The WIAA state track and field meet is like nothing else in Wisconsin prep sports.
Hundreds of athletes and thousands of spectators from across the state converge on Veterans Memorial Stadium on the campus of UW-La Crosse to take part in what has to be the most chaotic two days of the year for Wisconsin high school athletics.
With all of the distractions and havoc surrounding them, participating athletes are in the unenviable position of having to somehow prepare like normal for their events when it’s anything but a normal situation.
Returning state qualifiers clearly have the advantage in a scenario like this. Having been through the experience, they know how to keep calm, or at the very least, try to stick to a typical routine. However, from a tight warmup area to the pressure of the situation to the amount of people watching, it’s sometimes tough to adjust even for state meet veterans.
“It’s a completely different mindset going from maybe 50 people watching a track meet to thousands of different people being there,” Winnebago Lutheran senior high jumper Matthew Tadych said. “It’s overwhelming almost. You’ve really got to concentrate.”
St. Mary’s Springs senior and four-year state qualifier Melanie Schneider pointed to the simple reality of not having as much space to prep beforehand, an expected but constraining consequence of the sheer amount of people at the Veterans Memorial Stadium complex.
“I think what’s hard at state is there’s so many people that you don’t have as much warm-up space,” Schneider said. “Your adrenaline is pumping more and you don’t know when you’re exactly ready to run. But the adrenaline does help you run that much faster.”
Springs junior and three-year state qualifier Sam Spranger talked about how he makes sure to start his preparation in the hotel room beforehand and will do everything he can to get his body in tip-top condition to run before even getting to the track.
“I try to do as much prepping in my hotel room as possible,” he said. “Maybe taking an ice bath before or right now my trainer is giving me heat pads to heat my legs up and keep them nice and warm.”
To some athletes however, the state meet doesn’t initiate any pre-meet routine changes or alterations. Fond du Lac senior thrower Peter Andrew, who qualified this year in both the discus throw and shot put, said that he tries to keep his routine as similar as possible when in La Crosse, even with the distractions and chaos.
“For the most part, it just stays the same,” Andrew said. “It’s the same as any other meet. I try to stay a little more focused because of the all the distractions, but it’s pretty much the same.”
Waupun senior thrower Jasmine Dolske took a similar perspective.
“It stays pretty much the same,” Dolske said. “I just listen to music and hang out with my friends, knowing that they’re there to support me. I really don’t change anything because sometimes change messes things up and I don’t want to do that before a big meet.”
Waupun senior distance runner Matt Kuik, like Andrew and Dolske, tries to keep his routine similar but admits that state is a unique experience — one that shouldn’t be ignored.
“You’ve just got to kind of embrace the atmosphere of it because it’s really cool being there with all the people,” Kuik said. “I try to keep it like a normal meet. I know it’s not a normal meet, but you try to keep it as one. You warm up the same way and try to prepare yourself for the race in the same way you did all year.”
Like his teammate, Waupun senior Bryce Verheyen noted that it’s not a typical meet, but tries to stick to his routine, even with small details.
“It’s definitely different because there’s a huge crowd and all the different athletes and level of competition,” Verheyen said. “I just try to stay with the routine and preparation right before the meet. The biggest thing that I try to keep the same is simple things like tying my shoes or what I eat before the race. I just try to keep everything the same and think of it as a great opportunity to show what I can do at that level.”
For athletes who haven’t participated in state before, this weekend’s meet will be an eye-opening experience, but one where keeping focused and prepared will be more important than ever. Many first-time state qualifiers might have an idea of what the atmosphere is like, if they’ve attended as a spectator, but actually competing amongst and in front of thousands of people is a different animal altogether.
“Everything’s going to be completely different,” Fond du Lac senior and 4X800-meter relay member Jeannie Bestor said. “There’s going to be so many good athletes and I guess you just have to go off what you’ve been training for all season. It will be so crazy that you’ll try to have to focus yourself back in like ‘OK, race.'”
While most athletes going into the state meet are simply hoping to run their best or set a personal record, a few area competitors this year have a great chance to take back some hardware.
Fondy’s Andrew, after finishing highly at state last year in the shotput, has his eyes firmly set on at least a second-place finish with the potential to even win the event.
“Where I stand right now, I’m hoping to take second,” Andrew said. “But if I get a good throw off, the guy in front of me is not very good under pressure so maybe if I get a good throw right away he’ll crumble and I might have a chance at first.”
