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Storybook ending to strange year

Storybook ending to strange year Storybook ending to strange year

Colby girls run state at home course

It’s only fitting that the WIAA state cross-country meets took place on Saturday, Oct. 31. After all, what better way to spend Halloween than racing against the phantom times of other runners?

From early morning to late afternoon, three sections of runners chased down the ghosts of those runners that either came after or before them, all without having the advantage of knowing what times or runners they were pursuing.

A runner that finished in the top five of their session could very well find themselves just outside All-State once the results were combined and tallied. But in spite of the strange format, every runner was thankful to even have a state meet in 2020, the Year of COVID-19.

“Today has been a great culmination to a crazy season, but one we’ll never forget,” Colby cross-country coach Bryon Graun said following the state meet’s completion. “In August who knew where we were going to be? All of my messages have just been to enjoy the day that we have. That’s what we have done, and it’s worked out for our benefit.”

Graun and the Colby girls were one of 12 teams competing at the WIAA D-2 state meet, and while Halloween is a time of ghouls and goblins, for the Colby girls the state meet was more like a fairy-tale, with their journey having an almost storybook quality to it as their season ended precisely where it begin.

It ended at home, in Colby, with the school district being honored by the WIAA as one of three host sites for this year’s state cross-country meets.

With just 11 days to prepare the course for an event as important as a state meet, Graun recruited his runners, friends, family and the Colby community in order to transform the familiar Colby course into something that had even his own runners gasping at surprise once everything was in place and good to go.

“This course doesn’t even feel like it did a week ago. As soon as we came here it just felt different, like you can feel that it’s a big event, that this is a state tournament,” Colby High sophomore Willow Oehmichen said that morning.

But in between the thrill of becoming the first team in 22 years to represent Colby at the state cross-country tournament was the business at hand - a chance to take home that state title.

It had all come down to this. All the meets, all the hours and all the miles had led the Colby girls cross-country team to the WIAA D-2 state meet.

In order to qualify for the state meet runners had to compete in a sub-sectional and then sectional. Once at state, runners and teams were split into different sessions - some in the morning, some at noon, and others in the evening.

Over one hundred runners zig-zagged through Colby’s school forest, ran by the Hornets’ football stadium, and watched traffic speed by nearby Hwy. 13.

All three races were coordinated and executed to precision on Saturday, and with music pumping from a nearby speaker system, every runner and spectator enjoyed the feat that Colby, coach Graun, and the cross-country program pulled off.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for a little community to really bring so many people together,” Mercedes Sarkkinen said later. “It’s really neat for us because we get to run our own course. How many teams can say ‘We ran our home course for state.’ Not a lot.”

The temps were cool, but not terrible, though a wicked wind blew on the backstretch, making things difficult for everyone. No personal bests were made, but the Colby girls relished the chance to test their speed and skill with some of the swiftest runners in Wisconsin.

“Running against the top twelve teams from the other schools, it’s so mind-boggling,” Sarkkinen said as she attempted to explain her team’s accomplishment. “I mean, we just did that. This happened. We not only ran at state, but we did it in Colby at our own home course.”

However, the familiar sights of their home course held no home field advantage for the Colby girls, who placed 12th out of twelve teams with 273 points.

Winneconne won the WIAA D-2 state meet with a team score of 76. Osceola placed second with 119 and Kewaskum was third with 122 points.

Junior Kayci Martensen won the individual title on Saturday, finishing nearly thirty seconds ahead of her nearest competitor in 18:09.29.

Colby’s Daisy Feiten would be the first Hornet across the finish line, completing the 3.1 mile race in 21:30.10 for 55th place. Willow Oehmichen was soon to follow, taking 63rd in her time of 21:40.98.

Mercedes Sarkkinen ran a gutsy race as she finished third on the team in 88th place in 22:34.60, just seconds from a new personal best.

Trinity Severson struggled in the cool temps and high winds, but took 100th in her time of 23:03.02. Freshman Casey Reynolds was the fifth and final scorer for Colby, running to 106th in 23:24.23.

Sophomore Payton Roth and freshman Regan Schraufnagel finished right almost side by side taking 108th and 109th in 23:40.20 and 23:42.40.

“Mercedes and Daisy had really strong days and really stepped up, and Payton and Reagan were charging all the way to the finish line,” Graun said. “All of them finished hard and they worked hard all the way through the race. I wanted them to leave it all on the course, and that’s what they did.”

When it was all over, and fans and runners began their journeys home, Graun attempted to put into words the year and feats his runners had achieved in 2020.

“It’s been a surreal week. I’m so proud of the girls. They had three really solid weeks of racing and I am so proud of them for how they performed,”Graun said. “They earned the right to be here at state and I am just really proud of them for their effort.”

Graun credits the strong bond his runners developed in the weeks leading up to the post-season and state meet. That closeness, he says, allowed everyone to share in the moment, and to push each other to achieve great goals.

“They have really come together and they’re having a lot of fun together and they’ve become a group of sisters. It’s been fun to watch that over the season, especially these last six weeks.”

Even as the season wrapped up, the Colby girls eyes are already turning towards next year. With all seven varsity runners returning, the girls are already discussing plans to not only win the Cloverbelt title for an unprecedented fourth straight time, they want more.

“We already talked about conference next year,” Sarkkinen admitted. “We don’t lose anybody, and next year we want to go all out and do even more.”

HOMETOWN PRIDE -From left to right, Trinity Severson, Daisy Feiten and Willow Oehmichen were three of the seven varsity runners to represent Colby at the WIAA D-2 state meet on Saturday. It was Colby’s sixth appearance at the state meet. The ladies finished 12th, but are eager to do better next year.

ALMOST THERE -Mercedes Sarkkinen sprints towards the finish line at the state meet in Colby. Sarkkinen improved all year long, and hopes to lead Colby to a fourth Cloverbelt title.STAFF PHOTO/ROSS PATTERMANN