When Wisconsin Dells seniors Laura Beghin and Lindsay Cunningham take off at the start of Division 2 girls race at the WIAA State Cross Country Meet in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday, they will become the third and fourth runners in program history to run at the state meet four years in a row.
Beghin and Cunningham have been the rocks of the Wisconsin Dells girls program, which qualified as a team for the state meet for a fourth straight year by finishing in second place overall at last Saturday’s Division 2 Colby Sectional. The duo will now join Monica Jaled and Taylor Campbell as the only four-time state qualifiers from Wisconsin Dells.
Wisconsin Dells coach Dean Knetter said Beghin and Cunningham’s excellence began when they started dominating races in middle school, setting the stage for a stellar four years in high school.
“They’ve been the rocks, pillars in our program for seven years,” Knetter said. “That’s going to be very difficult to replace. It’s been very emotional this week for the kids. All good things come to an end, and that’s why I tell them, don’t leave anything out there. You got to give it your all.”
Beghin and Cunningham have been crucial to their team’s success all season. At the Colby Sectional, Beghin finished in first place in 20 minutes, 7 seconds, while Cunningham was eighth overall in 21:04. And while both Beghin and Cunningham have been their team’s top two runners all season, their contributions go way beyond just running fast on race day.
“I came in not really knowing most of them,” said Tessa Ketelhut, the lone freshman on the varsity squad that will run on Saturday, of her senior teammates. “They all introduced me to everyone and made sure that I knew who everyone was and was part of the family.”
Sophomore Hailey Anchor, who finished 10th at the Colby Sectional with a time of 21:15, said Beghin and Cunningham are willing to help their younger teammates.
“They’ve really helped us in the meets, like if we’re nervous, calming us down, or helping us do the little things,” Anchor said. “Or like if we’re stressing over something, we know we can go to them for help, and they always have advice, and they’re willing to help us with everything.”
Knetter said Beghin and Cunningham’s biggest contributions are not the words that the say, but the way they lead by example.
“Neither of those two are incredibly vocal as leaders. They never question what we do. They always put forth the extra effort. Maybe it’s being the first to practice, or the last to leave,” Knetter said. “It’s almost like once in a lifetime, and I’ve had four of them over the past eight years. They’re so valuable. They do everything you want as a coach.”
Second at sectionals
At the Colby Sectional, the Chiefs were hoping to knock off a Medford team that won the Division 2 state championship a year ago, but were never able to really challenge the Raiders. Medford put three runners in the top four on its way to scoring 35 points to beat Wisconsin Dells by 32 points.
And while Wisconsin Dells was a little disappointed with the result, the Chiefs still beat La Crosse Logan by 15 points in the battle for second place, allowing them to advance as a team to the state meet for the fourth year in a row.
“We were excited, but definitely a little disappointed that we weren’t first, but we’re hoping that it was just against the best team in the state,” said junior Emily Cunningham, who finished 19th at the sectional with a time of 22:07.
“We were hoping to do better. Not all of us had our best races,” added junior Megan Jones, who finished 37th at the sectional with a time of 23:11. “It’s just nice that we did move on, even without having our best day.”
Wisconsin Dells now gets a second chance to run against Medford, and 14 other teams on Saturday. The good news for Wisconsin Dells is that they know the course at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids well. Six of the seven runners ran at the state meet last year, when Wisconsin Dells finished ninth out of 16 Division 2 schools. And four of the runners were also on the team that placed second in Division 2 in 2017.
Anchor, who made her state debut last year as a freshman, says she learned a lot about the state meet that she hopes to use to her advantage on Saturday.
“We most definitely have to get out in the beginning, because the first mile is all flat,” Anchor said. “And if we get caught, then we’re like done. So we really have to work on getting out and staying together in a pack and not dispersing like we have been in some meets. We have to stay together and work with each other on the course.”
“Pack running is necessary for the state meet, because once you get behind, you’re going to lose them, because 50 girls can get between two of us within 10 seconds,” added Emily Cunningham.
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Sophomore Destiny Whitebreast also learned a lot running at the state meet for the first time last year.
“This year I think I need to get out faster, potentially running with Emily,” Whitebreast said. “For me, I need to remember this year to have the stronger mindset and think about how I just need to leave it all out there, especially for the seniors.”
The other thing that is different at the state meet compared to most of the races during the season is the large number of fans that line the course from start to finish. While running in front of so many people can be intimidating at first, Beghin said it’s something that helps her run faster.
“I love running there with the atmosphere and all the people there, and just everything that goes on,” said Beghin, who finished second in Division 2 as an individual her first two seasons, before finishing eighth last year. “You barely feel the pain as much when you have that much adrenaline going.”
Wisconsin Dells enters Saturday’s meet with hopes of a high finish, but reaching those goals won’t be easy. The Division 2 field includes plenty of teams with state meet experience.
Defending champion Medford has four runners who were on last year’s title-winning squad. The field also includes a Freedom team that was the runner-up last year after winning state titles in 2016 and 2017.
Also in the Division 2 field is a Shorewood team that has four runners returning from a squad that was fifth last year, and Winneconne, who returns five runners from a team that was sixth a year ago.
Lindsay Cunningham, who has a season-best time of 19:58 from the Midwest Invitational in Janesville, is hoping she can run a similar time on Saturday.
“My goal individually is to stay under 20 minutes and that hopefully that will fall in the top 20 or 30,” Lindsay Cunningham said. “And then as a team, to get the least points as we can would be awesome to get back in the top two.”
Beghin, whose best time on the season is a 19:11, which also came at the Midwest Invite in Janesville, has a chance at becoming a four-time state medal winner.
Knetter said Beghin should be focused on medaling on Saturday, which would require a top-10 finish, but the coach also wouldn’t be surprised if she did better than that.
“To be a four-year medal winner, a four-time all-state runner, that should be her goal,” Knetter said. “Obviously, she wants to win a state title. There are a couple girls who right now, would really have to not run well for that to happen. But I said to her, ‘this is your chance. This is the last chance you will have.’
“Don’t underestimate the will power of a great athlete.”
DIVISION 2 COLBY SECTIONAL
Team scores (top 2 advance): Medford 35, Wisconsin Dells 67, La Crosse Logan 82, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau 139, Mauston 155, Colby/Abbotsford 185, Arcadia 192, Viroqua 200, West Salem 209, Elk Mound 252, Altoona 276, Neillsville/Granton 321, Adams-Friendship 342.
Top 5 individuals: 1, Laura Beghin, WD, 20:07; 2, Franny Seidel, Med, 20:21; 3, Jennifer Kahn, Med, 20:36; 4, Alicia Kawa, Med, 20:36; 5, Greta Trapp, LL, 20:48.
Individaul state qualifiers: 5, Greta Trapp, LL, 20:48; 6, Caitlin Fox, Vir, 21:00; 7, Journey Malacina, Mau, 21:01; 9, Macy Tauscher, WS, 21:05; 11, Ellie Haverland, LL, 21:21.
Wisconsin Dells: 1, Laura Beghin 20:07; 8, Lindsay Cunningham 21:04; 10, Hailey Anchor 21:15; 19, Emily Cunningham 22:07; 29, Tessa Ketelhut 22:46; 37, Megan Jones 23:11; 38, Destiny Whitebreast 23:21.