The Cardinal boys, who won their Division 1 sectional last Friday at Beaver Dam, also figure to have a shot at scoring pretty highly as a team. Sending athletes in eight different events, Fond du Lac could very well make a push towards the top of the leaderboard. But as of now, the Cardinals are focused on their individual events and not where they may end up as a team.
“We’re just trying to do our own thing,” Fond du Lac senior and shot put qualifier Jason Toshner said. “As a team, if we do our best, then it will come together.”
On the girls side for Fond du Lac, Annie Moore has a chance to finish near or on the podium in both the 800- and 1,600-meter runs after winning the two races in sectionals.
For St. Mary’s Springs, the 4X800-meter relay team of Liz Bohn, Emily McGovern, Paige Case and Schneider figures to be in the mix for winning another state title — after the Ledgers’ 4X800 teams won the previous three years — while Schneider and Bohn could individually make some noise as well. Schneider qualified in four events (4X800 relay, long jump, 400-meter dash, 200-meter dash) and Bohn advanced in three (4X800 relay, 1,600-meter run, 800-meter run).
Anja Smith also qualified in three events — the high jump, triple jump and 100-meter hurdles.
With the Springs girls competing in 11 events this weekend, a high team finish seems to be a realistic possibility.
In Division 2, a variety of boys and girls athletes appear to have a shot at doing well.
Waupun’s Adrian Harmsen may have the best chance of any of them to finish on the podium in Division 2. Harmsen took third in the 400-meter dash at state a season ago and looks to end his prep career on a positive note, potentially even with a school record in tow.
“I’m hoping to set a new PR and hopefully break our school record,” Harmsen said. “Doing that and just even competing at the state meet is an accomplishment in itself.”
Sam Oleson (920) 907-7930 or email@example.com
•Annie Moore, jr., Fond du Lac, 800-meter run, 1,600-meter run
•Ally Gietzel, fresh., Fond du Lac, 800-meter run
•Nicole Lord, fresh., Fond du Lac, long jump
•Alyssa Mertes, sr., Fond du Lac, pole vault
•4X800-meter relay (A. Gietzel, M. Buechel, J. Bestor, A. Moore), Fond du Lac
•Brian Luteyn, sr., Fond du Lac, 110-meter hurdles
•Nick Park, jr., Fond du Lac, 100-meter dash
•Kyle Marcoe, soph., Fond du Lac, 400-meter dash
•Peter Andrew, sr., Fond du Lac, discus throw, shot put
•Jason Toshner, sr., Fond du Lac, shot put
•4X100-meter relay (K. Pierce, Q. Woelfel, N. Park, T. Halfmann), Fond du Lac
•4X400-meter relay (L. Curran, B. Luteyn, K. Marcoe, T. Halfmann), Fond du Lac
•Jasmine Dolske, sr., Waupun, shot put, discus
•Sydney Flier, fresh., Waupun, discus throw
•Kayla Bonack, sr., Waupun, triple jump
•Yu T. Chen, soph., Mayville, 100-meter dash
•4X200-meter relay (T. Mangan, C. Strook, B. Huizenga, Y. Chen), Mayville
•4X100-meter relay (T. Mangan, C. Strook, B. Huizenga, Y. Chen), Mayville
•Mackenzie Boehlke, soph., Winnebago Lutheran, shot put
•Hailey Isaac, sr., Laconia, 1,600-meter run
•Matt Kuik, sr., Waupun, 1,600-meter run
•Adrian Harmsen, sr., Waupun, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash
•Bryce Verheyen, sr., Waupun, 800-meter run
•4X800-meter relay (M. Kuik, B. Bille, K. Miller, B. Verheyen), Waupun
•Brandon Poellot, sr., Mavyille, 100-meter dash
•Matthew Tadych, sr., Winnebago Lutheran, high jump
•Anja Smith, soph., St. Mary’s Springs, high jump, 100-meter hurdles, triple jump
•Melanie Schneider, sr., St. Mary’s Springs, long jump, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash
•Lizzy Leichtle, sr., St. Mary’s Springs, shot put
•Liz Bohn, sr., St. Mary’s Springs, 800-meter run, 1,600-meter run
•4X800-meter relay (L. Bohn, E. McGovern, P. Case, M. Schneider), St. Mary’s Springs
•4X100-meter relay (T. Scholler, A. Lau, M. McGovern, E. O’Leary), St. Mary’s Springs
•Kurt Mueller, jr., St. Mary’s Springs, discus throw
•Sam Spranger, jr., St. Mary’s Springs, 400-meter dash
•Austin Feyen, jr., St. Mary’s Springs, shot put