SPASH girls cross country looks to keep moving forward
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With an experienced group back, the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls cross country team has its sights set on a return trip to the WIAA Division 1 State Meet this season.
The Panthers returned five of their seven runners from last year’s State Meet, and had most of their lineup intact last week for the first time this season, as they won the SPASH Panther Invitational at Standing Rocks County Park Saturday, Sept. 14.
“We’ve got a lot of varsity experience,” said SPASH girls cross country head coach Mike Olson. “A couple more freshmen are up on varsity, but our Top 10 girls are very experienced racers, and whether they’re varsity or JV or not, they’ve all been running for a while, and it shows.
“They’ve got a quiet confidence, and they believe in themselves,” he said.
The Panthers lost Grace Belson (124th at state last year) and Madelyn Schneider (135th at state) from last year’s team that finished 11th at the WIAA Division 1 State Meet with 322 points, as Muskego (48) won the State Title over Sun Prairie (103).
Leading the returnees for SPASH this season is sophomore Roisin Willis, who placed fourth overall at the State Meet last year as a freshman, and senior Maddie Hyland, who missed all of last season due to an injury after she placed 20th at state as a freshman and 23rd as a sophomore.
“Roisin’s a gem, it’s nice to have that girl that you know is going to get out there and lay it down and just hammer, and I look for big things from her this year,” said Olson. “She finished fourth last year at state, and I know she didn’t like that, so she’s working hard and she’s in better distance shape this year than last year.
“Maddie missed all of her junior year, she was our No. 1 as a sophomore, and she went and mixed it up with the No. 1s (Saturday), despite not having a race in two years,” he said. “I look for big things from her too, once she gets back in the cross country swing of things. We know she’s got the talent.”
Junior Sara Hopper (93rd at state) and sophomore Autumn Itzen (154th at state) also return from a year ago, and have been joined in the varsity lineup by freshman Brittany Beadles and sophomore Anna Meilahn.
“This is Sara’s third year on varsity and she’s one of our team leaders as an underclassmen, she’s got talent and she’s going to keep getting better if she keeps working hard in practice,” said Olson. “Autumn is a very fierce competitor and was varsity all last year as a freshman, she has big goals and works hard for them, so I’m confident that she’s going to get up there.
“We’ve been waiting for Brittany for a while to get up there, in seventh and eighth grade she was one of our top girls, and now she’s stepped right into the varsity role and is doing good,” he said. “And Anna was a mid-pack JV girl last year, but she had a little success at the end of track, hit some big PRs right at the end of the season, was highly motivated, had a very aggressive summer putting in the training and earned herself a varsity spot, and it’s just basically on pure will. She’s talented, but she put in the work and earned it, so I’m very happy for her.”
Sophomore Josie Reeve (186th at state), sophomore Emelia Johnson (144th at state) and senior Jayden Jones are also back from a year ago, while freshmen Shayla Kvatek and Abby Clark have also earned spots on varsity this season, with sophomore Emily Belson and senior Kamryn Meixner among those also competing for time on varsity this season.
“They’re all right there,” said Olson. “We’ve got 10, 12 girls that are varsity level, so we’ve got some depth, but that pack needs to move up a lot closer to Maddie.
“They’re capable of it, they’ve just got to believe it,” he said.
Willis and Hyland were held out of the lineup as the Panthers finished second to open the season at the Neenah Invite Sept. 6, while both made their season debut when SPASH hosted the SPASH Panther Invite at Standing Rocks County Park last Saturday.
Willis won the girls race in 18:54.4, as she beat Eliana Kanitz of Marshfield (19:57.5) and Bethany Stacey of Port Washington (20:04.5).
Hyland finished sixth overall, followed by Itzen (19th), Hopper (20th), Beadles (21st), Meilahn (32nd), Jones (44th) and Reeve (62nd), as the Panthers totaled 67 points to win the Team Title over Verona (74) and Marshfield (83).
“We’re not at 100 percent yet, we’ve still got Shayla Kvatek out, but it was good to have the majority of everybody running,” said Olson. “And on our home course, we went out and got a victory.
“It wasn’t an easy one, and we’ve got a lot of improving to do yet,” he said. “But overall I’m really happy with our effort.”
SPASH was ranked 20th in Division 1 in the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Coaches Poll this week, and will compete at the Smiley Invitational in Wausau Sept. 21, where they will see each of the teams from the Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC).
Last season, the Panthers won the WVC Title for the sixth time in seven years, as they scored 45 points to beat Wausau West (73), Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln (98), D.C. Everest (101), Marshfield (107), Wausau East (150) and Merrill (167).
“Marshfield looks very improved, Rapids is very improved, and I know East and West both have very good coaches, and they’re capable of coming up,” said Olson. “I don’t ever take the conference for granted, it’ll be a tough race, but it looks like right now, Marshfield’s our toughest competitor.
“So we’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’ve got to keep hammering,” he said.
Along with winning conference, SPASH will also look to reach the WIAA Division 1 State Meet for the fourth year in a row and the seventh time in eight years, as it will host its Sectional Meet at Standing Rocks County Park Oct. 26.
“Our goal is always to win conference, and always to make it to state,” said Olson, who has been the SPASH girls cross country head coach since 1980. “And I think if we’re healthy, we’ll make it to state and be a Top 10 team.
“But the main goal is to get each girl to run as fast as they’re capable of, and then the team stuff comes with that,” he said. “So if every girl concentrates on doing her job and running as hard as she can, we’ll be a good team.”