After years as a last-place cross country team, Tomah High School has advanced to the middle of the Mississippi Valley Conference pack.
The Timberwolves confirmed their status as a competitive cross country program after the boys took fourth and the girls finished fifth at Thursday’s MVC meet hosted by Sparta at Maple Grove Cross Country Course in West Salem.
Prior to 2018, the two programs combined to finish last 34 times in the last 21 years. Last season, the boys finished third and the girls were fifth, and Tomah coach Jon Heesch said his runners were determined to maintain their newfound place in the MVC pecking order.
“I am so proud of how our athletes fought and how motivated they were to prove that last year was not a fluke and that we belong in the middle-top of the conference,” Heesch said. “We are building something special here at Tomah cross country, and the kids are buying in and taking pride in the program and the outcomes.”
Tomah’s top individual was Hannah Wilcox-Borg, who finished fifth in the girls race. She was second last season but missed the first half of 2019 with an injury. Her finish was still good enough to achieve first-team all-conference for the third straight season.
Heesch said Wilcox-Borg’s finish “speaks to the level of runner that she is. She was eager and determined to make it back in time to return to the top of the conference. She ran her fastest time of the season and fought hard for her fifth-place finish.”
Wilcox-Borg ran the five-kilometer course in 19:51. She was followed by teammates Brooke Bakken (22:13), Anna Apathy (22:40), Jennie Jorgensen (22:47), Cassie Lenning (23:20), Brielle Harmel (23:53) and Maddy Kline (24:04).
Onalaska’s Malecek triplets swept the top three places. Kora Malecek won the race in 17:57 followed by sisters Lydia (19:14) and Amalia (19:22). Another Onalaska runner, Ellie Smith, finished fourth in 19:34.
Team scores: Onalaska 16, La Crosse Central 82, La Crosse Logan 83, Holmen 88, Tomah 135, La Crosse Aquinas 144, Sparta 195.
Eugene Peterson led the Tomah boys with an 11th-place finish and a time of 17:04, while Kale Gnewikow was 14th in 17:17. Both earned second-team all-conference honors.
Jesse Smith was 15th with a time of 17:18 and earned honorable mention.
Tomah’s other runners were Caleb Lenning (17:56), Coy Nelson (18:02), Ty Schanhofter (18:05) and Weston Boettcher (18:22).
Zach Slevin of Logan was the winner in 15:55.
Team scores: Onalaska 46, Logan 48, Aquinas 77, Tomah 102, Central 114, Holmen 132, Sparta 163.
“I know the boys were a bit disappointed in the team result, but to still finish fourth and be disappointed ... shows how far we have come as a program,” Heesch said.
He believes the program will build on the results.
“We are happy with where we finished, and it shows the depth that this team has and how strong we are from 1-7 on both sides,” he said.
The Timberwolves get a nine-day break from competition before the Oct. 26 Madison West Sectional at Lake Farm County Park. Tomah and West will be joined by Baraboo, DeForest, Madison East, Madison Memorial, Middleton, Monona Grove, Reedsburg, Sauk Prairie, Verona and Waunakee.
The top two teams and top seven individuals from non-qualifying teams advance to the state meet at Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Nov. 2.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.