LA CROSSE — After squeezing out every point they could during two action-packed days of competition, the Cuba City girls’ track and field knew they were in position to bring home a team trophy from the WIAA State Meet for the third year in a row. The only question was what color would that trophy be– gold (like last season) or silver (like in 2014).
Following a two-hour rain delay, the Lady Cubans had to wait with bated breath for the completion of the final race of the meet– the 4x400-meter relay– to find out the color. If the Weyauwega-Fremont squad finished first or second in 1,600 relay, the Indians would overtake the Cubans, who were not competing in the race, and claim the state team title. A third-place or worse finish by W-F and the Lady Cubans would repeat as state champions.
The Indians ran out in front for three legs of the race, however, in the final leg Hilbert/Stockbridge’s Makaylee Kuhn passed the Indians’ Becky Schroeder with about 300 meters remaining in the race to push them into second, and then with about 10 meters to go Cochrane-Fountain City’s Abbey Engel surged past a determined-but-fading Schroeder to send the Indians into third-place and give the Cubans the gold trophy for the second year in a row.
“I’m excited for all the girls. It was an outstanding effort all the way around,” said Cuba City head coach Jason Holzemer. “The girls were ready. They worked hard for this. We knew we weren’t as strong as we were last year, but we had goals for the end of the season. We didn’t talk about it too much, but we had goals in mind.”
Senior Kaitlyn Kaiser finished up her fantastic prep career by winning two state events and earning four state medals for the Lady Cubans, while freshman para-athlete Ben Guerin won three state medals and sophomore Kordell Stillmunkes won two state medals for the Cubans at the 2016 WIAA Division 3 State Track and Field Meet held at UW-La Crosse’s Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday and Saturday, June 3-4.
“We love it up here and we look forward to every opportunity we get,” Holzemer noted.
The Lady Cubans earned the state title with 34 points, finishing one point ahead of the Indians (33). Benton/Scales Mound/Shullsburg tied for third-place (24) with Reedsville and Lourdes Academy.
Kaiser started off her busy weekend by winning the girls’ long jump with a mark of 18’2.25” on Friday afternoon and breaking a 32-year old school record in the process. She went on to qualify for the finals in the 100-meter dash, the 4x100 and 4x200 meter relay races on Friday as well along with senior Sadie Murray, sophomore Mykenzie Vaassen and freshman Brinley Wood.
Kaiser anchored the 400 relay team to a state title on Saturday in a school-record time of 50.10 seconds, and she added a fourth-place finish in the 100-meter dash (12.94) and teamed with Murray, Vaassen and Wood to take fourth in the 4x200 relay (1:46.66).
“It’s an incredible experience. In my last track meet, to go out with four places on the podium, it definitely sums up the whole track experience on a positive note,” said Kaiser. “I’ve been going for 18-feet in the long jump all year and this was the only meet I’ve ever jumped 18-feet, so to get that gold was a huge goal for me.”
Along with the two first-place team titles the past two seasons and a runner-up team title her sophomore year, Kaiser finishes her career with 12 total state medals, including five first-place medals, a second, three thirds, two fourths and a sixth.
“Kait Kaiser is unbelievable. What she’s been able to do up here over the last four years has been remarkable. To cap it of like she did was amazing,” stated Holzemer.
The coach also noted that Murray and Vaassen each had to overcome injuries to return to the state meet, while Wood had to mature quickly during her freshman year to become the lead runner on both the Cubans’ premier relays teams.
“It feels really good. We weren’t expected to do this well, but we came out and did our best and pulled together to become back-to-back state champions. I was happy to end my senior year on a high note,” Murray commented.
Murray suffered a major knee injury last summer, which threatened to derail her senior year, but she defied the odds by not only returning to the team during the season but by making her mark at state as well. Despite being told she’d never triple jump again following her knee reconstruction, Murray went on to win conference and regional titles in the event, while qualifying for state and finishing 11th in it on Saturday.
“Sadie Murray, I can’t say enough about her. Her doctor said she may not be able to run track this season and she’d never triple jump again, but she battled and fought through the pain to bring us back up here in the relays, and she also competed in the triple jump. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Holzemer. “(Mykenzie) battled injuries all year long, too. We were grateful to have her competing this weekend.”
Junior Maizee Splinter returned to state for the Lady Cubans in the high jump, and she earned some vital points by finishing fifth in the event after coming into the meet seeded 16th.
“It feels awesome stepping up to the plate and making a difference for the team,” said Splinter, who tied for 12th at state as a sophomore clearing 5’0”. “It feels pretty cool.”
Stillmunkes led the Cuba City boys’ team over the weekend, placing second in the long jump (21’3”) and sixth in the 100 dash (11.40) on Saturday to make two trips to award stand.
Stillmunkes also joined with seniors Tyre Hall and Mitch Splinter and junior Jacob Paquette to finish eighth in the finals of the 4x100 relay (45.15). Junior Anthony Zilliox helped the Cubans qualify for the finals by running a leg of the preliminary race on Friday.
Senior Tyler Cummings also earned a state medal after taking sixth in the shot put (48’4.25”). Senior Ben Burkholder made the finals in the discus (139’6”), while Cummings finished 12th (137’5”) in the event.
Hall placed ninth in the triple jump (41’6.25”) for the Cubans, who finished in a tie for 14th-place in the D3 team standings with 15 points. Coleman, Marathon and Wild Rose shared the team title with 39 points apiece.
“(The guys) really came a long way this season. We didn’t know what to expect from them. We challenged them all year long and they responded well. We’re really hoping to build on this performance at state,” said Holzemer. “We will be losing some great seniors.”
Guerin made his mark in his first state meet appearance, competing in three wheelchair events and earning three state medals. The freshman kicked off the Cubans’ state competition by placing fifth in the shot put (16’8”) on Friday morning while be cheered on by all his teammates. He returned to the meet on Saturday to place third in the 100 (23.87) and 400 (1:23.21) races.
“It felt really good. It was a fun time,” Guerin commented. “There was a lot of good competition here. It was a great experience.”
Guerin’s efforts placed the Cubans sixth in the wheelchair competition with 16 points. Marquette University School (35) topped Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld (29) for the team title.
“The coaching staff worked hard all the way through the season to get the kids here. To have all he support from the parents and the community was huge,” Holzemer said.