MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM GAME OF THE WEEK (Oct. 28–Nov. 4)
WIAA DIVISION 3 STATE CROSS COUNTRY: Lancaster wins D2 title
WEST SALEM – With all that has taken place throughout this year, and how it has changed our lives forever, 2020 is sure to be one of those years none of us will soon forget.
For Lancaster cross country coach Taylor Reynolds and the members of the Lancaster girls’ cross country team, 2020 can best be described as “unforgettable.”
Adding to an already memorable year, the Lancaster girls’ cross country team captured the WIAA Division 3 State Championship last Saturday after running at the Maple Grove Venues in West Salem.
“I told the girls, 2020 was going to be memorable because of all the COVID and all the other stuff, but winning the state championship, and winning it with all the injuries and the quarantines and everything else we went through, takes it from memorable to unforgettable,” said coach Reynolds.
This year’s state championship is the second in three seasons for the Lancaster girls cross country program, who won a state title in 2018 after finishing as state runners-up in 2017. Last year the Flying Arrows finished fifth at state.
Not even knowing four months ago if there would even be a cross country season, or what it may look like, the 2020 season certainly had its challenges, which makes this year’s state title even more rewarding.
“Sometimes when you have to endure some sort of adversity, and you come out on top, it just makes it that much more sweet,” coach Reynolds explained.
“In the speech I gave to the girls, I said smooth seas never made for tough sailors. We went through the tough seas, and these girls are tough sailors,” Reynolds added.
Throughout the season, coach Reynolds and his squad had to endure a 14-day quarantine period for two team members, along with injuries late in the season that affected two other members, including the team’s No. 1 runner.
While there is no good time for an injury, the timing couldn’t have been worse for freshman Mallory Olmstead, who had emerged early in the season as Lancaster’s top runner, and then suddenly irritated both hip flexors after the sub-sectional meet in Boscobel.
Fellow freshman Leah Muench, who was also a valuable addition to the varsity squad early on, saw her season come to an abrupt end with a stress fracture.
Even still, the Lancaster ladies persevered to overcome a number of obstacles thrown at them during an already bizarre season.
“With all the COVID concerns and all the injuries, it’s like something out of a movie, to go through it all and still win,” said coach Reynolds.
“When our luck got bad, we just kept working hard, and by the end of it we came out on top. It’s just a great, great feeling,” he added.
The state meet on Saturday certainly wasn’t without its challenges either, both physically and mentally for the Flying Arrows.
With the state meet split into three separate sessions to keep all 12 teams and all 112 runners from being at the same place at the same time, Lancaster ran in the first session, which began at 9:30 a.m. Also in their session were Kickapoo/La Farge, Durand and Cochrane-Fountain City.
The second session, which began at 12:30 included Auburndale who was one of the favorites in the D3 field, while the third session, which began at 3:30, included the favorites from Gillett.
Once a session was completed, all athletes and fans from that session had to leave the venue before the athletes and fans for the next session could arrive.
That meant teams from one session had no idea where they stood amongst those from another session until the final results were posted on the internet at the conclusion of all three sessions.
For the Flying Arrows, that meant getting up early on Saturday for a two-hour ride to West Salem, where they arrived an hour early for their 9:30 a.m. race.
Once completing the 5,000-meter course, they made the two-hour ride back home, where they then had four more hours to wait in agony for the final results.
“When a typical race finishes, you have to wait 10 to 12 minutes before they start flashing up the results by the finish line, and those 10 to 12 minutes feel like hours,” said coach Reynolds. “Having to wait six hours felt like an eternity.”
On their way home, the coaches and girls all agreed that, good or bad, they should all be together when the results are released, and made plans to meet at the high school auditorium at 4 p.m.
To fill an excruciating four-hour wait, coach Reynolds tried to remain busy, which included 40 minutes of trick-or-treating with his children. After all, it was Halloween.
Once the coaches, athletes and their immediate families arrived at the auditorium, the girls all turned their cell phones off and put them on the stage, to avoid any distractions or outside information.
