Willis finishes third to lead SPASH girls at state
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
Sophomore Roisin Willis finished in the Top 4 for the second year in a row, while the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls cross country team took 12th at the WIAA Division 1 State Meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Nov. 2.
Willis placed third overall for the 11th-ranked Panthers, who totaled 290 points, as top-ranked Muskego (72 points) won the State Title for the second year in a row.
“Roisin had her best race in cross country, as a SPASH Panther,” said SPASH girls cross country head coach Mike Olson. “It wasn’t her fastest time, but it was her best race.
“As far as our team finish, I thought we could do better, and I still think we could’ve done better,” he said. “But it just wasn’t meant to be on Saturday.”
After finishing fourth at state as a freshman last year, Willis looked to challenge for the Individual State Title again Saturday.
Willis (5:35) was in third place at the one-mile mark behind sophomore Lauren Pansegrau of Middleton (5:32) and junior Kora Malecek of Onalaska (5:32), while Malecek (11:17) pulled ahead to take the lead over Willis (11:30) and Pansegrau (11:30) by the second-mile marker.
Malecek emerged all alone down the home stretch to win the State Title in 17:44.6, followed by Pansegrau (18:14.2), Willis (18:20.9) and junior and reigning State Runner-up Kate Sperka of Muskego (18:26.2), while sophomore defending State Champion Genevieve Nashold of Madison West (18:39.3) finished eighth.
“The first mile felt pretty relaxed, I felt confident and happy to be there,” said Willis. “The second mile, I was just happy I got through it, I knew that was the toughest mile for me.
“And the third, I wasn’t able to get second, but I’m just really happy that I pushed it all the way to the end,” she said. “I gave it all I had.”
“She ran her heart out and gave it her best, and she ended up third, but it was an honorable third,” said Olson. “It wasn’t anything to be hanging her head about.
“She had a great year, and she’s going to continue to get better, because lord knows, she trains hard enough,” he said.
Senior Maddie Hyland was next for SPASH in 40th, and junior Sara Hopper finished 86th.
“Maddie had a goal that she wanted to get on the podium, which is a lofty goal, if she wouldn’t have missed last year, I have no doubt that that would’ve happened,” said Olson. “She went out very hard and put herself in good position, but with missing that year, she didn’t quite have enough to maintain that pace, but she gave it her best shot at that, so I was pleased with her effort.
“Sara had one of her better races and equaled her season-best time, and to do that at the State Meet, which is not an easy course, that’s something to be proud of,” he said.
Freshman Brittany Beadles was 149th for the Panthers, followed by sophomores Autumn Itzen (153rd), Emelia Johnson (177th) and Anna Meilahn (180th).
“For Brittany and Autumn, it was a matter of losing contact,” said Olson. “If Sara and Brittany and Autumn run together, they are extremely tough and they feed off of each other, but they got separated early, and it just kind of fell apart and it didn’t work real good.
“And the same thing with Emelia and Anna, when you’re off on that island by yourself, you’re not very strong,” he said. “When you’re with a teammate, you’re a lot stronger. It wasn’t for lack of trying or effort on any of those girls’ part, but it just wasn’t their day.”
The Panthers ended up 12th with 290 points, as Muskego (72) won the State Title over third-ranked Onalaska (111), eighth-ranked Sun Prairie (134) and second-ranked Middleton (147).
SPASH is set to bring back six of its seven runners from the State Meet next year, after it won the Wisconsin Valley Conference Title for the seventh time in eight years and captured the Sectional Title to advance to state for the fourth year in a row.
“We made a lot of strides, and we’re a team on the upswing,” said Olson. “We only had five seniors, and hopefully we get some replenishing from the younger grades, which I think we will.
“So the future looks bright,” he said.