Hannah Wilcox-Borg takes a warmup lap with cross country teammates Thor Lass (second from left) and Caleb Lenning and coach Jon Heesch (far right).

Hannah Wilcox-Borg found a way to keep her 2019 girls cross country season afloat: swimming.

During a summer when her road work was sidelined by a leg injury, Wilcox-Borg went to the pool to keep her heart and lungs in peak condition. Her reward is a second straight trip to the WIAA Division 1 girls state cross country meet Saturday in Wisconsin Rapids.

Twelve months ago as a sophomore, Wilcox-Borg became the first Tomah girl in 31 years to qualify for state. The following spring, she developed shin splints during track and field season, and that idled her road work for four months. Fortunately, she still kept sharp competitively and aerobically as a member of the Tomah Torpedoes summer swim team.

“It’s the one sport you can do with no impact,” Wilcox-Borg said. “It was something good to do when I couldn’t run.”

Wilcox-Borg was still recovering once cross country season practice began in August, and she sat out the first four meets before making her season debut Sept. 21 at the Brookwood Invitational. She finished second but endured the inevitable return-to-racing pains.

“That was a pretty tough race,” she said. “It was the hardest because of all the hills, and my legs weren’t used to going that fast.”

The rest of the season amounted to regaining ground from last year. She said things finally “clicked” at an October 12 invitational at Wisconsin Rapids. Five days later, she was the first non-Onalaska runner to cross the finish line at the Mississippi Valley Conference meet and was first-team all-conference for the third year in a row.

Wilcox-Borg had nine more days of training to prepare for the Madison West Sectional, where she landed a berth in the state field with 15 seconds and three places to spare. She was seventh overall and second among runners from non-qualifying teams.

“Of course, I didn’t go out with the top lead girls,” Wilcox-Borg said. “I did what the coaches told me to do, which was to stay with the pack right behind them. It helped because I felt really smooth and really nice.”

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Wilcox-Borg was sixth until she was passed late in the race. She said it’s her finishing kick that has been most impacted by the time off.

“That last one (kilometer) has been the hardest recently for me,” she said. “That kick at the end ... that seemed to be somewhat lacking, but in (the sectional), my kick was somewhat stronger than it has been.”

Tomah cross country coach Jon Heesch said the season was “mentally taxing” for Wilcox-Borg, who has established high standards for herself during her first two seasons of running.

“Being injured is not easy,” Heesch said. “It can put you in places where you’re not comfortable being. Hannah is pretty hard on herself. She expects to go out there and run a (personal record) every day. For her to get back to this point is a testament to her determination and drive.”

Wilcox-Borg is still making up ground. She enters this year’s meet seeded 50th after finishing 21st in 2018 but believes she can use last year’s experience to her advantage.

“It’s important to know that it’s a hard course,” she said. “There are hills that pop up from out of nowhere. If you think you’re done, you’re not, because there’s a hill at the very end.”

Heesch is optimistic about how Wilcox-Borg will perform at state.

“Nobody has fresher legs than she does,” Heesch said. “There’s no pressure at all. We’re going to go and have fun and see how well she can do.”

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at steve.rundio@lee.net.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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