Willis places fourth, as SPASH girls 11th at State Meet
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) freshman Roisin Willis’ chase for a State Title came up just short at the WIAA Division 1 State Meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Oct. 27.
Willis battled at the front of the race until the final stretch, on her way to a fourth-place finish, while the 10th-ranked ended up 11th in the team standings.
“I was pretty tired once I finished,” said Willis. “But now coming back, I’m pretty excited because I know I gave it everything I had.”
“It wasn’t our total best effort, but it was a very good, solid effort, and that’s what you’re looking for, is consistency,” said SPASH girls cross country head coach Mike Olson. “We really haven’t had a bad meet, and this was no exception.
“You would like everybody to have a PR on a day like today, but it just didn’t happen for us,” he said.
SPASH made its third consecutive appearance at the State Meet Saturday, while Willis look to challenge for the Individual State Title, after she won each of her previous seven races this season.
Willis was in the lead pack from early on in the race Saturday afternoon, as she was one of six runners to pass the one-mile marker in 5:41, while she held a slight advantage (11:41) over Madison West freshman Genevieve Nashold (11:41) to lead after two miles.
However, as the runners approached the final hill to head toward the finish line, Nashold was the first to emerge, and she pulled away to win the State Title in 18:10.
Wills was next up the hill, with sophomore Kate Sperka of Muskego and sophomore Brooke Edwardson of Kimberly right behind, while Sperka (18:26.5) separated herself from the pack to finish second, followed by Edwardson (18:29.9) in third and Willis (18:30.3) in fourth.
“The pace just got harder and harder, until I was just tight all over,” said Willis. “And I just had to hold on until the end just to finish the race.
“It was definitely eye opening, just the way that these girls compete,” she said. “They’re ruthless and it’s just like racing against myself, but better. It’s really humbling to be able to run against these amazing girls.”
“Roisin ran a great race, put a good effort into it and came up a little bit short,” said Olson. “This is just the beginning for her, things are going to get much, much better, and the sky’s the limit for this girl.
“She’ll get one of these, or more, before it’s all over,” he said.
Sophomore Sara Hopper (93rd overall, 55th in team standings) finished second for the Panthers, followed by seniors Grace Belson (124th overall, 79th in team) and Madelyn Schneider (135th overall, 89th in team).
“Sara has been doing great all year, really came on strong, and in my opinion she had her best race of the season at the State Meet, and you can’t ask for anything more than that,” said Olson. “Grace has had some breathing difficulties the last few meets and it cropped up again today. But she held on, and where most other kids you see fall down and start crying, she keeps pushing and keeps going, and so she ended her career, not on a PR, but on an effort she should be proud of.
“And Maddie did fantastic, she’s been nicked up for a couple of years now, still is not 100 percent healthy, but every time she goes out there, there’s no question that she’s giving everything she has, and in my opinion had her best race of the season, by far,” he said.
Freshman Emelia Johnson (144th overall, 95th in team) closed out the team scoring for SPASH, while freshmen Autumn Itzen (154th overall, 105th in team) and Josie Reeve (186th overall, 136th in team) rounded out the team’s lineup.
“Emelia has been gaining confidence with every meet, you can see her pushing her way up,” said Olson. “We have four freshmen on varsity, and the experience they gained this year is going to be invaluable.
“Autumn wasn’t 100 percent on today, but it was a good, solid effort, and she kept it together and finished strong,” he said. “And Josie has been a model of consistency all year, and is just a great girl.”
In the end, SPASH totaled 322 points to finish 11th in the team standings, while top-ranked Muskego had 48 points to win the State Title over second-ranked Sun Prairie (103) and third-ranked Onalaska (112).
Olson thanked assistant coaches Pat Leahy and Zoe Browne for all of their help this season, as SPASH won its sixth Wisconsin Valley Conference Title in seven years ,and also advanced to state for the sixth time in seven years.
“I’ve been real proud of everybody this year, the junior high kids did great, the JVs did great, and I think the future’s bright,” said Olson. “We’ve got some kids coming up that are going to be tough, and we hopefully will have Maddie Hyland back next year, so these girls have got to bust their butts in the summer to keep their spots, otherwise some of the youngsters are going to come up and take it.
“We’re going to get better in the next couple of years, before these freshmen are done I think we’ll be a podium team, if they keep working the way they have so far,” he said. “But all in all, we did really good and I’m very proud of the girls, and I’m looking forward to next year already.”