WISCONSIN RAPIDS — All season long, the Dodgeland prep girls cross country team knew the expectations were high.
But head coach Barry Smanz said no runner or coach dared to utter the words “state championship.”
It was almost forbidden.
“We didn’t want to put that much pressure on them,” he said. “The expectations were there. They knew about it. We never used the word, but being ranked No. 1 since Week 3, they knew they were the best and if they could perform on this given day, they could win it.”
That given day was Saturday at The Ridges Golf Course for the WIAA state meet — a day that will forever be synonymous with “state championship” for the Trojans, who claimed the first title in school history. Dodgeland totaled 56 points, easily outdistancing Lancaster’s 97 to bring home the gold trophy.
The Trojans had five girls place in the top 55 out of 151 competitors, and when the race was completed, they agonizingly waited with the other top three teams for results to be posted on the big screen near the finish line.
Once Marshall was revealed as the third-place team, Dodgeland and Lancaster were the only teams that hadn’t been shown. The screen went black before showing Lancaster in second place, igniting jubilation in the Dodgeland pack.
Junior Jamie Huber described it as “awesome” as she and the rest of her team were crying “tears of joy.”
“For the team, I have tears because we’ve finally gotten here,” Huber said. “We’ve accomplished what we’ve been meaning to accomplish. This is what we’ve been going for. We took fourth last year and now we finally have gotten first.”
Junior Meygan Benzing led the way for Dodgeland in sixth place in 19 minutes, 43.28 seconds. She was still shaking with excitement after finding out her team won the championship.
“It’s so special because we’ve worked so hard for this as a team,” Benzing said. “We did it; we finally accomplished that goal. After going for it last year, we took fourth and we came back this year and we won it all.”
Huber was 11th in 20:03.25 — the exact same place she took a year ago, but 10 seconds slower as she had been fighting a cold in the week leading up to the meet.
“I think that took a toll on me,” Huber said. “I think if my cold wasn’t here, I could’ve been (even higher up). My legs were just dead and I could feel it draining.”
The team result easily wiped out any individual disappointment, however. The Trojans dropped 101 points from last year’s effort in Wisconsin Rapids.
What was the difference?
“I would say it’s how well our team bonds,” Huber said. “Last year our team bonded well, but this year even when we walk the course, we play music and we all talk and we all get our jitters out, which is really nice.
“We connected a lot more, I feel.”
Smanz said the team focused more on collective goals than individual accomplishments this season, especially one whose name was not to be mentioned.
“It motivated us a lot because we never had any sort of state championship at our school,” Benzing said.
Sophomore Kaitlin Pickart finished 20th in 20:26.97. With individual qualifiers taken out, Benzing (third), Huber (fourth) and Pickart (eighth) gave Dodgeland three runners in the top 10 of the team scoring.
Smanz said Pickart is on the verge of becoming another front-line star for the Trojans.
“We definitely have two elite runners,” Smanz said. “Meygan was sectional champion and Jamie was conference runner of the year. Then we’ve got Kaitlin (who took 20th) and she’s getting there.”
Junior Julia Holtz was 44th (17th in team scoring) in 21:10.04, and sophomore Rachel Parbs was Dodgeland’s final scoring runner, finishing 55th (24th) in 21:26.42.
“When I was coming in, I saw the girls in front of me and I felt like I couldn’t let the team down,” Parbs said. “I couldn’t let the school down because it would really be a big success for the team and a big accomplishment for the school.”
Finishing fourth last year was a big accomplishment for the Trojans, who had never been to the state meet before. But it only whetted their appetite for more.
“Last year, our expectations were hoping to get to state,” Smanz said. “Once we got to state last year and finished fourth, then the expectations went up. They knew what we had coming back. We had four of our five scorers coming back. Julia switched over from volleyball and that completed the team.
“We knew once she joined, we had that depth to be where we’re at.”
The scary thing for the rest of the teams in Division 3 is that the entire Dodgeland roster returns next year.
But for Smanz, the word “repeat” is almost forbidden — for now, anyway.
“I want to celebrate and enjoy this one,” he said with a big smile. “Then we’ll work on next year.”
DIVISION 3 STATE GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY
Winner: Marissa Ellenbecker, Edgar, 18:56.33.
Team scores: Dodgeland 56, Lancaster 97, Marshall 108, Auburndale 114, Palmyra-Eagle 135, Oshkosh Lourdes 161, Bonduel 188, La Crosse Aquinas 223, Glenwood City 251, Cashton 262, Phillips 277, Cameron 280, Oostburg 285, Rosholt 315, Chequamegon 326, Weyauwega-Fremont 336.
Dodgeland: 6, Meygan Benzing, 19:43.28; 11, Jamie Huber, 20:03.25; 20, Kaitlin Pickart, 20:26.97; 44, Julia Holtz, 21:10.04; 55, Rachel Parbs, 21:26.42; 109, Jada Kohn, 22:53.21; 149, Kelli Kjornes, 25:19.36.
At The Ridges Golf Course, Wisconsin Rapids, 5,000 meters