Maddy Haupert took off for the final 400 meters of a stellar high school career carrying a baton and a secret the rest of her relay team didn’t know.
If Aquinas High School finished third in the 1,600 relay, Haupert thought, the Blugolds would win the girls Division 2 team title Saturday at the WIAA state track and field championships at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex.
And while that is what happened — the Blugolds placed third in 4 minutes, 4.08 seconds and won the team title by 3½ points — what Haupert thought she knew wasn’t exactly true.
“She told me, ‘There’s no way I wasn’t getting third. I wasn’t letting those girls who beat us last year beat us again,’” said Aquinas coach Shane Ilstrup, whose Blugolds took second as a team last year by one point. “I told her, ‘You know, we only had to get sixth.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Well, I’m glad we got third.’”
Third, sixth, whatever needed to be done, Haupert was going to do it. It didn’t matter that when senior Annie Joslyn handed the baton to Haupert, Aquinas was in seventh place, which would have left it just short of a title for the second consecutive year.
“I was a little nervous. I was like, ‘OK, we have to get third,’” said Haupert, who defended her title in the 800 earlier in the day by running a school-record 2:12.73. “In my mind, I wasn’t going to let myself not get third.”
It took her less than 100 meters to move into fourth. Not long after that, she was in third. The top two teams — Platteville and Green Bay Notre Dame — were a little too far to catch, but Haupert did what she needed to do.
It led to the school’s first WIAA state championship in any girls sport.
“I never count on anything in track, because crazy stuff happens all the time,” said Ilstrup, who admitted he was so nervous before the 1,600 relay he wanted to throw up. “But one thing I am confident in, is when Maddy gets that baton, great things are going to happen. I knew if we were in the hunt when we got the baton that she was going to make it happen.”
Ilstrup wasn’t the one who told Haupert about the title chances on Saturday. He left that up to alternate Taylor Olson, a senior who ran with the 1,600 relay team that placed third, .07 seconds out of second place, last year.
That time difference meant that the Blugolds, who will have a 5 p.m. reception at the school today, received six points instead of the eight they needed to win.
To be sure the title was theirs, Ilstrup told Olson the relay runners needed to finish third. Olson told Haupert and left it up to her to tell the other team members or not.
“I felt like in the end it’s going to be up to me,” Haupert said. “I’m going to be the last one on that track. I know these girls. I know they are going to give it their all no matter what. They don’t need that extra motivation. I just felt like it was OK if I kept it to myself.”
Plus, it made for a special moment in the infield when Ilstrup sprinted from the other side of the stadium to share the news.
“I didn’t believe it,” senior Katrina Von Arx said. “As soon as I discovered it was real, I was freaking out. And all we did was just sit there and hug. It was just amazing. We just sat there and had a “We did this” moment. It was crazy.”
The girls had fun with the celebration. They posed for a variety of pictures — forming a pyramid with the trophy on the back of Haupert, in front of an open port-a-potty — and shared lots of hugs.
Ilstrup called it the highlight of his life.
“I remember meeting them as sixth- and seventh-graders,” said Ilstrup, who’s coached at Aquinas for seven years. “I thought if we could keep this nucleus together, and they all stay healthy, we can do something, accomplish great things. They are all great friends and great girls, and they’ve fed off each other for four years. This is the culmination of it. Can’t get any better than this.”
It definitely couldn’t get any better for Haupert, who ended every season of high school competition at a WIAA state event, be it cross country, gymnastics or track and field.
Haupert, who will run cross country and track at the University of San Francisco next year, finished her Aquinas track and field career with nine state medals and four school records. She also has the school’s top cross country time (14:27.09), three top-four finishes at the state cross country meet and two top-six finishes at the state gymnastics meet.
But a team state title? That tops everything.
“This is the way I wanted to go out,” Haupert said. “This is the way I wanted to finish with my team and coaches.
“Getting the team title means so much more than anything to me. Everyone deserves it. Everyone deserves this championship.”