LA CROSSE – There was no guarantee the Ashwaubenon boys 1,600-meter relay team’s story would end on the top step of the podium at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Jaguars had rebuilding to do after graduating two seniors off last year’s squad that finished within .26 seconds of state gold. That process began with freshman Jose Guzman and senior James Morgan joining veterans Nate Holly and Jon Gregory on this year’s relay team.
Those four Jaguars meshed and finished the job on Saturday, taking down the Division 1 1,600 relay title in 3 minutes, 18.74 seconds at the WIAA state track and field meet. Their performance was nearly 2 seconds faster than second-place Pewaukee.
“I don’t even have words to explain the feeling, especially with these three other guys,” said Gregory, a senior who ran on the 1,600 relay the last two years. “There’s nobody else I’d rather have accomplished this amazing thing with. Going out my senior year in my last high-school sport, last high-school race, last high-school anything when it comes to sports, it’s the best way I could’ve ever thought of going out of high school.”
After coming within an eyelash of beating Oconomowoc last year, Jaguars coach Cal Kromm approached Morgan about possibly coming out for track. The future Ball State quarterback occasionally worked out with the track team last year, but never considered running competitively.
Kromm also gauged Guzman’s interest in running 400s instead of the 100 and 200. Both Morgan and Guzman had reservations, but were sold once they began working with Jaguars sprints coach David Coates.
Coates, a former Southwest standout, still owns the Green Bay metro record in the event (47.91 seconds) and later became a five-time national champion at UW-La Crosse. Once Guzman and Morgan gave the green light, he felt the Jaguars may have stumbled onto their missing pieces.
“We had two nice surprises,” Coates said. “I don’t want to (say they) fell right into our lap, but these guys being new to the 400 meters — instantly, they were students of the event. Where can I shave more time? What’s it going to take for me to drop a second here? How fast do I need to go out? What do I need to come back in? They were like sponges to the event.”
Morgan and Guzman’s times dropped considerably during the course of the track season. Each runner ended the outdoor season about 5 seconds faster than indoor. Their progress had the Jaguars not only thinking about a state title in the event, but also a possible state record.
The Jaguars came close in Friday’s prelims when they ran a school-record 3:17.23, which was a little more than a second off the 3:16.09 pace Nicolet set in 1990. Although they weren’t able to break it, a state championship isn’t a bad consolation prize.
“I think this is a special group for sure,” Morgan said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot closer to each other as the season went on and really had each other’s backs the whole time. To get this is extremely special.
“I can’t say enough about our guys and our coaches and how much they put in and helped us and really motivated us and done all they can for us too.”
—firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.