WISCONSIN RAPIDS — During the final 50 meters of the girls Division 3 race, Amherst senior Alissa Niggemann had a grin on her face even though Westby’s Elena Schmidt was right on her heels.
That grin turned into a smile as Niggemann completed the 5K race in 19 minutes, 0.40 seconds to win the state title, becoming Amherst’s second girls individual winner, at The Ridges Golf Course Saturday during the WIAA State Cross Country Championships.
The Falcons’ other state champion is Sulla Pulli, who won in 2000.
“I felt her lagging, but she was still fighting for it,” Niggemann said. “The races that come down to the last 25 feet are the most exciting and I’m glad I was up to the challenge.”
Niggemann, who was in second place at the one-mile marker and third at two miles, hung with the Westby runner in the third mile and had more left for a kick in the final stretch to earn the title.
“The last mile I was just like, I need to just hang on,” Niggemann said. “I know I have a good kick and it’s something that has helped me all season. The goal was to stay with the lead group and just leave it out there that last 200 and collapse across the finish line, which didn’t happen.”
The championship capped a great prep cross country career for Niggemann, who placed 31st as a freshman, sixth as a junior and eighth last year.
“I didn’t necessarily expect to win, but it was a goal of mine,” Niggemann said. “I just told myself today that this was my last race, ‘So just go for it.'”
The Amherst girls finished 10th with 244 points in the 16-team field.
The Stevens Point Area Senior High boys were the Division 1 runners-up a year ago and ranked fifth in the latest Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association poll.
The Panther mystique might be a year off as the team finished eighth with 217 points in the 20-team field. Kimberly won the state title with 80 points and Madison La Follette was second with 99. Wisconsin Valley Conference rival D.C. Everest finished 15th with 377.
The Panthers were led by freshman Ricky Perez, who placed ninth in 16:17 and was followed by junior Derek Franz in 17th in 16:30.
“I don’t feel like I ran my best race, but I’m getting on the podium as a freshman, so I’m happy about that,” Perez said. “Coach wanted us to run our average times from all our our races and I did that so I was happy about that.
“The only thing I didn’t like was the other top freshman I was competing against to see who was the best freshman beat me today.”