MENOMONIE—Fewer than three seconds separated Tomah’s Hannah Wilcox-Borg from a berth at the state cross country meet.
Wilcox-Borg was edged for the final individual spot by 2.7 seconds at the WIAA Division 1 Menomonie Sectional Saturday at Menomonie High School.
Overall, it marked the loftiest finish by Tomah runners at sectional in several years. Wilcox-Borg finished 11th out of 82 runners, while the boys were sixth out of 12 teams. It was a solid finish for the two squads under the direction of first-year head coach Jon Heesch.
“This year was a lot of fun, and the kids worked really hard to make the most of it.” Heesch said. “They were determined to have the best year they could, and our results show all the hard work they put forward. I am super proud of all of the runners, and they should definitely be super proud of themselves for how this season went.”
“Things are looking up for Tomah cross country.”
Wilcox-Borg, a freshman, spent the last two-thirds of the race in a tightly bunched pack of runners who finished between seventh and 13th. The pack consisted of five runners battling for the last two individual spots and two Hudson runners who qualified with their team.
Ella Behling of Chippewa Falls notched the final individual berth with a time of 20:13.5, while Wilcox-Borg finished in 20:16.2.
Freshmen accounted for seven of the first 13 finishers.
A pair of freshmen were the next two Tomah runners to cross the finish line. Brooke Lucka posted a time of 23:12, followed by Brooke Bakken at 23:30. Sophomore Brielle Harmel was next in 24:02, followed by seniors Hannah Scorsone (25:59) and Kyrie Ambrosia-Brown (31:38).
Rachel Ball of Hudson won the race in 19:10, followed by Mississippi Valley Conference champion Kora Malacek in 19:28.
Heesch said runners were challenged by the five-kilometer (3.1-mile) course that descended into the valley of the Red Cedar River.
“It was a wet, windy, hilly course, which made for slower times and some very exhausted runners coming through the finish line,” Heesch said. “This meet definitely made everyone work for their times and places.”
The Timberwolves finished 11th out of 12 teams, improving on their 12th-place finish from last year.
Team scores: Hudson 52, Onalaska 66, Eau Claire Memorial 96, La Crosse Central 136, New Richmond 139, Menomonie 161, Chippewa Falls 168, River Falls 216, Eau Claire North 237, Holmen 272, Tomah 278, Superior 309.
The top two teams and top five individuals from non-qualifying teams advanced to state.
“The girls continued to improve with each race,” Heesch said. “I am so proud of our girls for how they fought for everything they got each race. We had a really great year, and our top four runners are all underclassmen.”
While the Tomah boys didn’t have an individual push for a state berth, they put together a trail-blazing team effort with three runners in the top 30 and all seven easily breaking the 20-minute barrier.
Sophomore Caleb Lenning led the Timberwolves by finishing 19th in a field of 84 runners. His time was 17:46.
Trevin Nelson, the team’s only senior, was next with a time of 17:50.
Sophomore Eugene Peterson was the third Tomah runner to finish in the top half. He was 30th with a time of 18:04.
Rounding out the Tomah varsity were sophomore Matthew Holtz (18:59), freshman Coy Nelson (19:05), sophomore Eric Tollefson (19:16) and freshman Weston Boettcher (19:32).
The team finish marked the first time this century the Tomah boys finished in the top half of the sectional field. Tomah finished last or next to last at every sectional meet from 2000 to 2015 before finishing 10th of 12 last year.
Team scores: Hudson 47, Eau Claire Memorial 51, La Crosse Central 119, Eau Claire North 128, River Falls 150, Tomah 182, Onalaska 201, Menomonie 205, Holmen 207, Chippewa Falls 235, New Richmond 282, Superior 312.
Heesch was very encouraged by his young varsity and junior varsity squads and looks forward to next season.
“The boys team had a phenomenal year − one of the best years they have had in a very long time,” Heesch said. “They won two invitational meets. They were continually finishing in the top-20 of each race. They finished fourth in conference.”
Heesch said losing Nelson will leave “a very large hole in the program, but we will be returning 15 of our 16 runners next year.”
Heesch said the team got lots of support from many different people this season. He thanked assistant coach Phil Johnson “for his hard work and passion for running and helping the runners be the best they can be.”
He also thanked bus driver Heather Neitzel “for getting us to each meet and home from each meet safely” and coverage from the local media. He also appreciated a healthy following from parents and fans.
“I want to thank the parents for their support of their runners and their support of the program,” Heesch said. “We would not be able to do our job as coaches without the support of the parents. I want to thank Tomah High School for their support of athletics and their support of Tomah cross country. I want to thank the fans of our team and how much support we received from them and building up our kids and our program.”
The state cross country meet will be held Saturday, Oct. 28 in Wisconsin Rapids.