HORICON — Kaitlin Pickart had no clue. Neither did Stephanie Cox or Barry Smanz.
No one on the Dodgeland prep girls cross country team did.
The Trojans entered Thursday afternoon’s Dodge County Invite at River Bend Park with very modest expectations and even after the 5,000-meter race was complete, their expectations were modest.
Winning came as a complete surprise.
“We only have two runners back from last year, so it’s kind of a shock right now,” said Smanz, who guided veteran teams to a WIAA Division 3 state title in 2017 and a third-place finish at state in 2018. “We knew we have some potential but thought later in the season we would jell. To have four girls in the top nine today — a shock.”
Perhaps even more shocking was the margin the Trojans won by — 58-59 over both Lomira and Columbus. The Cardinals finished third by virtue of a tiebreaker.
“That’s crazy,” said Pickart, who led the charge by taking third in 21 minutes, 48.54 seconds. “You can’t pinpoint who it was — it was just good that everybody finished where they did.”
Indeed, had any of the five girls — Pickart, Brielle Blome (sixth in 22:24.75), Sayrah Benzing (seventh, 22:58.72), Miranda Firari (ninth, 23:03.71) or Cox (34th, 29:04.83) — given up even as much as one spot, Dodgeland likely would have been on the outside looking in.
And Cox almost did, falling down with about 800 meters to go.
But the sophomore, who is out for cross country this year after not going out as a freshman, didn’t feel sorry for herself or embarrassed.
“I got up and went,” she said.
And being the No. 5 runner for the Trojans, the team title went right along with her.
With only six teams competing, it certainly wasn’t the biggest win imaginable. But for a team with all underclassmen except for the senior Pickart, it certainly was an important win.
“Getting them experience,” Pickart said of the younger runners, “the little meets really help with that — (learning) how to run the race and how to pace themselves.
“And (winning) will help with their confidence.”
Firari, who is a sophomore, is the only other returning runner for Dodgeland, and Smanz said she is doing an admirable job guiding the group along in the early going of the season.
“Kaitlin is really doing a nice job of taking over that leadership role,” Smanz said.
As for how Pickart ran on Thursday, she said she was just going “by feel” and that some gravel in the woods on the backstretch slowed her down a little since she didn’t want to push it and risk twisting her ankle — an injury she said she is prone to more than most.
All in all, she’s happy with where she’s at right now.
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“I felt pretty good,” she said. “This meet last year, I had little aches and pains and this year I don’t have that. So I feel strong coming into the season.”
The girls weren’t the only ones for Dodgeland to triumph on Thursday — Trojans junior Evan Finger also did, winning the boys 5K (17:40.78) by 6½ seconds over Mayville’s Isaac Wolf (17:47.23).
Finger, who qualified for state as an individual last year, was happy to kick off the new campaign in style.
The biggest takeaway for him Thursday, he said, was “just to get a win and get my mojo back — to get back into the swing of things.
“I knew that I was kind of the favorite going into it, so I wanted to have somebody to go out with for the first mile. And then my plan was to (pull away) as soon as we got into the woods, but there was gravel back there and it was hard to get good footing and good momentum, so (Wolf) stuck with me for a lot longer than I would have liked him to. But I guess it ended up being all right — I knew that I had a better kick than him.”
Horicon’s Christian Nehls (18:42.02) and Logan McDonald (19:06.44) took fourth and fifth while Mayville’s Emmit Hurtienne (19:45.17) was ninth and Columbus’ Nolan Stauffacher (19:56.04) was 10th to round out other top 10 boys finishers from the area.
Lomira won the boys title with 49 points, outdoing runner-up Waterloo (61 points) and third-place Columbus (83).
Other top-10 girls finishers from the area were Mayville’s Amber Schraufnagel (fourth in 11:57.83) and Mallory Firari (fifth, 22 11.36) and Columbus’ Zoe Denk (eighth, 22:58.72) and Maya Pearcy (10th, 23:24.04).
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Team scores: 1, Lomira, 49. 2, Waterloo, 61. 3, Columbus, 83. 4, Horicon, 85. 5, Mayville, 104. Dodgeland, incomplete.
Medalist: Evan Finger, Dodgeland, 17:40.78.
(Overall finish listed; not team points scored) Columbus: 10, Nolan Stauffacher, 19:56.04. 14, Zak Reinwald, 20:26.48. 17, Ethan Hendrickson, 20:33.61. 26, Erik Raatz, 21:25.63. 27, Tucker McGee, 21:40.37. Horicon: 4, Christian Nehls, 18:42.02. 5, Logan McDonald, 19:06.44. 15, Brandon Zamorano, 20:26.98. 33, Gavin Hensley, 22:36.43. 38, Cayden Reinwald, 23:44.52. Mayville: 2, Isaac Wolf, 17:47.23. 9, Emmit Hurtienne, 19:45.17. 21, Paddy McFadden, 20:56.89. 30, Zach Rosedahl, 21:56.49. 56, Isaac Plasil, 28:44.65. Dodgeland: 1, Evan Finger, 17:40.78. 12, Logan Pickart, 20:02.90. 20, James Browning, 20:41.67.
Team scores: 1, Dodgeland, 58. 2, Lomira, 59. 3, Columbus, 59. 4, Mayville, 89. 5, Waterloo, 117. 6, Horicon, 148.
Medalist: Christi Forman, Waterloo, 20:48.56.
(Overall finish listed; not team points scored) Dodgeland: 3, Katilin Pickart, 21:48.54. 6, Brielle Blome, 22:24.75. 7, Sayrah Benzing, 22:58.72. 9, Miranda Firari, 23:03.71. 34, Stephanie Cox, 29:04.83. Columbus: 8, Zoe Denk, 23:03.47. 10, Maya Pearcy, 23:24.04. 13, Jaiden Dornaus, 23:43.44. 17, Sage Roberts, 25:03.40. 22, Emma Paulson, 26:05.05. Mayville: 4, Amber Schraufnagel, 21:57.83. 5, Mallory Firari, 22:11.36. 18, Ella Mueller, 25:28.89. 24, Emily Karvala, 26:49.06. 39, Mary Zarnott, 30:30.62. Horicon: 20, Yadira Ortiz, 25:59.66. 25, Aaleya Seifert-Doll, 27:03.67. 26, Alessandra Alvarez, 27:29.34. 35, Payton Marvin, 29:20.48. 45, Jordan Bauer, 32:52.98.
At River Bend Park, Horicon