WISCONSIN RAPIDS – One streak came to an end for the Darlington boys’ cross country team, but another streak lived on as the Redbirds brought home a seventh consecutive team trophy from the WIAA Division 3 state meet.
The color of the trophy may not have been the one this year’s Redbirds team coveted, but the silver lining was that the ‘Birds did bring home a second-place trophy from the 2017 WIAA State Cross Country Meet held at The Ridges golf course in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday, Oct. 28.
Darlington’s six-year reign as state champions came to an end as the Durand Panthers used an impressive team performance to unseat the Redbirds from the top spot for the first time since 2010.
The Panthers, who used the team motto “Break the streak” this season, had six of their seven runners run their best times on Saturday to capture the gold. Durand placed three runners among the top 11 team finishers and placed their other two team scores in the top 31 to finish first with 79 points.
The Redbirds (139-16 overall) had four of their five runners finish among the top 20 on the way to a 104-point performance, edging out Rosholt (109) for second-place.
“We knew going in it would be a dogfight and it was. Rosholt and Durand got out fast at the start and we were attempting to catch them the entire race. We trailed Rosholt by 40 points with a mile to go and dug deep and made up that deficit to bring home the silver trophy. Durand was the better team that day. Hats off to them, they knew what they wanted and they went and got it. Our guys ran solid races, but that wasn’t enough to win,” said Darlington head coach Arnie Miehe, who has guided the Redbirds to eight first-place finishes and five runner-up finishes in 19 state appearance during his 36-year coaching career.
Junior Payton Heinberg earned an individual medal in the boys’ 5,000-meter race for the second season in a row by placing sixth overall and fifth in the team race with his time of 16:41.28 to lead the Redbirds.
“It feels awful to let those seniors down. I fought so hard for those guys and those guys fought so hard for me,” remarked a disappointed Heinberg. “Every step and every mile we ran was together. These are my eight best friends behind me. That’s what makes this so tough.”
Junior Tucker Lange and senior Tanner Evenstad placed 25th and 26th overall and 15th and 16th in the team standings with their respective times of 17:18.21 and 17:19.03.
“We had one goal in mind- to get first place. A lot of people don’t take it this hard over second place, but a lot of guys in the past have worked really hard for this. We just wanted to do it again for all of them,” said Evenstad through tears. “We worked hard all year for that gold trophy. This is going to be hard to get over. Second place is pretty good. We ran as a team and earned it.”
Senior Paul King was 37th (20th) in 17:27.94, while junior Trae Schilling was 85th (48th) in 18:19.27 to complete the team scoring for the Redbirds.
“Hopefully we learn from this and do what it takes during the off-season to see that there is a different result for both teams next fall,” expressed Miehe, noting that the last time the team didn’t win the state meet the seniors were in fifth grade.
Senior Curtis Blosch was 108th overall in 18:48.43 and sophomore Bailey Schwartz took 112th in 18:53.66 for the Redbirds.
Onalaska Luther junior David Vannucchi repeated as the boys D3 individual champion, shaving nearly five seconds off his winning time from a year ago to finish in 15:54.83. Rosholt junior Adam Rzentkowski was second overall in 16:27.32.
This year’s state meet was a quite a family affair for the Miehes. Coach Miehe’s daughter, Hana, is an assistant coach at Onalaska, who had a team in the girls’ D1 meet (third) and an individual in the boys’ D1 meet’ while his son, Kent, is an assistant coach at McFarland, who had a girls (16th) and boys (sixth) team competing in the D2 meet.
The Miehes’ cross country adventure continued on Sunday. After getting just two hours of sleep on Saturday night after returning from the state meet, the family woke up at 1:30 am on Sunday morning to travel to Indiana University to watch the youngest Miehe, Tyson, run in the Big Ten Men’s Meet.
Tyson, a red-shirted junior, finished as Wisconsin’s fifth runner and placed 33rd overall in the meet with a time of 25:03 to help the Badgers to a third-place team finish with 88 points. Michigan won the Big Ten with 71 points, and Michigan State was second with 82.
Several other Darlington alumni runners also had busy weekends at the WIAC Cross Country Meet. Junior Thomas Schultz finished second overall in 25:05.7 in the men’s race to help lead UW-La Crosse to the team title with 35 points, while junior Johanna Meister led UW-Platteville to a fourth-place finish in the women’s race by finishing 12th overall in 22:47.
Freshman Conner Hackett was the seventh runner on UW-Whitewater’s fifth-place team finishing in 27:11.5.
2017 WIAA DIVISION 3 STATE MEET
Boys Team Scores: Durand 79, Darlington 104, Rosholt 109, Living Word Lutheran 149, Lake Country Lutheran 164, McDonell Central Catholic 184, Brillion 193, Luther 197, Manitowoc Lutheran 212, Assumption 222, Phillips 244, Amherst 272, Augusta 284, Solon Springs/Northwood 311, Bonduel 313, New Glarus/Monticello 380.
Darlington results (5,000-meter): 6 overall (5 team)- Payton Heinberg, 16:41.28; 25 (15)- Tucker Lange, 17:18.21; 26 (16)- Tanner Evenstad, 17:19.03; 37 (20)- Paul King, 17:27.94; 85 (48)- Trae Schilling, 18:19.27; 108 (66)- Curtis Blosch, 18:48.43; 112 (72)- Bailey Schwartz, 18:53.66.
At Wisconsin Rapids, on Saturday, Oct. 29