WISCONSIN RAPIDS – The only scary thing for Darlington on the way to claiming their fifth straight state championship – besides the rain and cold weather, that is– was the ease with which the Redbirds ran away with the title this time around.
After receiving a bit of a fright from Boscobel at last week’s sectional meet, the Redbirds could have had a lot of nerves heading into this year’s WIAA Division 3 State Boys’ Cross Country Meet.
Instead, the ‘Birds rose to the challenge with a dominating team performance en route to the team title on Halloween Day at The Ridges golf course in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday, Oct. 31.
Darlington (137-10 overall) capture the D3 crown for the fifth year in a row with a team score of 49 points– which was less than half the total of runner-up Boscobel, who pulled in second with 106 points.
At sectionals last week, the Redbirds had to hold off the Bulldogs, 60-67, for the team title.
Saturday’s score was the second lowest point total for the Redbirds during their five-year reign as state champions, and the largest margin of victory (57 points) among the program’s seven all-time state titles.
Darlington won back-to-back state titles in 1985 and 1986 along with the titles earned from 2011 to present.
“When we ran poorly at the sectional meet, it threw a little doubt into the mix, but it also woke them up. There was a major challenge there,” admitted Darlington head coach Arnie Miehe. “We laid out what we needed to do, but talking about it and doing it are two different things. They did exactly what we talked about. To see them do that was incredible.”
Senior Jaden Komprood did his part by going out with the lead pack and finishing fourth overall over the 5,000-meter state course in a time of 16:46.21 to earn his third individual state medal along with another team title.
“It feels great to be a four-time state champion. As the lead guy, I need to get a low number, and then we need (the other guys) to do their job. We knew we could do it and we did it,” said Komprood, who placed ninth at state as a sophomore and third as a junior. “It’s not just about me. It’s the team. It’s an awesome feeling to do this for Darlington, to win our fifth title in a row and extend the streak.”
Chequamegon senior Kevin Koski won his second straight individual state title in 16:03, finishing 25 seconds ahead of Boscobel senior Dakota Kauffman (16:28), who was runner-up for the second year in a row. Lourdes Academy senior Lucas Weber was third overall in 16:29.
“Jaden went out where he needed to be, where he always is. He’s been one of our most consistent runners for us the last few years. He’s always where he needs to be,” noted Miehe.
The rest of the Redbirds ran as a pack as planned and continued to move up together throughout the race to run away from the competition.
Five of the remaining six Redbird runners placed among the top 17 team finishers, which put them across the finish line ahead of 14 of the other teams’ second runners. Only Boscobel, with three runners in the top 10, put a second runner in ahead of the Redbirds’ sixth runner.
“That’s a pretty dominating deal,” Miehe commented.
Freshman Payton Heinberg placed seventh in 17:16, and he was followed in by sophomore Tanner Evenstad in 11th in 17:36, senior Sean Barbee in 13th in 17:38 and freshman Tucker Lange in 15th in 17:41. Senior Blake Cwynar was right on their heels in 17th in 17:45, while junior Connor Hackett placed 58th in 18:34.
“Tucker going out like he did and giving us that spark was huge. Then, the crew of Sean, Payton, Blake and Tanner were with each other the entire race. They didn’t let go of one another during the race and that made all the difference. They made that step up and hung together the last 1,000 meters. It was very impressive from my standpoint of how those kids got together and did it,” said Miehe.
It was that pack mentally that had been missing for the team at the end of the season, especially at the sectional where they actually scored higher than they did at state, which is almost unheard of.
On Saturday, Miehe made sure they understood they had to stay together.
“Before the kids got off the bus on Saturday, I had the Marshall Invitational results sitting on the front seat because (at that meet) they went out together, ran as a pack and ran tough. I said that’s what we have to do today,” Miehe added.
The gesture worked its magic. “It was intense getting up there in that pack and finding each other. It drove us through the finish. I’d have to say it feels pretty great to win it,” Barbee said
While the three seniors provided the leadership throughout the year to guard the program against complacency, the emergence of the underclassmen provided the team with the firepower necessary to retain their title for a fifth straight year.
“It feels so great to do it again. The underclassmen really stepped it up and took the reins,” said Cwynar. “They are going to be really good senior leaders when they come around.”
Miehe knows it’s that type of effort and teamwork it will take to keep their streak going next year– and beyond– if possible.
“Who would have expected two freshman to finish in our top five. We had plenty of guys back, so we wouldn’t need those freshmen, right? But, there they are. You just never know. I’m so proud of what these kids have done here. Not just this group, but all the kids since that first group (in 2011). You have people graduate and someone steps in and does the job. I can name kids every year who have done that. That takes a lot of character and I’ve been fortunate to have kids do that over the past five seasons,” he said.
Darlington has put itself in elite company joining Milwaukee Riverside (1913-20, 23-28), South Milwaukee (1937-41, 49-52) and Fennimore (1977-81) as the only schools to win five consecutive WIAA boys’ state titles. And, Coach Miehe and the team will certainly work hard to keep the streak going.
The Redbirds will have four members of this year’s championship team back again next season, and there are several other capable runners on the junior varsity team ready to step up. However, another state title is far from guaranteed since six of the other top eight teams from Saturday’s meet will be returning at least five team members next season.
“None of the runners on this year’s team have been anything but a state champions, so having them understand what has gone on before is motivation to keep it going,” said Miehe, noting the number of members of the previous state teams who had been in contact with the team both prior to and following Saturday’s race was inspirational. “(The past titles) have nothing to do with what’s going on now or what happens next year, but I do tell them that it’s not just about you. A lot of people have put a lot of effort to create what we have right now and they’re going to be there to help us continue that.”
And, while the season doesn’t start for another 10 months, preparation for it starts today.
“You have to challenge them now while its still fresh in their heads. When the time comes, you have to put in the extra effort if you want to stay where you’re at. I’m excited about what next year can bring for both the boys’ and girls’ teams. It’s going to be a battle,” said Miehe.
WIAA DIVISION 3 STATE CROSS COUNTRY MEET
Boys Team Scores: Darlington 49, Boscobel 106, Chequamegon 123, Aquinas 149, Rosholt 188, Assumption 193, Roncalli 200, McDonell Central 212, Westby 225, Sheboygan Area Lutheran 226, Stratford 263, Living Word Lutheran 276, Kenosha St. Joseph’s 281, Drummond 296, Laconia 350, Colfax 358.
Darlington results (team/overall): 3/4- Jaden Komprood, 16:47; 7/16- Payton Heinberg, 17:16; 11/27- Tanner Evenstad, 17:36; 13/31- Sean Barbee, 17:38; 15/34- Tucker Lange, 17:41; 17/39- Blake Cwynar, 17:45; 58/95- Connor Hackett, 18:34.
At The Ridges–Wisconsin Rapids, on Saturday, Oct. 31