The Sauk Prairie prep boys cross country team left no doubt Saturday.
The Eagles defended last year’s Badger North Conference championship with another first-place finish at the 2019 conference meet at Windsor Sports Complex in Windsor.
“Getting to the top is always hard. Doing it again is even harder,” Sauk Prairie head coach Andy Sherman said. “We returned six of the eight (runners) that won the conference championship last year, so we knew we had another shot.”
All five of Sauk Prairie’s point scorers finished in the top 12, as the Eagles used 36 points to run away with the title. Waunakee (64) and DeForest (92) took second and third, respectively, in the eight-team meet.
Sauk Prairie’s consistent senior duo of Camden Desroches and Hudson Haas ran with the leaders. Desroches crossed the 5,000-meter finish line in 17 minutes, 5.21 seconds to take third, just ahead of Haas, who finished fourth in 17:09.38. DeForest senior John Roth (16:10.45) and Beaver Dam junior Gavin Czarnecki (16:19.59) were the only runners to finish in less than 17 minutes.
“This group of seniors has changed Sauk Prairie cross country,” Sherman said. “From the moment they joined our team, we became better. They have pushed each other and those around them to be the best they can be. They helped change our culture and our standards of behavior. Because of them, we have and will continue to have a very strong team.”
The Eagles kept coming, as freshman Jack Boerger took eighth in 17:32.92, sophomore Dalton Zirbel took ninth in 17:39.87, and senior Noah Wankerl placed 12th in 17:45.54.
Sauk Prairie’s depth continued to shine, as all eight runners finished in the top 19 of the 63-athlete field. The Eagles’ bottom five runners would have tallied 67 points to easily finish second. Sauk Prairie’s sixth runner — junior Sam Beattie — took 13th in 17:46.95, while sophomore Carson Enge (17:49.36) took 15th and senior Casey Vande Hey (18:05.11) finished 19th.
“Our seniors led us, but the addition of Jack Boerger and Carson Enge, who in only his second varsity race ever was an all-conference performer, and Dalton Zirbel and Sam Beattie also made our group even stronger,” Sherman said. “I knew we had a chance at the beginning of the season, I just didn’t see us getting seven of eight in the top 15 and all eight in the top 19. That was spectacular.”
The Eagles have rose to the occasion all season, winning five meets and never finishing lower than third place.
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“If it seemed like they were off and they didn’t have their best, I learned to simply trust them because they always came through,” Sherman said. “It has been a great ride and I have been lucky enough to enjoy it with them along the way. Not many get that championship and the stress that comes with trying to win was never there with this group. They understood what we were trying to do, they executed, encouraged each other and simply got the job done.”
In the girls meet, Sauk Prairie tallied 176 points to place seventh. Waunakee won the title with 54 points, while Mount Horeb and Beaver Dam each finished with 61 points.
Livia Jurt, a senior foreign exchange student from Switzerland, paced the Sauk Prairie girls with a 25th-place finish (22:00.93).
“Livia has been a great addition to our team this year,” Sherman said. “She has training in cross country races and she made an immediate impact. She is also involved in marching band, so she has dealt with shin splints and just being tired from competing in both activities. Somehow she has been able to continue to race well for us all season. We have been lucky to have her.”
Sophomore Kassia Marquardt took 30th in 22:10.50, followed by junior Cassie Radl (35th, 22:28.80), sophomore Marissa Howard (38th, 22:46.22), sophomore Trinity Doerre (48th, 23:33.99), junior Mabel Schneller (51st, 23:46.00), junior Emily Herbrand (53rd, 23:50.67) and sophomore Abby Dovin (58th, 24:11.51).
“The girls team has shown great growth throughout the season,” Sherman said. “Kassia Marquardt, Cassie Radl and Marissa Howard have had great seasons. They worked hard over the summer to prepare and it paid off for them. We have had great growth from our younger and newer runners this season, too. Abby Dovin dropped two minutes from her previous personal record to join our varsity group last weekend and our newcomers of Grace Sibila-Ott, Natalie Curtis and Emily Caflisch had great rookie seasons. With a bit more focus on offseason training, our girls team will be even better next season.“
The Eagles will compete in a WIAA Division 1 sectional meet Saturday at Lake Farm County Park in Madison. The Sauk Prairie boys and girls teams took eighth and 12th, respectively, at sectionals last year. Wankerl put together the best individual finish, taking 31st in 17:23.0. The state meet will be held Nov. 2 at Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. Haas is the lone Eagle with state meet experience, taking 102nd in Division 1 as a sophomore in 2017.
“Our mentality has changed from a year ago,” Sherman said of the boys team’s mindset. “I think they went into last year’s sectional emotionally drained after putting so much into the conference meet win, that they weren’t ready. This season, our goal has always been to do whatever we can to qualify (for state). We have gone about all of the other meets as the lead in to what we have this weekend.
“I think last year they were intimidated by the bigger schools and the times they had run on faster courses than we run on. They learned from that and now have a clear focus on competing with those much bigger schools and it’s state or bust for them now. ... I know they will be fired up to compete.”