WISCONSIN RAPIDS – Their goals were simple — run great and bring home their 11th and third Division 1 state championships, respectively.
In both cases, the Stevens Point Area Senior High boys and girls cross country teams were so close to accomplishing a double championship Saturday during the WIAA state championships at the Ridges Golf Course. When all the scores were tabulated, the Panthers’ best wasn’t quite enough, as both teams brought home silver trophies for the fourth time for each program.
Madison West, led by individual champion Olin Hacker, won the D1 title with 77 points and SPASH had 157, but the girls team race was much closer. Champion Eau Claire Memorial had 118 points and the Panthers 127, a mere nine points separating the teams.
“It feels pretty good,” said senior Derek Cruz, who placed 13th overall. “We came here looking for the best, but second place is still a nice finish, and I’m proud of how I helped my team today.”
If the Panthers had repeated, it would have been the second time in program history that they would have accomplished that. The boys won back-to-back titles in 1980 and 1981, the first two titles under coach Donn Behnke.
“We came in here as the defending champs and hoping to repeat,” Evan Hatton said. “Not finishing No. 1 is disappointing, but there are so many great runners and teams in the state that it’s an honor to be second in Wisconsin.”
Madison West had three of their top five runners in the top 20 and all in the top 35 overall. SPASH meanwhile, had just Cruz and Hatton in the top 20.
West, Madison LaFollette, which placed fourth, and the Panthers were the top three ranked teams all season in the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Poll.
“We were more worried about ourselves than the other teams today,” Cruz said. “We knew if we gave it our best shot something good would happen, and second place is pretty good.”
The SPASH girls were the No. 1 team in the WCCA poll coming into the meet and had their five scoring runners come in ahead of Memorial’s fifth-place runner, but the Old Abes placed two in the top 15 of the scoring teams and SPASH had just one, sophomore Mya Zajakowski.
“Second place is great and a big improvement from last year, but first would have been nice,” said Zajakowski, who finished 19th overall. “I’m proud of our team and how far we came this year.”
The SPASH girls last won a the state crown in 2002, and this year’s silver trophy is their first since 1983, the last of three straight runner-up finishes.
“I think this solidified how strong the SPASH cross country program is, with two second-place finishes today,” Zajakowski said.
Mark Massoglia can be reached at 715-423-7200, ext. 6736. Follow him on Twitter @markmazzy.