SPASH girls track claims Conference Title
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls track team became the first Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) squad since 1988 to win the Conference Title five years in a row at the WVC Outdoor Conference Meet Tuesday, May 14.
Senior Gabby Johnson (triple jump), senior Renee Hinchcliffe (100 hurdles) and freshman Roisin Willis (1,600 run) each won Individual Titles, as the Panthers scored 175 points to win the WVC Title over D.C. Everest (152) and Wausau West (126) at Stiehm Stadium in Schofield.
“It’s rewarding, we know we put in the work to get here,” said Johnson. “And it was kind of a question, we were missing some people today, and we really just wanted to step it up and still take the title.”
“It had some ups and downs, and that’s the beauty of track and field, everybody’s got to do their part on the day,” said SPASH girls track co-head coach Nate Olson. “We had some people really step up, we had some kids that were sick or a little bit dinged up, trying to focus on Regionals and Sectionals, and so it gave them a day off.
“But we needed to be on our ‘A’ game to win without them,” he said. “And I was happy with the way the kids performed today.”
The Panthers lost 2018 State Qualifiers in Halle Gregorich (200 dash and 4×400 relay), Maggie Negaard (4×400 relay) and Rachel Sullivan (high jump) from last season, but brought back a handful of returnees from last year’s State Meet in Hinchcliffe (100 hurdles), Johnson (long jump), senior Taylor Konczal (400 dash and 4×400 relay) and junior Maddie Hyland (800 run and 4×400 relay).
Earlier this season, SPASH finished with 183 points to roll to the WVC Indoor Title over D.C. Everest (129) April 9, and with no WVC Relay Meet this season, the Panthers looked to complete the conference sweep at D.C. Everest Tuesday.
Johnson won the triple jump Tuesday, and also added second-place finishes in the high jump and the long jump.
“That was huge for us,” said Olson. “Gabby’s been sticking with it all year and really starting to come around now, so I’m excited to see what she can do going into state.”
Hinchcliffe won the 100 hurdles in 15.75 seconds over Sophia Kohl of Wausau West (15.92) and placed second in the 300 hurdles, while Willis won the 1,600 run in 5:07.95 over McKenna Taylor of Wausau East (5:23.32).
“Renee ran some good times,” said Olson. “She’s just been a solid piece of our team, and we’re going to miss that next year when she graduates, having that hammer for us as a hurdler, and then led off great for us in the 4×400.
“And Roisin had a great time in the mile, she’s getting off of cold, but we’ll get her ready to rock and roll for state,” he said.
“It’s definitely different doing the mile,” said Willis. “I don’t run the mile a lot, it’s basically (400) and (800), but I think it was just good to get one in and go a little bit over distance, preparing for the 800.
“And the 4×400 was fun too, because I think that’s something I’ll be doing, hopefully the rest of my season,” she said.
Willis and Hinchcliffe also teamed up with Mallory Greenwood and Emily Belson to win the 4×400 relay, while Grace Belson, Madelyn Schneider, Jayden Jones and Autumn Itzen combined to win the 4×800 relay; and Shaye Solinsky, Kaitlyn Brundidge, Jillian Keup and Ally Martin joined forces to win the 4×100 relay.
“It’s good to see some of the relays coming along too,” said Olson.
Hyland (800 run) and Grace Belson (3,200 run) also had second-place finishes, while Konczal (400 dash), Solinsky (100 dash) and Natalie Hintz (discus) each placed third, as SPASH held off D.C. Everest to win the Conference Title.
“The conference has really been getting stronger and stronger every year,” said Olson. “There are a lot of great teams and a lot of great athletes, some of the best in the state that we get to go against.
“So it’s an honor to win it,” he said. “And the girls worked hard, so kudos to them, and to the other teams too.”
The Panthers will compete at the WIAA Division 1 Regional at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Monday, May 20, before the Sectional at D.C. Everest Thursday, May 23.
That will lead into the WIAA Division 1 State Meet at Veterans Memorial Stadium in La Crosse Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1, and Olson said now the coaching staff will look at what events to put kids in, to give them their best opportunity to continue in the postseason.
“We talked about every meet and every practice being an opportunity to learn,” said Olson. “Really the focus has always been to do well at state, to get as many girls as we can down there and peak at the State Meet.
“Obviously this is great to win the Wisconsin Valley Conference, we’re very excited about it,” he said. “But hopefully we can continue on and get as many girls as we can through to Sectionals on Thursday, and then to state the following week.”