win the Individual Title in 19:28.2, while third-ranked Auburndale (62 points) and seventh-ranked Rosholt (71) both advanced to state as teams, and Pacelli Catholic High School senior Grace Engebretson placed eighth to earn an individual berth to state.
“It was a tough race out there in the snow, slipping and sliding, but I got through it,” said Rosholt senior Taylor Krogwold. “I feel bad for the D1 boys, they had to run with the snow in their eyes, but I’m glad that the snow kind of calmed down for us.
“There was snow all over (the course), but there was definitely open paths and little patches of grass that I just tried to hit, so I wouldn’t slip and slide around as much,” she said.
Snowflakes were still falling at the start of the final race of the day for the Division 1 girls, but the sun was out by the end of it, as SPASH freshman Roisin Willis won the Individual Title in 18:50.9 to help the ninth-ranked SPASH girls qualify for state as a team (87) with a second-place finish behind 12th-ranked Appleton North (80).
“My hands got numb right away and my legs were all cold, it was really freezing, but it started to warm up about halfway through the race,” said Willis. “At the first mile, snow was all still on the ground, but when I came out of the backwoods, everything was all melted.
“So it kind of switched halfway,” she said.
By the time the awards ceremony rolled around, less than two hours after the storm that struck during the Boys Division 1 race, all of the snow on the ground had melted, and it was back to a typical Saturday in October.
For Mike Olson, who is his 39th year as the head coach of the SPASH girls cross country team, as well as Behnke, the weather at the Sectional was among the worst they’ve had to deal with during their coaching careers.
“Conference, probably 10 years ago or so at Antigo, we had the horizontal sleet and there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to go, and wide open everywhere, that’s probably the worst one,” said Olson. “But like I tell the girls at the beginning of the season, ‘I’ve been where it’s been in the upper-90s, to minus-20 wind chill.’ And we weren’t close to minus-20 today.
“And Suzy (Favor’s) senior year at state (in 1985), where we had a foot of snow, that’s from Donn’s book ‘The Animal Keepers,’ that was probably snow-wise, the worst,” he said. “But today was definitely a top-fiver for non-ideal weather.”
“I’ve been to meets where we’ve had flurries during the middle of it, or maybe there’s a downburst of rain and it clears up,” said Behnke. “But this is just beyond anything I could’ve imagined.
“Although for a couple of our guys, Chad Franz ran like there was no problem, and Jake Lepak ran the best race of his life, he ran a PR in these conditions, and in many cases he couldn’t even open his eyes in some areas when going into it,” he said. “Usually the first snow of the year doesn’t stick, but this one, it clung to everything, and guys were covered with it.
“And I just am amazed at how well our guys ran,” he said.