Runners from the Middle Border Conference made a major impact at the 2019 WIAA State Cross Country Championships on Saturday and St. Croix Central’s runners were a big part of that success.

Three Central runners placed among the top 14 runners in their state races and the Panther boys had their best ever team finish at the state meet on The Ridges Golf Club at Wisconsin Rapids. Central freshman Kaitlyn Carlson placed ninth and junior Mya Kizer placed 14th running as individuals in the Division 2 girls race.

Junior Jakob Eggen led the Panther boys by placing 11th overall in the Division 2 boys race. That helped the Panthers move up to 11th place in the team standings, a big improvement after Central placed 16th in the Division 2 team standings each of the past two seasons.

The Panther boys had a strong showing across the board. Junior Cougar Holder placed 59th and senior Erik Collins placed 84th. Sophomore Colin Hackbarth placed 127th and junior Micah Larson was 136th. Seniors Josh Burgess and Lance Queen finished 138th and 148th.

Carlson becomes the third member of her family to run in the state meet. Her sisters Courtney and Sydney have previously run at the state meet. Kaitlyn’s ninth place finish made it two years straight where Central has had a top 10 runner in the girls state meet. Marie Hamlin placed fourth at the 2018 state meet.

St. Croix Central freshman Kaitlyn Carlson (center) pours all her energy into her finish, helping her to place ninth in the WIAA Division 2 State Championship race on Saturday at Wisconsin Rapids. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
St. Croix Central freshman Kaitlyn Carlson (center) pours all her energy into her finish, helping her to place ninth in the WIAA Division 2 State Championship race on Saturday at Wisconsin Rapids. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

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Carlson attended state when her older sisters competed. Central coach Bill Emery said her family had hopes Kaitlyn would also be a state caliber runner, so they had her pay close attention at those state meets. Her ninth place finish came in a time of 19:18.

This was Kizer’s third state meet, so she didn’t have any nerves either. She went in with a goal of topping last year’s 26th place finish. She shattered it by placing 14th, improving her time 30 seconds from last season.

Emery had the girls stay in the second pack of runners, but was concerned when all the leaders in the girls’ race went out at an incredible pace.

“The first mile was really fast, but they held the pace,” he said.

While the Panther girls were extremely focused leading into the race, Emery said he was a little concerned about the boys, saying they were “loosey goosey” the night before the race and in their prepwork that morning.

The boys race was different than the girls, because the lead runners started at a conservative pace, including the Panthers. Gradually, the Panthers began to show some fire.

“As the race kept going, they kept surging forward,” Emery said.

That included Eggen, who passed two runners in the final half mile to move up to 11th place. Emery said the charge at the finish isn’t Eggen’s usual style.

St. Croix Central junior Jakob Eggen (651) led the Panthers to their best team finish at the WIAA State Cross Country Championships by placing 11th in the Division 2 boys race on Saturday. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
St. Croix Central junior Jakob Eggen (651) led the Panthers to their best team finish at the WIAA State Cross Country Championships by placing 11th in the Division 2 boys race on Saturday. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

“He’s not a kick artist. He’s a regimented pace style runner,” Emery said.

Several of the Panthers have run at state each of the past three years and have made measurable progress. Eggen placed 60th last year and was 133rd as a freshman.

Holder placed 142nd at state last year, but was running injured. He placed 79th as a freshman in 2017.

Collins has been a steadying force for the Panthers and his state results show that. He was 83rd as a sophomore, 94th as a junior and 84th this season.

Hackbarth made a big advancement this season, finishing 88th after placing 123rd at state last year. Burgess has run at state three years, including his 138th finish this year. This was the first year that Larson and Queen competed at state for the Panthers.

St. Croix Central sophomore Colin Hackbarth (654) sprints toward the finish line during the WIAA Division 2 State Championship race on Saturday. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
St. Croix Central sophomore Colin Hackbarth (654) sprints toward the finish line during the WIAA Division 2 State Championship race on Saturday. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

After placing 16th each of the past two seasons, the Panthers went to state with two goals. One was to finish better than 16th. The other was to beat Osceola. The Panthers did that, with Osceola placing 13th, 14 points behind the Panthers. The meet went much better for Osceola's girls, which placed second in the Division 2 team results.

Emery was pleased with the results for the Panther boys, but said there’s still more for this team to accomplish. Emery said he thinks this team has the ability to place in the top 10 at next year’s meet.