On the heels of a WIAA state championship in the 1,600-meter last spring, Viroqua junior Jillian Weston is continuing to build her long-distance running legacy at VHS, this time as a member of the cross country team.

For the second time in as many races this fall, Weston ran away from the rest of the field, winning the individual portion of the Viroqua Cross Country Invitational by a whopping 36 seconds. The nine-team meet was held Thursday, Aug. 31, at the Vernon County Fairgrounds.

Weston’s time of 19:30 was also 26 seconds faster than her time in the same race last season and included a negative split time in her final mile, meaning she finished with her final mile time faster than the first. Holmen senior Mason Kalander was a distant seconnd individually with a time of 20:06.

Weston’s efforts and that of her young and talented teammates led the Blackhawks to a second-place team finish with 51 points, just 15 points behind second-place Division 1 power program La Crosse Central’s meet-winning 26-point total.

Lauren Brendel, a junior, sliced 25 seconds off her time in last year’s race with a 21:40, placing ninth individually. Sophomore Caitlin Fox turned in another strong performance placing 11th with a time of 22:02 and fellow classmate Josie Dobbs finished 14th in 22:36, a full minute faster than her time in the same race in 2016. Freshman Katrina Koppa continued her impressive freshman season with a 16th place finish in 23:09.

Other runners placing in the race but outside of the top five counting for the VHS team totals were freshman Cayleigh Smith (24:04) 24th and junior Xana Leum (25:42) 38th in the field of 89 racers.

La Crosse Central won the team title, followed by Viroqua in second, Boscobel 89, Holmen 102, Hillsboro 136, Sparta 167, North Crawford 183, Necedah 190 and Owen Withee an incomplete team.

Coach Scott Benzing had high praise for his team.

“The competition was great, but our girls stepped up and turned in some great performances. The lead pack stayed together for the first mile of the race, then Jillian began pulling away…she kept an even pace during the first two miles and finished the last mile with a negative split…it’s always exciting to see a runner able to finish their last mile faster than the first. Lauren Brendel had a strong race and she is a lot stronger than she was at this point of the season last year. Josie has also gotten a lot stronger this year. Our runners are working hard in the early part of this season and it is going to pay dividends in October. I’m proud of their efforts and their eagerness to improve. This is a real fun bunch of kids to coach.”

“We are grateful to the fairgrounds to hold our invitational,” Benzing said. “The course is spectator-friendly with multiple locations to cheer for the runners… it’s a wonderful facility and we’re looking forward to hosting our meets there in the future.”

The Blackhawks were scheduled to compete at the Westby Invitational, Tuesday, Sept. 5, and will travel to Spring Green for another invite, Saturday, Sept. 9.

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