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MVC cross country: Manny Putz, Hilltoppers win boys championships

WEST SALEM — Manny Putz had some pretty high expectations for himself as he competed for his first MVC cross country championship on Thursday.

The Onalaska High School freshman certainly wanted to cross the finish line first, and he wanted to celebrate a team championship with his teammates after the races were done and awards were handed out at Maple Grove Venues in West Salem.

Putz was fortunate enough to do both of those things as part of a memorable conference debut that included a dominant performance by his Hilltoppers.

Putz broke away from teammate Ron Walters to win the boys race in 16 minutes, 0.6 seconds, and Onalaska had the top three finishers and five of the top eight on the way to a team score of 19.

"We've been running in a lot of real big invitationals, and the idea was to just go out there and hammer and really hit those first two miles hard," Onalaska coach Darin Shepardson said. "They held together really well over the last 1,000 (meters).

"It was a tough last 1,000 because they had their foot on the pedal the whole time, but they did a really nice job."

Onalaska was followed in team points by Holmen (66), Aquinas (74), Central (133) and Sparta (145). Logan placed sixth at 160 and Tomah seventh at 152.

But the race was dominated by Putz and Walters, who ran together at the front of the pack for most of the race. Walters' time of 16:06.3 wasn't far behind that of Putz, and the two helped each other along the way.

"I stuck with Ron for the first half of the race today, and then I had the green light to go," Putz said. "I did want to get the course record, and I think I was something like eight seconds off, but there's always next year."

Walters was followed by third-place senior teammate Austin Oyen (16:28.6), and fifth-place senior teammate Tyler Lee (16:41.8) crossed the line after fourth-place Cameron LaMere (16:33.4), a senior from Holmen. Sophomore Blake Burnstad (17:06.8) was eighth for the Hilltoppers.

Onalaska fired on all cylinders and won the meet for the second time in a row after last season's wasn't held. Oyen and Lee also ran on the 2019 championship team.

"I took the lead for the first half, and then he started making someone, and we went back and forth," said Walters, who sat out last season after transferring from Onalaska Luther. "I think that helped us both because we were able to push each other, and I think our team has been able to push each other."

That ability was evident with the a team goal that was set. Shepardson congratulated his runners after the race was completed about sticking together on the course. He wanted there to be a gap of about a minute from the team's top runner to its fifth, and the gap ended up being 1:06.2.

"When you have guys like Manny and Ron at the front of that, and they are running low 16s or cracking that 16 barrier, you are asking a lot of your other guys," Shepardson said. "You are asking for 17 minutes, and it's on the back runners because you aren't going to ask your front runners to slow down."

Burnstad, the coach said, was the key to making it happen.

"That kid really went to the well," Shepardson said. "They went out so hard, and he was just hanging on for dear life. He gutted it out coming home and did a great job."


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