Track is not a sport where an athlete wants to be tense or pressured.
They’ll say they want to be as loose and as focused as possible so that they can run their best race, jump their heighest or throw their farthest.
But pressure is unavoidable for these athletes as they hit their championship season when their is so much more on the line, like conference titles and berths in the next level of the WIAA championship series.
And there is nothing like the pressure that comes with being at the WIAA State Meet.
“It’s still stressful,” Oshkosh West’s Jackie Butler, a three-time qualifier for state, said. “You walk into the stadium and it all kind of comes back.”
That’s what faces numerous area athletes who will be competing down at Memorial Stadium in La Crosse this Friday and Saturday in the WIAA State Track & Field Meet.
This is the biggest meet that most of these athletes will have in their entire lives, and with the pressures of the venue, time and performance on their minds, it can be a lot to handle.
“State is a huge opportunity,” Lourdes Academy thrower Dylan Sommerfeld, who will be competing in the discus, said. “I’m definitely nervous.”
This is where those that have made the trip to state before have an advantage. They’ve experienced the big meet before and they know the ebbs and flows of the meet and the pressure that comes along with it.
“Its really nice to have that experience to be in such a big meet so your not freaking out,” Lourdes Academy’s Nora Keller, who placed in last year’s meet and is returning this year, said. “You just have to run your race and see what it’s going to be like.”
For those new qualifiers, it could be a bit much. They must rely on others to help them relax and stay focused.
One group that can do that is other teammates. Brian Elmer, a member of the Oshkosh North 1600-meter relay team that is returning to state, is running at La Crosse for the first time. But he’ll get help from Phil Brechlin, Peter Lenz and Zack Knoll, who competed in the event last year.
“The success they’ve had in the past and their experience of being down there really helps me,” Elmer said. “It keeps me motivated and helps me run my best.”
The other group new qualifiers can rely on is their coaches, with whom they’ve been preparing for this meet since the beginning of the season.
“You start talking about (building toward state) in the beginning of the season,” Omro coach Jon Schwantz said. “The work we put in from Day 1 works to this point of the season. Now at the end of the season, all of the work is in.”
Coaches are key in keeping kids focused and relaxed for meets. They know that the work the kids have put in will be good enough once again.
All it may take is a simple reminder.
“During the meet we make sure that we are focused and relaxing,” Lourdes coach Tim Moore said. “When all of that happens, our kids our going to be successful.”
The athletes themselves focus on the individual meets and work on things throughout the season building for the postseason.
“During the regular season, you juyst can’t let anything bother you. If you do bad, you figure out what you have to work on so that you’re ready for the end of the year,” said West’s Stephen Finley, who qualified in both the 100 and 200 meters.
For some of the kids, making it to the state meet was the goal. That means most of the pressure has been lifted off of their shoulders just having made it.
Now, it’s just a matter of putting up a good effort in their races at La Crosse.
“There was a little more at sectionals,” Omro’s David Thomas said. “Last year, I was so close to making it. It’s a little bit relieving (to have made it this year).
“But I still want to represent Omro in a good manner.”
For others, there could also be that added pressure of putting out a big performance and making it to the ever-hallowed podium.
Take, for example, the Oshkosh West 400- and 800-meter relay teams. Both have solid chances at making it to the podium, something that hasn’t happend for that program in a few years. They are definitely feeling it.
“We do feel a little bit of pressure,” West’s Maddie Leske, who runs on both relays, said. “West hasn’t had someone who podiumed in a while. So we definitely want to do good and try our hardest.”