SPASH boys’ cross country team celebrates state title
By Jacob Heid
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — The WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) state cross country race Oct. 28 at Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids had two Stevens Point area teams and a handful of individual runners compete.
The SPASH boys’ cross country team successfully defended its title from a year ago with another first-place finish in 2023 with 36 team points, the lowest D1 team total since 1972.
All seven SPASH runners finished in the top 50 out of the 190 participants in the D1 race, led by senior Aloysius Franzen, who finished in second place.
“This one’s great. These guys, you know, had a target on their back because of what they did last year,” Kevin Hopp, co-head coach of the team, told the Gazette. “They didn’t let that faze them at all. They came every day and did the work all summer.”
Franzen followed up a third-place finish from 2022 with a chance at the individual title this year.
Battling with Onalaska’s Manny Putz for most of the race, Franzen finished his SPASH career with a second-place time of 15:09.7.
“The goal was just to go out there and run it like any other race,” Franzen explained. “Really tried to relax in the first mile, kind of ease into it. Did a really nice job of coming through on pace, stayed on pace through the two-mile and then gave it everything I had in that last mile.”
Junior Ethan Olds finished with a sixth-place time of 15:44.8, while teammates Cooper Erickson (15:47.2) and Graham Ballard (15:57.9) took eighth and 11th, respectively.
SPASH’s fifth runner to cross the finish line was senior Bode Erickson, who ran the race in 16:03.9 for 15th place. Erickson rounded out the Panthers’ team score.
Junior Andrew Dziak and senior Cooper Gundersen took 23rd and 46th to wrap up the SPASH runners.
Co-Head Coach Donn Behnke explained how the team ran a great race despite the weather conditions.
With a more experienced team, the runners knew how to adjust to anything.
“We were ready for anything. I thought it was going to be a muddy course, and I thought it was going to be cold and windy. It really wasn’t any of those things,” Behnke said.
Franzen agreed and stated the course conditions were better than they anticipated and said it was “perfect running weather.”
Even with the dominance of the SPASH boys’ cross country team, there are still hurdles throughout the season.
“Keeping guys healthy and keeping guys motivated.” were a few challenges Hopp laid out. “These guys brought the motivation every day. We did our best as coaches to try and keep them healthy all year long.”
The Panthers hoisted the first-place trophy for the 13th time in program history with the win this year.