Coach Reynolds started out with a speech letting his girls know that no matter the results, he was proud of them and the effort they gave, and that it was a successful season regardless of where the team finished.
With that said, the wait was finally over.
Coach Reynolds knelt in front of his laptop, which was connected to the large projector screen on stage, and clicked on the results.
“All the girls were sitting in the front row, and I clicked the button,” Reynolds said. “It was awesome, because on the PT Timing web site it showed the team results first. I literally clicked on it and I looked up at the screen and saw Lancaster was number one. The girls and I just went nuts.”
With a team score of 93, the Flying Arrows finished 10 points ahead of second-place Ozaukee, 32 points ahead of third-place Kickapoo/La Farge, and 39 points ahead of fourth-place Gillett.
Leading Lancaster with six team points and finishing 21st overall was junior Bridee Burks with a time of 20:13.8. Right behind her was senior Kristin Muench, who scored seven team points and finished 22nd overall with a time of 20:14.3.
Junior Anna Murphy then came in with a time of 20:53.6 to finish 38th overall and earn 14 team points, while fellow junior Finley Knapp wasn’t far behind with a time of 21:39.4 to earn 31 team points and an overall placing of 60th.
Rounding out Lancaster’s top five finishers was Olmstead, who battled through the course to finish 64th overall and earn 35 team points with a time of 21:54.1.
“She just toughed it out in excruciating pain,” Reynolds said of Olmstead. “She just ran so tough, to still score for us and she got her job done.”
Finishing 87th overall with a time of 22:49.9 was sophomore Meg Walker, while fellow sophomore Maddie Schneider finished 90th overall with a time of 22:57.4 to round out Lancaster’s seven runner.
“All-around, the girls were running hard, running tough, and getting it done,” said a very proud coach Reynolds.
“I thought everyone else in that race stepped up big,” Reynolds added. “I think everyone was throwing down either their fastest times of the year, or if not, it would have been one of their top two fastest times.”
The top individual time among D3 runners belonged to Manitowoc Lutheran junior Brooklyn Luebke, who ran the race in 18:55.53, while other area runners included Fennimore senior Brynlee Nelson in fifth (19:29.87), Darlington freshman Raquel Reuter in ninth (19:43.07) and Fennimore senior Lauryn Bunn in 29th (20:29.03).
Coach Reynolds is extremely proud of this year’s team, who continued to run during the summer months not even knowing if there would be a cross country season this fall.
“The girls’ commitment to summer running, individually and as a team, just laid the foundation for all their success,” Reynolds explained. “Everything that we’ve achieved all started back with their summer running.”
The future for coach Reynolds and the Lancaster girls’ cross country program certainly looks very bright for years to come, with the return of his top seven runners, as well as the addition of some promising talent from the middle school.
The one runner who won’t be back for the Flying Arrows next season is senior Kristin Muench, who has been a very valuable asset to the program’s success over the last four years.
“Her accomplishments and the teams that she’s been a part of have just been amazing,” coach Reynolds said of Muench. “She’s ran for four years on varsity, where we’ve won two state championships (2018 & 2020), a state runner up (2017) and a top-five finish (2019).”
When looking back at the career of Kristin Muench, coach Reynolds is reminded of a time when he first asked her as a young freshman, what her goals were. She simply told the coach that she wanted to run at least one race on varsity.
“I told her you’re going to be a lot better than you’re giving yourself credit for,” Reynolds remembers. “You’re going to be a superstar in this sport, you just don’t know it yet.”
“Her goal was to run just one race on varsity, and she walks away being a four-time all-conference runner, a four-year runner at sectionals and state, not to mention a two-time state champion,” Reynolds added.
The Flying Arrows now have to play the waiting game yet again, not knowing exactly when they will receive their state championship trophy from the WIAA.
But, when the trophy is delivered and takes its place in the school’s trophy cabinet, it will forever be a reminder of a rather bizarre, memorable, and even unforgettable year that was 2020.