The first meet of the cross-country season is typically met with uncertainty that leaves runners fighting off jitters until the anticipated starting gun goes off.
However, Spring Valley sophomore Charlie Maier came into the Boyceville Alumni Invitational meet sure of himself and what he needed to do to secure a top 10 finish in the boys’ 5k race.
“I just knew I had to stay there because I knew I was in the top 10, and that was kind of my goal for this meet,” Maier said. “Once I hit the two-mile mark, I knew I just had to finish it out.”
Maier completed his first race of the season in 18 minutes, 10 seconds, which earned him a sixth-place finish at the 16-team meet.
Maier finished in front of 190 of the races’ runners but looked unfazed as he caught his breath at the finish line and greeted teammates as they crossed the finish line.
He knows this is just the start of a season with high expectations that he and his teammates have spent their summers working towards.
“This summer, as a team, we did a lot harder training than the summer before,” Maier said. “We just ran longer distances throughout the summer, and we had set goals about how many miles we wanted to complete over the summer. Almost all of us hit our goals.”
Maier hit his goal of running 200 miles in the offseason, but now he and his teammates are beginning the process of achieving their next goal: advancing to the WIAA State Cross-Country Meet.
“One of our goals is to go to state, and I think we can do it,” Maier said. “We have a good pack in front. With our training as a team, we know our pack. I could see our pack coming more together and running as a more solid pack with less people between us.”
The Cardinal boys finished in sixth place as a team at Wednesday’s meet and ran with a spread of 3:25. Maier isn’t expecting his team to decrease its spread immediately, but just as he was before the start of Wednesday’s race, he’s confident that the 2019 season will end in his and his teammates’ favor.
The Cardinal girls finished in ninth place and were led by senior Katherine Dieckman who completed her 5k in 23:27 to take 20th among the 166 female racers.
Dieckman said her nerves had subsided enough before the start of the race so that she could focus on calming the nerves of her underclassmen.
“We have a really young team, and I just told them not to worry so much,” Dieckman said. “You have a whole season of training and improvement. It’s a good starting course, it’s flat, and this meet’s just a base time for improvement.”
Dieckman specifically mentioned freshman Lydia Hannack who has already impressed the senior in the first two weeks of practice.
“She has really bad pre-race nerves, but I can encourage her and tell her we’re in it together,” Dieckman said. “That helps both of us.”
Dieckman said she believes this is the tightest-knit team she’s been a part of during her four-year cross-country career, but advancing far into the postseason as a team may be difficult for the Cardinal girls. While motivating her teammates, Dieckman plans to tap into the room for growth she still has that may land her a long postseason run.
“I thought I peaked when I was younger, but after the track season, I realized I still had a lot of room for improvement,” Dieckman said. “That kind of gave me more hope that I could keep improving and have a really good year as a senior.”
The Ellsworth Panther boys’ team was the highest-placing team at Wednesday’s invitational. The Panthers finished in third place with a team score of 122 and were paced by junior Addison Peters who landed in eighth place after crossing the finish line at 18:28.
“I kind of started to peak at the halfway point,” Peters said. “I felt like I did well, though. I kind of have a persona of being confident. I always say, ‘I’m going to win this. I know I will.’”
Peters’ eighth-place finish was boosted by his teammates Daniel Newman and Charlie Stuhl who finished within 36 seconds of the Panther leader. The Panthers ran with a spread of 1:34 and are on pace to make as much noise as they did last season when they finished in third place at sectionals behind the second-place St. Croix Central Panthers.
What’s Peters focusing on before the Thursday, Sept. 5, meet in SCC?
“Beating as many St. Croix Central guys as I can,” Peters said.
The Ellsworth girls finished in 17th place with a team score of 413 and were led by junior CeCe Groh who completed the race in 26:07.
The Prescott Cardinals also earned a top 15-finish from senior Zach Knee who completed his first 5k of the season in 18:32.
“The boys’ (race) was really exciting because we had Zach (Knee) coming in 13th in a big meet,” Prescott’s new head coach Alexis Lahn said. “We were like, ‘What’s that going to bring us?’”
The Cardinal boys finished in eighth place as a team, and Lahn was also pleasantly surprised with some of her team’s performances on the girls’ side.
“It’s really exciting,” Lahn said. “We actually had some surprises on the girls' side, and it’s apparent who worked hard over the summer.”
The Cardinal girls were led by Megan Gilles and Kira Penk who finished in 31st and 43rd place and were largely responsible for preparing their 10th-place team for its first meet of the season.
“They did a really good job pulling in other runners this summer and doing our strength and speed program,” Lahn said. “Basically, all of them worked really hard over the summer.”
Most teams are still focused on fine-tuning their endurance as the first meet of the season approaches, but Lahn believes her team’s offseason dedication has put them ahead of the game now that the season is here.
“Because they’ve been active over the offseason, we’re already out on the track for repeat 400s,” Lahn said. “They’ve already put two months' worth of work in.
“Now it’s just about looking at how we can close the gap and get the gap to move farther up, but for meet one, I think it was a success.”
Neither the Elmwood/Plum City girls’ or boys’ teams had enough runners to compete as full teams at Wednesday’s meet, but the Wolves believe their preseason training is already paying off.
“We run six or seven miles (at practice), which makes running three miles a little bit easier,” senior Kendra Kern said.
Kern led the four-member EPC girls’ team with a 44th-place finish and a time of 24:55, and the boys’ were led by junior Austin Bartz whose time of 21:41 earned him an 86th-place finish.
“Our goal is just to bring down our times each week, even though the courses are different,” EPC’s head coach Kristel Flesberg said. “That’s going to be our goal.”
All four Pierce County teams will continue their seasons on Thursday, Sept. 5, at St. Croix Central High School for their 5:30 p.m. meet.