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Sullivan qualifies; girls’ run comes up short

It’s not a method most cross country coaches would recommend, but running with one shoe during a sectional race has produced some good results for the Medford Raiders twice now in the past five seasons.

Bringing up memories of Trey Ulrich’s one-shoe run in Waupaca in 2016, Joe Sullivan, a junior, lost his right shoe about a mile into Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 sectional meet at Chippewa Falls, but that didn’t stop him from qualifying for state despite the upgrade in competition.

In fact, he still posted his best-ever time for a high-school meet.

Sullivan covered the course at the Lake Wissota Golf Course in 16:36.8, four seconds better than his previous personal record set Oct. 15 during his win at the Great Northern Conference meet at Tomahawk.

Saturday’s race was the first one this season he didn’t win, but that was expected against the best Division 1 runners northwest Wisconsin has to offer. He finished seventh in Saturday’s field of 37 and, most importantly, he was fourth among individuals who were not part of the two state-qualifying teams, Menomonie and New Richmond.

He needed to be among the top five runners in that category to qualify for this Saturday’s Division 1 state meet, which will be hosted by Hartland Arrowhead.

“It was a fun race,” Sullivan said. “It was weird being in a pack. I knew there’d be a pack and I knew those top guys would stay together. They ran smart. It was a good race. It was fun.”

Unlike any other race this fall, Sullivan found himself in a tight pack of at least a half-dozen runners for more than two-thirds of the race. That wasn’t a bad thing as it kept him running at the pace he needed to be in position to qualify.

“I would say maybe after the twomile was really where there was a little more space,” he said. “Pretty much in the first two miles there was someone always right there.”

Things just might have been a little easier with two shoes.

“It was definitely before the first mile,” Sullivan said. “Someone just stepped on the back of it when I was in the big pack. It was barely on. I knew it was just going to fall off. It was just a matter of when. Then it came off. It was tough. I mean we didn’t run on gravel very much, but there were a couple times where I stepped on some rocks and in the back (of the course) it was kinda wet.

“I think I PR’d by a couple of seconds,” he added. “It probably would’ve helped having that second shoe just to power through.”

“Joe was part of a very fast boys race,” Medford head coach Kevin Wellman said. “The race had a large lead out pack that finally broke apart after the twomile mark and turned into a gutsy sprint finish.”

Sullivan had the highest finish of any junior in the race. All six runners ahead of him were seniors. New Richmond’s Max Blader won it in 16:17.5, 1.1 seconds ahead of Menomonie’s Patrick Schwartz and 1.9 seconds ahead of Hudson’s Anthony Weeks.

Grant Magnuson of River Falls was fourth in 16:23.8, followed by Cale Bishop of New Richmond (16:25.2) and Derek Penzkover of Rice Lake (16:34.5).

In the team standings, Menomonie totaled 40 points and New Richmond had 46 to qualify for state. Wausau West (68) and D.C. Everest (78) were a distant third and fourth.

Weeks, Magnuson, Penzkover, Sullivan and ninth-place finisher Lucas Allen of D.C. Everest (16:42.9) earned the five individual state berths.

After running in the Oct. 21 Medford subsectional where about 4 inches of snow had to be plowed off the trail, the course at Lake Wissota couldn’t have been in much better shape considering the winter-like conditions of the week.

“It was really good,” Sullivan said. “It was dry. There were just a couple of puddles just because of the lake, but it was really dry all together and flat. It was a pretty good day for running it’s really not too cold. I never got cold.”

This Saturday’s state meet will look much different than the Division 2 state race Sullivan ran in last season.

The location is the first obvious distance as it won’t be run in Wisconsin Rapids. To help promote social distancing, the WIAA split the locations of the meet by division. To further promote social distancing, each state meet is being broken down into three separate sessions. Sullivan will run in the last session at Arrowhead High School, which starts at 4:10 p.m. His session will feature the teams of Menomonie, New Richmond, Neenah and Kimberly as well as individual qualifiers Allen, Penzkover, Weeks, Magnuson, Aaron Schimke of Kaukauna, Luke Donart of Fox Valley Lutheran, Mason Raach of Port Washington, Charlie Wirth of Hortonville and Isaac Nowak of Green Bay Notre Dame.

The early word is that the Arrowhead course is very flat and conducive to fast times.

“I don’t know exactly what I’m expecting, but it will definitely be pretty difficult,” Sullivan said. He was 31st in last year’s Division 2 state race. “There’s a lot of guys running my times and stuff. It’s a lot different than D2.”

Among the top returning individuals in the state field are senior Cael Grotenhuis of Slinger, who was second last year; senior Joshua Truchon of West Allis Hale, who was fourth last season and just missing cracking the top 20 in 2018, and senior Nolan Richey of Kimberly, who was sixth a year ago. Senior Nathan Baker of Grafton was 10th in Division 2 last year.

Girls place third

The bump up to Division 1 was a tough pill to swallow for the Medford girls, who came up short in their quest for a third straight trip to the state meet. The Raiders likely would have easily made the cut had they stayed in Division 2. But with several large schools around the state opting out of the fall season, the Raiders got moved up in the revised tournament assignments and placed third Saturday with 62 points, one point ahead of fourth-place Hudson. Menomonie (37) and Marshfield (54) earned the state team berths.

“The girls ran a valiant race and proved they are one of the best teams of runners in the state,” Wellman said. “Each lady ran a great race and the sprints to the finish were epic. The team did great and showed their poise and class throughout the day.”

Freshman Meredith Richter continued her strong sprint to the finish in her first varsity season, leading the Raiders with an 11th-place finish out of 37 runners. She finished in a season-best time of 19:52.9. She was eighth among individuals not on the state-qualifying teams.

Senior Alicia Kawa’s quest for a fourth straight state appearance ended with a 15th-place time of 20:09.1, also a season-best. Junior Jennifer Kahn posted a personal-best time of 2020 at 20:19.2, good for 18th place.

Raider sophomore Bryn Fronk was 26th in 20:44.3. Sophomore Brooke Rudolph was 30th in 20:55.1, senior Ellee Grunwald was 32nd in a personal-best 21:10 and junior Alexis Fleegel was 35th at 22:03.4.

Elizabeth Schmidt of Merrill, who blistered the Medford course in the subsectional, did the same at Lake Wissota Saturday, easily winning the girls race in 18:43.5. The junior finished 7.6 seconds ahead of Menomonie junior Isabella Jacobsen. D.C. Everest freshman Sara Mlodik was third in 18:56.6, Chippewa Falls junior Haley Mason was fourth in 19:06.8 and Menomonie junior Madeline Palmer was fifth in 19:15.6.

Schmidt, Mlodik, Mason, sixth-place finisher Alexi MacDonald of Rice Lake (19:19.4) and eighth-place finisher Haley Loewe of Hudson (19:26.1) were the individual qualifiers. Loewe is a freshman. In fact, the top senior in the race was Ashland’s Elena George, who was ninth in 19:43.8.

Marshfield was led by seventh-place finisher Eliana Kanitz (19:22.9) and outscored Medford by getting all five of its scorers among the top 28 finishers. Menomonie’s scorers were all among the top 23.

Seniors Ellee Grunwald (l.) and Alicia Kawa competed in their last cross country races for Medford at Saturday’s sectional. Kawa was 15th and Grunwald was 32nd with her best time of 21:10.

Medford’s Brooke Rudolph (l.) and Bryn Fronk keep pushing about two miles into the girls race at Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 sectional meet. The Raiders fell just short of qualifying for state as a team.MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS