There isn’t much of a dry run for high school track and field athletes in Wisconsin.
With snow keeping Baraboo’s teams inside the first two weeks of practice, the Thunderbirds aren’t sure what to expect when the competition season starts today at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Invitational. The girls team’s first time on a track — albeit an indoor one — will be today, while the boys will toe the starting line Saturday.
The T-Birds will ease into the season with one invitational each of the first three weeks, including March 23 at Ripon College and March 30 in the UW-Madison Shell. A Badger North Conference scrimmage will be held at Beaver Dam on April 2, while the season gets fully underway with the Badger Challenge at Portage on April 9.
In the meantime, the T-Birds will look to get back in shape with an eye on being at their best by the time they host a WIAA Division 1 regional meet on May 20.
“Get back in shape slowly,” coach Nicholas Geiger said Tuesday of Baraboo’s early-season goals. “Everyone’s in different stages coming into the season. We don’t want to injure anyone, but we’ve also got a meet coming up this week. Some girls haven’t been doing much over the winter and some have had a winter sport, so we’ve got to get everyone ready to go in two weeks when they’re all starting at different spots.”
The Baraboo girls bring back a strong group of veterans, returning 21 letterwinners while losing just two varsity seniors from 2018.
“Lots of seniors on the team... so I think everyone’s excited for the season,” Geiger said. “We’ve got some experience coming back and a nice group of freshmen coming in.”
The deep senior class has helped the T-Birds transition smoothly into 2019.
“They’re all definitely natural leaders,” Geiger said of the seniors. “They’ve been setting the tone. A majority of our athletes are still underclassmen, so they kind of say ‘hey, this is how things are going to roll.’”
Two of those seniors — Lexi Johnson and Jamie Runnels — are the lone Baraboo girls to have experience at the WIAA Division 1 state championships.
Johnson was the only T-Bird in the girls meet last season, taking 15th in the discus with a throw of 114 feet, 3 inches. Johnson also took seventh at sectionals in the shot put and gives the T-Birds a reliable leg in the relay events.
“It was really humbling seeing all of the best throwers in the state,” Johnson said after the state meet in La Crosse last June. “My goal is going to be to get back to where I was and hopefully get a little higher in the rankings.”
Runnels has been to state twice, competing in the 400-meter relay and 800-meter relay in 2016, as well as the 400 relay in 2017. She will be a big part of Baraboo’s sprinting crew this spring, as will senior Chloe Uphoff and sophomore Jordan Buelow. Uphoff took fifth in the 200-meter dash at last year’s sectional meet in Middleton, while Buelow is coming off a sixth-place sectional finish in the 100-meter dash.
Seniors Grace Stuckey and Hope Brandhagen will lead the Baraboo hurdles crew, while seniors Lia Kieck and Shelby Marquardt will give the T-Birds talent in the triple jump. Junior Jennifer Arias gives the team experience in the sprints, relays and long jump.
The distance group brings back an experienced trio of senior Vita Patten, junior Molly Stewart and sophomore Venna Krayer.
The T-Birds will need to mesh the veterans with newcomers if they are going to move up from their seventh-place finish at the 2018 Badger North Conference meet. Baraboo scored 60 points at conference, while Waunakee, Mount Horeb and Beaver Dam finished first through third.
“The girls track and field program has been very fortunate to see some great success in the last couple years,” Geiger said. “We have a strong, dedicated group of athletes this year. I am excited to start the season with the talent and positivity the girls are already displaying.”
Boys look to bounce back
The Baraboo boys track and field team is aiming to climb back up the Badger North standings after tying for fourth place last season, ending a four-year run of conference titles.
“We plan to do some serious rebounding this season after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Badger North,” said boys coach Tom Leaver, who is entering his 29th year at the helm. “Reedsburg looks to be the favorite, so we want them to earn it through the Thunderbirds. We are looking forward to some of our first-year athletes stepping up and being key contributors for us.”
Baraboo returns 19 letterwinners, including one of its two state qualifiers, as Jake Schaefer is back while Maverick Klitzke graduated. Both reached state in the discus, with Klitzke taking seventh and Schaefer finishing 14th. Klitzke put together a big senior season, winning his second Badger North title in the discus and taking fourth in the shot put as part of a talented, veteran group of throwers. Justus Neuman and Matthew Vanderschaaf also graduated after taking third in the conference in the shot put and sixth in the discus, respectively.
Schaefer and Tyson Fry will keep the T-Birds competitive in the throwing events. Fry, a junior, is the defending Badger North champion in the shot put, while Schaefer took second at conference and sectionals in the discus. Juniors Ben Florencio, Josh Beale and George Fitzwilliams will give Baraboo depth in the throwing events.
Leaver identified throwing, pole vaulting and hurdling as Baraboo’s strengths entering the spring, while the T-Birds have work to do in the sprints, horizontal jumps and distance events.
The T-Birds graduated distance runners Silas Patten, Liam Taber and Jasper Swallen, while sprinters Connor Grogan and Evan Vodak have moved on after careers that saw them compete in the 2017 state meet as part of the 800-meter relay team that holds the school record.
Seniors Josh Hackbarth and Ethan Agren will lead the distance group this year. Hackbarth took third in the Badger North in the 400 meters last year, while Hackbarth and Agren were part of the third-place 3,200 relay team and the fourth-place 1,600 relay team. Junior Garrett Exo also returns as part of the 3,200 relay team and a fifth-place finisher in the individual 3,200 meters.
Seniors Caden Carpenter, Joe Stout and Zack Kargel are expected to play crucial roles in the sprint and relay events, while Domenick Jefferson and Charles Stack should contribute in the pole vault and relays. Max Koenig is back after placing sixth in the conference in the 300 intermediate hurdles as a sophomore last year.