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Tuesday’s Badger Conference Challenge in Portage was only the Baraboo girls track and field team’s second meet of the year, but the Thunderbirds performed as if they were in late-season form.

Cold temperatures made that especially challenging as it was the team’s first outdoor meet, but the T-Birds showed what they were made of in taking second place in the 12-team field with 73 points. Waunakee ran away with the meet with 125 points, but Baraboo emerged as the runner-up from a battle with DeForest (66.5), Stoughton fourth (63.5), Oregon (63) and Milton (63).

“The Badger Challenge is one of the biggest meets throughout the year and the girls felt good that they gave it everything out on the track and out on the field too,” Baraboo girls coach Nick Geiger said. “I told them it’s early, it’s cold, (the) times don’t really matter. What matters is the effort and the enthusiasm and the competitiveness and they really demonstrated that.”

Junior Lexi Johnson won a pair of events, claiming the discus and joining with Chloe Uphoff, Jennifer Arias and Jordan Buelow to take the 800-meter relay, where the T-Birds squad crossed the line in 1 minute, 56.5 seconds, edging Milton by less than a second.

Johnson’s discus toss of 107 feet, 4 inches made her the only girl on the day to clear 100 feet.

“At the beginning of the year, I said she was going to be a force to be reckoned with and she won the discus with a huge 107,” Geiger said.

Uphoff took second in the 200 (28.21), and Johnson was fourth (29.54). Sprinting events were strong for the T-Birds overall, as senior Abby Hennessy was fifth in the 400 (1:09.46), while Arias and Buelow took sixth (14.07) and eighth (14.14) in the 100.

Uphoff had another runner-up finish in the 1,600 relay, where she teamed with Hennessy, Lia Kieck and Claire McNevin to clock a 4:29.5. The 400 relay of Arias, Buelow, Bella Vedro and Makayla Sekfar was fourth in 56.26, and the 3,200 relay of McNevin, Hennessy, Mabelle Boehlke and Venna Krayer was sixth in 11:14.1.

Baraboo’s depth came into play from there as the T-Birds scored points in nearly every event. Additional top-eight finishes — which provided team points — included Krayer in the 3,200 (fifth, 13:14.06), Arias in the long jump (sixth, 14-4), Shelby Marquardt in the triple jump (fourth, 31-2) and Johnson in the shot put (fifth, 31-5).

“We had tons of top eight,” Geiger said. “That’s how you score points, and what’s cool is, yeah we only had two meet champions, but we had girls scoring points all over the place and multiple people in the top eight and that’s what gave us that competitive edge.”

The boys team finished farther down the leaderboard, but still found plenty of success after taking fifth with a total of 57 points. Waunakee took the title (130.5), followed by DeForest (82), Reedsburg (74.5) and Milton (61).

Freshman Jake Schaefer gave the Baraboo boys their only event win of the day, as he got his outdoor season going in a big way in the discus. The younger brother of two-time state discus champion Josie Schaefer launched a 144-6 in the event to best the field. Senior Maverick Klitzke took second with a 140-2, while senior Matthew Vanderschaaf was fifth with a 122-04.

“Maverick Klitzke and Matthew Vanderschaaf did what we needed our seniors to do, but to have freshman Jake Schaefer steal the show, and be champion at 144-6 was a real eye-opener,” T-Birds coach Tom Leaver said.

Baraboo’s distance runners posted solid times, with Josh Hackbarth, Liam Taber, Jasper Swallen and Silas Patten taking fifth in the 3,200 relay (8:55.05) while Garrett Exo and Swallen took fourth and fifth in the 3,200 with times of 10:29.66 and 10:35.95. Taber added another six points in the 1,600, taking third with a 4:59.34.

Other top-eight finishers included Evan Vodak in the 100 (fifth, 11.77), Patten in the 800 (eighth, 2:13.49), Justin Philipp in the high jump (seventh, 5-2), Connor Grogan in the high jump (eighth, 5-2), Charlie Stack in the pole vault (fifth, 10-0), Justus Neuman in the shot put (fifth, 41-11½) and Klitzke in the shot put (seventh, 41-2½).

Weather permitting, Baraboo will be back in action on Saturday with an invitational in McFarland.

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Regional Sports Reporter