Jillian Weston has qualified for the WIAA Division 2 state tournament for the third time in her four-year varsity career as a member of the Viroqua High School cross country team. Weston, a VHS senior, ran to a silver medal finish at the WIAA D-2 sectionals, Saturday, Oct. 21, with a time of 20:51.
The race was hosted by Colby High School and was held under challenging weather conditions, including extremely cold temperatures, in the low 30s, with gusty winds from 30-45 mph.
Weston led the Blackhawks to a fourth-place team finish among 13 schools competing with a chance to advance to the state meet to be held in Wisconsin Rapids Oct. 27. The fourth-place team finish marked the 15th straight season the VHS girls have placed in the top five at the sectional meet.
Lauren Brendel, a VHS senior, covered the 5K course in 22 minutes flat, placing 14th, followed closely by junior Josie Dobbs (22:19) in 16th place. VHS sophomore Katrina Koppa (23:14) placed 33rd and junior Caitlin Fox (23:45) earned a 38th place finish to complete the Hawks’ five-member team score of 103.
G-E-T senior Dana Feyen ran away with the individual gold in a time of 19:32, the only runner to break the 20-minute barrier at the sectional meet.
“This was a tough sectional field with quite a few of the top runners in the state along with three teams ranked in the top eight in division two,” said coach Scott Benzing following the competition. In addition, conditions were tough for all competitors, according to the veteran coach. “The Colby cross-country program put a lot of hard work into the course…the course was flat but wet and muddy conditions, along with the high winds provide for times that were slower for most competitors,” Benzing said. “In the end everyone has to run in the same conditions, these types of races come down to who can deal best with the conditions.”
“I am so proud of Jillian and happy for her,” Benzing said. “She has relentless work ethic and provides a wonderful example for others, not just as a runner but as a person in general.” About Weston’s race, Benzing shared these comments, “Jillian ran a smart race and it paid off…she had a great start, positioning herself where she needed to be…she set a good pace and maintained it when other runners began to struggle…she had a strong finish and overall ran a terrific race.”
“Our girl’s team cleared a lot of hurdles this year,” Benzing added. “They should be proud of what they have accomplished together.”
Medford won the team title with 47 points, Wisconsin Dells was next with 76, followed by La Crosse Logan with 97, Viroqua 103, Colby/Abbottsford 158, Elkmound 193, G-E-T 194, Mauston 198, Arcadia 223, West Salem 232, Neilsville/Granton 277, Altoona 312, BRF 345 and Adams Friendship 403.
The VHS boys competed just prior to the girl’s race and presented even more extreme weather conditions, including a snowstorm.
“The conditions for the boy’s race were brutal,” according to Benzing. “Competing during a snowstorm in a cross-country race will be a memory these runners will remember for the rest of their lives, it was brutal, but our guys had a great attitude about it. Each one of our guys improved a lot this year and even though they were overshadowed by the success of the girl’s team I was proud of the effort shown and the improvements they made. They focused on improvement, but also had a lot of fun along the way.”
The VHS boys totaled 307 team points led by sophomore Andrew Quackenbush (19:38) placing 39th, junior Josh Frye (20:24) 56th, senior Michael Stuber (20:38) 62nd, senior Sam Urch (21:00) 67th and junior Jonah Abt (22:13) 83rd.
G-E-T was the team champion with 65 points followed by La Crosse Logan with 72, Medford 87, Elkmound 129, Wset Salem 146, Altoona 166, Wi Dells 185, Colby/Abbotsford 187, Mauston 228, Arcadia 230, BRF 279, Neilsville/Granton 284, Viroqua 307 and Nekoosa/Port Edwards 397.
“Saturday was bittersweet for me,” said Benzing at the conclusion of both the boys and girls races. “I was excited that we have a runner who qualified for state, but it was also the last meet in which I had the opportunity to coach the rest of our senior athletes…they have provided great leadership and have grown into wonderful young men and women over the last four years.”