The Viroqua girl’s cross-country team can once again call themselves Coulee Conference champions. The Blackhawks placed four runners in the top six and five in the top 15, while dominating the Coulee end-of-season meet. It marked the fifth Coulee Conference championship for the VHS girls program in the last nine years and the 17th consecutive season that the VHS runners have placed in the top three at the event.
The tournament was held Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Ettrick Golf Course and hosted by Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School under cold, cloudy and breezy conditions.
Jillian Weston (20:37), Josie Dobbs (21:08), Lauren Brendel (21:09) and Katrina Koppa (21:26) finished second, third, fourth and sixth, respectively and Caleigh Smith (22:29) completed the VHS five-member team placing 15th. Caitlin Fox, although her placing did not count toward the VHS official team score, earned honorable mention all-Coulee status, placing in the top 20 at 17th with a time of 22:35. In total, six Viroqua runners picked up All-Coulee Conference recognition either as 1st or 2nd team members or with honorable mention status.
“We presented some pretty big challenges to our girls this week and they responded well,” coach Scott Benzing said following the race. “They battled hard from the start of the race and turned in terrific performances,” added Benzing in his 19th season as VHS head coach. “The girls have been focused and are running really well as a team right now. They have fought through injuries and illness this season…I am proud for the effort they have shown and the guts they have displayed in overcoming the challenges that have faced them.”
“In my eyes the most impressive race of the day was run by Caleigh,” Benzing said. “She was ranked 30th in the conference entering the meet and finished 15th with the fastest time she has ever run since joining our team last year.” Koppa, who had been ranked 16th in the conference just a couple of weeks ago, also stepped up in a big way, moving up ten spots with her 6th place finish.
In addition, two other Blackhawks showed vast improvement over their 2017 conference meet finishes, as Brendel improved from eigth in 2017 to third this year and Dobbs moved up from ninth last year to fouth this season.
Viroqua’s score of 30 team points easily out-distanced 2nd place GET with 69, Arcadia was 3rd with 72, followed by Westby 94, West Salem 113, Onalaska Luther 129 and Black River Falls 192.
It was the fourth consecutive All-Coulee honor for Weston and third as a first team member. It was also Brendel’s fourth time as a member of the All-Coulee team and second as a first team selection. The senior duo became just the seventh and eighth runners in the history of the VHS program to earn All-Conference honors in all four years.
Dobbs, a junior, became an All-Conference member for the third time and first as a part of the first team. For Fox, also a junior, it was her third time selection on the special team and for Koppa, a sophomore, her 2nd All-Conference honor but first as a member of the elite 1st team.
G-E-T’s Dana Fayen literally ran away with top individual honors, covering the 5,000-meter course in 18:03. The G-E-T senior has dominated the individual portion of the sport in the Coulee over her career as four-time Conference individual champion and 2017 WIAA D-2 state champion.
Andrew Quackenbush (18:11), Michael Stuber (18:22) and Joshua Frye (18:34) each earned All-Coulee Conference honors, placing 13th, 14th and 18th at the end-of-year conference race. Quackenbush and Stuber qualified as 2nd team-all Coulee runners and Frye won a spot on the honorable mention list.
Henry Roels (19:44) and Cale Anderson (19:55) placed 42nd and 45th respectively, rounding out the VHS team score. Senior Sam Urch (20:18) also competed for VHS, placing 17 spots higher than the 2017 conference race.
The good news is that four of those five VHS runners are underclassmen and will return for next season, including sophomores Quackenbush, Roels and Anderson and Frye, a junior.
The boys team score of 125 was an improvement compared to the 2017 Coulee tournament, and according to Benzing, “The boys were much more competitive at this year’s race. Andrew, Michael and Josh all had a great second half to their race…they all steadily improved their placing over the first half and had great kicks down to the finish stretch. I am proud of the leadership they have been providing their team this season.”
“Cale has been a great addition to this team,” Benzing said. “His great work ethic has really made a difference.”
Luther, led by individual champion David Vannucchi (15:50), won the boys team title with 47 points, followed by G-E-T with 71, West Salem 78, Arcadia 91, Westby 120, Viroqua 125 and BRF 140.
Both VHS teams will compete at the WIAA Division 2 sectionals to be hosted by Colby High School, Saturday, Oct. 20, in an attempt to qualify for the state individual and team championships the following weekend in Wisconsin Rapids.