Maybe it has sunk in by now but Viroqua’s Jillian Weston said after winning the WIAA 1,600-meter Division 2 state championship race Friday that, “I don’t think it really hit me when I crossed the finish line. I don’t think it still has hit me − guess that will have to wait awhile.”
Those thoughts might be due in part because the sophomore sensation still had to focus on her next specialty, the 800-meter run, scheduled for two hours later, in 90-degree heat, at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Veteran’s Memorial Field outdoor track and field facilities on Friday. Weston may also have been thinking ahead to Saturday, when she would run the anchor leg of the Blackhawks 4x800-relay team.
The situation was not new to Weston, having been a state qualifier for Viroqua High School in all three events as a freshman in 2016. She responded with two more appearances on the medal-winning podium, finishing third in the 800 on Friday and fourth as a member of the relay team on Saturday.
Weston pulled away from the crowded field of runners over the final 200 meters to win the gold in the 1,600 in a time of 5:06.08 or 3 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. The state championship is the second in the school’s history, the only other coming in 1989 and earned by Becky Stalsberg in the 200-yard dash. Later in the day, Weston would record a 2:17.29 for her third-place finish in the 800, 1.2 seconds out of first place.
“I was ready for the 800, because at sectionals and at any other race this year, we have raced in more than one event … that you run hard, and then come back and race another one,” Weston said. Neither runner ahead of Weston in the 800 had been in the 1,600-meter race.
“Jillian was incredibly focused going into Friday morning, running with confidence and real determination. She ran the 1,600 absolutely amazing, the same race plan had worked for her before and she executed it perfectly,” Coach Adrian Ugo said. “Positioning played a key role in the 800 and caused her to work in the outside lanes in traffic. It is hard to simulate those kind of races during the season.
“She’s not used to running in a group, but I guarantee she’ll know what to do next time. She’s an incredible athlete and worked hard to earn the gold medal.”
Day one competition also found the Viroqua 4x400-relay team of sophomore Evelyn Gimurtu, freshman Josie Dobbs and juniors Delilah Vance and Madelyn Anderson finishing seventh in their preliminary qualifying race in 4:05.35. The 4x400 team slipped out of the medal placing 10th in the finals on Saturday with a time of 4:11.42.
On the strength of Weston’s first-day performances, the Blackhawks found themselves in first place in the team competition after Friday’s events with 18 team points.
Despite the third-place finish in the 800, Weston was thrilled with her efforts on Friday.
“It felt really great knowing that I have really put a lot of work into this, but I know I’ve got a lot of work left to do,” she said.
On Saturday, Weston combined with Anderson, junior Emma Kolden and Dobbs, racing to a fourth-place finish and a position on the podium for the third time in three races. The quartet of Blackhawks combined for a time of 9:37.42 in the 4x800 race. Kolden and Anderson joined Weston in back-to-back appearances at the state meet in the same event.
“This team put together their best race when it counted most, setting a new school record in the process,” Ugo said. “Madelyn ran an amazing opening split (2:22), her personal best, which was critical for good position. Josie and Emma ran smart and even legs and got the baton to Jillian in a great spot to allow her to make a move.
“Jillian got the baton with some great runners ahead of her, but went after them aggressively, picking up at least three spots…it was a great team effort and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Xana Leum, a VHS sophomore, set a school record in the triple jump with a combined leap of 35 feet-7 ½ inches, good for ninth place in the event in Saturday morning’s competition. Leum has been coming on strong in this event, breaking her personal best effort of 35-feet 1 inch set at the sectionals.
“Xana was a bit nervous I could tell, but she handled it well and she had fun with it,” Ugo said. “It was great to see the smile on her face when they announced her distance. She moved up three spots from where she was seeded and made the finals, placing 9th overall. It was great to see her finish her season on such a positive note. It will be a great motivator for her moving into next season.”
VHS junior, Lydia Noble, who reached the state meet as a special qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles, “Did not have her best race that day,” Ugo said, “but in the process was able to take in the experience and learn what might take her to the next step in her final (senior) season.”
The Blackhawks finished 12th as a team among 61 schools participating, with 21 points. Wittenberg/Birnamwood was the team champion with 40 points, Catholic Memorial was next with 34.