MENOMONIE, Wis. -- Senior seasons for high school athletes is all about making memories. And Hudson senior Zoe Field figures she’s already got a good story to tell her kids someday.

Field and her Hudson teammates joined River Falls and Menomonie for their first cross-country meet of the season Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Big Rivers Conference West Grade Level Cross Country Challenge in Menomonie. And to say there was a different feel to the meet would be an understatement.

Due to local coronavirus restrictions, competitors had to wear masks for the first 300 meters of the race and no out-of-town spectators were allowed. Instead of boys' and girls' varsity and JV races, the event featured boys and girls running together in four races divided by class -- senior, junior, sophomore and freshman. No team scores were kept.

Field said the toughest thing for her to get used to was running with a mask.

“When you breathe in it kind of sucks into your mouth and it feels almost airtight sometimes so that can be hard,” she noted. “And as far as no spectators, it’s a bit disappointing just for my parents not being able to be here. But it will be a memory. It will be something to tell our kids about in 20 years.”

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Field was the top Hudson girl in the senior race with a fourth place time of 23 minutes, 43 seconds, while teammate Tia Straw was sixth in 25:22.

Straw said she didn’t have as big an issue with the mask, and tried to look on the bright side as far as the lack of Raider fans.

“When we actually came out of the gate and started the first 300, it wasn’t as bad wearing the mask as I expected it to be because you’re not really focused on that anymore. It was just, get my pace and start out strong,” she said. “And it was kind of fun to hear our teammates more instead of other fans and other people. I think it will help bring us together more.”

River Falls’ Ellen Rayne, left, and Abigail Esterby run side-by-side midway through the Senior race at the Big Rivers Conference West Grade Level Cross Country Challenge in Menomonie Saturday, Aug. 29. River Falls’ girls swept the top three spots in the race with Allison Weissinger placing first, Rayne second and Esterby third. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
River Falls’ Ellen Rayne, left, and Abigail Esterby run side-by-side midway through the Senior race at the Big Rivers Conference West Grade Level Cross Country Challenge in Menomonie Saturday, Aug. 29. River Falls’ girls swept the top three spots in the race with Allison Weissinger placing first, Rayne second and Esterby third. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

River Falls took the top three spots in the senior girls’ competition, with Allison Weissinger winning in 20:39, Ellen Rayne second in 21:58 and Abigail Esterby third in 22:38.

Wildcat coach Kari DeLuca said it just felt good to be back racing again, despite the unusual circumstances.

“The kids were still so excited to be back racing,” she said. “Our goal is to enjoy each day we are together as a team. And now that we are used to the mask and the new rules at meets, next meet we’ll focus more on competing.”

Menomonie’s Patrick Schwartz won the senior boys’ competition with a time of 16:18 while Hudson’s Anthony Weeks was second in 16:26. River Falls’ Grant Magnuson took third in 16:31 and teammate Brandon Nelson was fourth in 18:08.

Hudson had a strong showing in the sophomore race with Ryleigh White edging teammate Rubyann Mitchell by one second in the girls’ competition to win with a time of 21:31 and Ingrid Holter placing fifth in 23:26. Hudson’s sophomore boys swept three of the top four spots with Connor Faust second in 18:38, Dominic Drost third in 19:06 and Jack Olson fourth in 19:07. Nathaniel Fosler of River Falls placed fifth in 19:45.

Hudson’s freshmen boys made a splash in their race with Addisu Haverly winning in 17:48, Taggert Ruedebusch second in 19:20, Ethan Eilertson third in 20:01 and Brock Bjerke fourth in 20:56, while River Falls’ Gabe Gilles finished fifth in 21:05.

Haley Loewe and Rebecca Belaney of Hudson also made their first high school races memorable with first and second place times of 19:26 and 21:05 while teammate Hannah Lundeen was fifth in 23:56. River Falls’ Lilly Jensen placed fourth in 22:03.

Hudson’s junior girls take off at the start of their race at the Big Rivers Conference West Grade Level Cross Country Challenge in Menomonie Saturday, Aug. 29. The event consisted of four races, divided up by class, with boys and girls running together and wearing masks for the first 300 meters. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
Hudson’s junior girls take off at the start of their race at the Big Rivers Conference West Grade Level Cross Country Challenge in Menomonie Saturday, Aug. 29. The event consisted of four races, divided up by class, with boys and girls running together and wearing masks for the first 300 meters. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

Henry Czupryna of Hudson finished second in the junior boys’ race with a time of 18:49 and Sam Shaw of River Falls was third in 19:12 while Wildcat Dustin Sheely finished fourth in 19:19. Manon Field was the top Hudson girls’ finisher with a fifth place time of 22:01.

While no team scores were kept, DeLuca said she could tell the Wildcats have a little work to do.

“Our athletes put a lot of offseason training in, but I don’t think we saw their full potential today,” she said. “I think we need to get used to running on grass and being competitive again. We’ll get there.”

Both River Falls and Hudson will return to Menomonie for the Menomonie Relays Sept. 12.

New Richmond makes strong first impression

New Richmond’s cross-country teams opened the season under similar mask and spectator restrictions at a three-team meet hosted by Chippewa Falls last Wednesday and responded well, with the Tiger boys’ placing five runners in the top seven to place first and the girls’ finishing second.

Tiger coach Beth Kelly said she learned a lot about her runners by watching how they handled the additional challenges.

“I think the meet went really well, and it was a great chance to see what the meets are going to be like with the safety plans,” she said. “The race situation shows a coach things you can’t create in practice, like mental preparation and rising to the many challenges presented on race day, from bussing situations to running with a mask. We know more about our team than we did before we raced.”

Senior Max Blader broke away from the field at the 2-mile mark to win the boys’ race with a personal best time of 15:57 while classmate Cale Bishop was second in 16:41. Senior Tyler Harris was fifth in 17:29 and junior Jacob Doehrmann took sixth in 17:57 while junior Aidan Johnson finished seventh in 18:01 to give the Tigers’ a first place team total of 21 points. Chippewa Falls was a distant second with 44.

Rice Lake took the girls’ team title with 30 points while New Richmond was second with 43. Sophomore Anna Fitzgerald led the Tigers with a third place time of 20:22 and classmate Ceana Dietz was fourth in 20:59 while senior Kayla Harris finished eighth in 21:25, freshman Katelyn Doehrmann placed 11th in 22:45 and junior Kaisa Engstrom was 18th in 24:43.

Kelly said the hard work the Tigers put in during the summer was reflected by the personal best times recorded by Blader, Jacob Doehrmann, Johnson, Eddie Noyes and Fitzgerald. She also gave a shout out to freshman Katelynn Doehrmann for being the fourth varsity finisher behind three experienced upperclassmen.

Next up for the Tigers is the St. Croix Central Invitational 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, in Hammond.