Brother and sister lead Spartan runners
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Superior High School cross country team will be in Merrill Saturday for a Division 1 sectional meet. No Spartan cross country runner has advanced to the state meet since 2004, but this year Superior is optimistic.
Leah Holmes, 14, is a freshman on the Superior High School girls cross country team. Her older brother Shane, 16, runs for the boys team as a junior.
The two say they get along well, except for occasional bickering over which radio station to listen to. On the cross country course, both are top runners for their respective teams.
“I wouldn’t say we’re competitive,” Shane said, “because it’s no competition.”
Leah conceded that her brother is faster, but she holds the advantage by a different measure.
Any time a Spartan finishes first in a race, head coach Dan Conway presents the runner with a memento from the victory — the empty shell from the starter’s pistol. Conway said he began the tradition with Jason Aho, who advanced to the state meet individually for three straight years, from 2000 to 2002.
Other strong runners received shells around the same time, but in the past few years, Conway hadn’t been able to hand out any. That changed this season.
So far three Spartans have shells in their possession: the Holmes siblings and senior Matt Swanson.
“He’s got two and she’s got two,” Conway said of Shane and Leah.
“Three,” Leah corrected, quietly.
“Three? You have three now?” Conway said. “Oh, that’s right; I forgot about one (race).”
Conway joked that if they get enough empty shells, they can string them together to make a bracelet.
“They’re really grounded and really nice kids,” Conway said.
Shane and Leah came to cross country through different routes. For Shane, this is his second full year running for the Spartans.
“Freshman year I didn’t do cross country, I did football,” Shane Holmes said. A friend, Levi Felton, persuaded him to try out for the cross country team as a sophomore.
“He said, ‘You have no idea what you’re missing out on. Conway’s an awesome coach,’” Shane said.
Leah got her start in cross country as an eighth grader, along with a classmate now running on the boys team.
Evan Walpole appeared on Conway’s radar when he began to show up at mini-meets the summer before his eighth-grade year. Walpole had talent, but in Wisconsin athletes cannot be on a varsity team until they enter ninth grade. He was only eligible to compete in the middle school division.
“I told him, if you want to run in some of our local cross country meets, I can get you a chip to get you into the race,” Conway said. Superior does not have a middle school team, though, so Walpole would be forced to train alone and find his own transportation to races.
Walpole agreed and competed in about four meets by himself as an unattached runner. Of those races, he won three, including the conference meet.
Just before the conference meet Walpole was joined by another middle school runner from Superior — Leah Holmes. Conway had time to get her into the conference meet, and Leah finished in first place.
The Superior boys cross country team has raised expectations this year, doing well in each race and winning the Lake Superior Conference meet. Shane Holmes and Swanson finished one second apart in the conference meet to take the top two places.
“Matt and I have always been competing,” Shane Holmes said. “He just got back, and we were racing side by side until the end.”
Swanson and Andy Heytens, the two seniors on the boys team this year, said the team is much deeper than in previous years. They said Conway has helped the team come together, and the athletes are all taking the challenge more seriously.
“We’re more committed this year,” Shane Holmes said. “Last year we only went for practice barely every other weekend; we’d go out to Billings Drive and run some hills. This year we go every weekend.”
Whether it’s as a team or individually, Shane Holmes is determined to get to the state meet. The Spartan boys have not sent a team to the state meet since 1976, but the runners are hoping this is the year they return.
“This is the best boys team we’ve had in the eight years I’ve been coaching here,” Conway said. “They are capable of qualifying for the state cross country meet.
“I also believe we can add to the girls list of individual qualifiers.”
The Spartan girls have never sent a team to the state meet. The last runner to advance to the state meet individually was Katee Rosburg in 2003. Rosburg, who was also a standout runner at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, is serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the Spartan cross country team this season.
The SHS girls don’t expect to advance as a team this year, but the future looks bright. Their top two runners this year, Holmes and Natalie Kintop, are only freshmen.
“Individually I think at least two of us, me and Natalie, have a good chance of going,” Leah said. “I’m excited, but nervous.”
Kintop, who was out for much of the season after being kicked by a horse, made a splash for the Spartans upon her return. After earning a place on the varsity team after her first race back, Kintop told Conway she wanted to make all-conference in the LCS meet. The top 14 finishers are named all-conference.
“I said, ‘That’s a good goal, but it’s kind of hard to do.’ Well, she finished sixth,” Conway said. “She’s just a real competitor, so it’s good to have her back.”
Running for the girls team in the sectional meet are Leah Holmes, Kintop, Catie Albrecht, Ashlee Knight, Katee Guello, Nicole Mattson, Megan Place and Madelyn Swanson as an alternate. For the boys are Heytens, Swanson, Shane Holmes, Felton, Mike Chevalier, Walpole, Brandon Westmoreland and alternate Erick Tunell.
SHS state cross country meet qualifiers
Boys - Individuals
1966 — Billy Elowson
1971 — Gary Waint
1978 — Dan Stack
1991 — Andy Hopkins
1996 — Jeff Beers
2000 — Jason Aho
2001 — Jason Aho
2002 — Jason Aho, Brent Eliason
2004 — Brent Eliason
1969 — Bob Ross, Jim LeRoux, Steve Powell, Rocky Nelson, John Larson, Ron Cieslicki, Paul Westby.
1970 — Mark Cummings, Ron Cieslicki, Steve Uchytil, Gary Waint, Dick LeRoux, John Larson, Paul Westby.
1974 — Dan Alson, John Nystrom, Kevin Peterson, Kevin Florey, Gary Trombley, Steve Shevlin, Matt Collins.
1975 — Kevin Peterson, Kevin Florey, Steve Shevlin, Matt Collins, Dave Aune, Dan Stack.
1976 — Dan Stack, Matt Collins, Bill Shoemaker, Tom Matiski, Tim McNaughton, Jim Rink, Doug Tatarek.
Girls - Individuals
1979 — Margee Zeug
1981 — Kelly Gaynor
2003 — Katee Rosburg
No Superior girls teams have advanced to the state meet.