Following a full two-week layoff because of weather-related cancellations, the Viroqua High School cross country teams were back in action last week competing in the Coulee Conference Championships held at the Skyline Golf Course in Black River Falls, Oct. 14.
“The Skyline Course is challenging with quite a few hills and the course was wet,” coach Scott Benzing said. “I was proud of how our runners performed…both teams scored better than their rankings based on best times from all of the conference runners during the season. Our relatively young group of runners has gained a lot of valuable experience this season. One of the things that they have learned is how to adapt to changing situations…we were counting on using the Arcadia meet last weekend to prepare for this meet…but plans had to change when that meet was cancelled. Our athletes adjusted well to the change in plans and kept their focus.”
The VHS girls continued their tradition of strong individual and team performances at the Coulee championships. The Blackhawks finished second in the team competition, with all five runners placing in the top 16 and all five earning all-Coulee Conference honors. It marked the 16th consecutive season that the Blackhawk girls team has placed in the top three at the Coulee end of season tournament.
Junior Jillian Weston placed second individually with a time of 20:33.5, sophomore Josie Dobbs was eighth in 21:45.6, junior Lauren Brendel ninth 21:54.6, freshman Katrina Koppa 11th 22:03.8 and sophomore Caitlin Fox 16th in 22:42.9. Dobbs recorded the fastest time of any sophomore in the competition and Kopp the top time of any freshman runner in the race. G-E-T’s Dana Fayen ran away with individual honors in 18:45.5.
Westby won the team championship with 31 points, Viroqua was right behind with 46, followed by West Salem 75, Arcadia 108, Onalaska Luther 124, G-E-T 135 and Black River Falls an incomplete team with just four runners.
“The Westby girls team is one of the strongest in the state and we knew that it would be an uphill battle to defeat them, but our girls were determined to perform at their best and were very competitive in the race,” Benzing said.
“Jillian had a great race…she is a great leader on this team and provides inspiration to everyone around her every day,” Benzing said.
Dobbs improved from her 16th place finish last year to eighth and Brendel moved up from a 12th placing in 2016 to ninth this time.
“Lauren, Katrina and Josie all worked well together during the race and really pushed each other,” Benzing said. “This team has worked hard all season and I believe their best performances are still ahead of them. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do at the sectional meet at Westby next Saturday (Oct. 21). It’s going to be and exciting event and we are looking forward to having a ton of Viroqua fans cheering on our teams as they have their best races of the season.”
“I am proud of all of our boys for how they competed,” Benzing said after the race. “It was the first time any of our guys had competed on this course. They improved on their projected finishes, both as a team and as individuals.”
Junior Michael Stuber was the top finisher for the Blackhawks, earning second team all-Coulee honors, placing 12th with a time of 18.29.9.
“Michael had the best race of his career,” Benzing said. “That was impressive, especially since this is his first season of cross country. He kept his composure throughout the race and worked his way up through the pack as the race progressed.”
Andrew Quackenbush ran to a 21st place finish in 19:09.7, and was one of just three freshman earning all-Coulee honors.
“Andrew had a great race,” Benzing said. “He had a controlled start and worked his way through the pack in the middle section of the race…he had a great battle at the end and used his ability to out-kick his opponents to earn that all-conference spot.”
A trio of VHS freshmen rounded out the Hawks’ team card with Aaron Dobbs placing 24th in 19:21.1, Joshua Frye 34th in 19:44.2 and Jay Lind 43rd in 20:45.9.
Dobbs out-sprinted a group of six runners that he was running with at the very end of the race for one of his best finishes of the year. Frye had his “best race of the year by far, “according to the VHS coach, saying, “He looked strong and never gave up ground during the race. Jay turned in one of his best performances of the year.”
Just seven points separated the top four teams with West Salem’s 69 points winning the championship, followed by G-E-T with 74, Arcadia 75, Onalaska Luther 76, Westby 106, Viroqua 133 and Black River Falls 141.