The Stratford boys and girls cross country teams both go to state for the first time since 1984
By Paul Lecker
STRATFORD — With high expectations come pressure, and the Stratford cross country teams have dealt with that and then some.
The Stratford girls had three runners in the top 11, and the boys had four in the top 20 as the teams finished second at last week’s Division 3 sectional at Nine-Mile Forest in Rib Mountain and earned spots in the 2015 WIAA State Cross Country Championships on Saturday at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
The Division 3 girls meet kicks off the event at noon, and the D-3 boys run at 2 p.m.
The girls edged Stevens Point Pacelli by just two points for the final state berth. The boys had a mere six-point cushion over Marathon to finish runner-up behind Wisconsin Rapids Assumption.
Veteran coach Mark Guderski said he had high expectations that both Stratford teams could reach the state meet for the first time since 1984.
The girls made it last year and finished last in the team standings but gained valuable experience. All seven runners returned and were joined by a promising freshman in Macie Schillinger.
The boys had six returning runners and two freshmen — Josh Guyer and Paul Huther — who stepped into the top seven this year.
Both squads met their high expectations and find themselves ready to take on a strong field at state.
“We hoped we could repeat with the girls,” Guderski said. “We had all seven of our girls coming back and a strong freshman coming in, so we were expecting to make it. Not realizing that (sectional champion) Auburndale is a lot better than we thought, and we knew Marathon would be there, we thought we would have a chance this year.
“With the boys, we knew Assumption and Marathon would be tough, but with our summer development — our senior John Geissinger set up summer practices — they were on the right track as the season began and carried on from there.”
Johnelle Miner reasserted herself as the Tigers girls’ top runner, earning fourth at both the Marawood Conference and sectional meets and winning back-to-back meets at Spencer and Athens earlier this season.
“She put in a lot of summer miles and has been our No. 1 runner all year,” Guderski said. “Most of the time she trains with the boys just because we don’t have another girl that can run with her. We try to challenge her a little bit more. She’s dropped over a minute from her time last year going into the state meet (where she finished 41st). We feel that she has a chance to be in the top 10.”
Schillinger has been a consistent No. 2 for the Tigers all season, finishing sixth at the sectional and seventh at conference.
Sophomore Kaylee Hollatz, senior Courtney Krall, and juniors Samantha Kaiser and Sammy Griesbach return to state for the Tigers, and sophomore Heather Greenberg will be running in her first.
“It’s pretty exciting for the girls going back-to-back,” Krall said. “It gives us motivation, and we’re pretty pumped and excited. There’s a lot of pressure (to get back to state), and you know that you have to work hard in practices. There’s no slacking off. You have those expectations, and you want to work extra hard to meet those.”
Geissinger, the Stratford boys’ top runner, took it upon himself to get the Tigers ready for the season.
He finished sixth at the conference meet and seventh at the sectional, saving his best for the end of the season. Joined by juniors Lucas Heidmann, Cade Lehman, Christopher Zuelke, and Isaac Guyer and the two freshmen, Geissinger had the Tigers ready to go from the start of practice in August.
“The day after state track I started running and haven’t stopped since, just one day off a week,” Geissinger said. “I was really training to make it individually, and if the team made it, that was great. Last year we almost made it as a team, and a bunch of us just missed by a couple of places, and I didn’t want that to happen again.”
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.