Tigers stuff the bus for trip to state CC meetNorthwestern sending boys and girls teams to state cross country meet
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In the past decade, both the boys and girls cross country teams at Northwestern High School have sent squads to the state meet, but never in the same year. The girls last competed as a team in 2006, and the boys advanced in 2005.
This year, the Tiger boys and girls will ride the bus to the state meet together.
“For these kids to go to state just didn’t happen. Numerous kids ran over 300 miles,” NHS coach John Woodbury said.
During the offseason, many Northwestern runners put in the time — and miles — to improve. Those who run far enough become members of the Tigers’ 300 Mile Club. Seven Tigers on the state varsity squad made the club this season, along with numerous runners who finished the year on the JV team.
“In both cases, both boys and girls this year, we’ve had a lot of competition to make our varsity,” Woodbury said. “Throughout the year we’ve had different people running on varsity. They’re so close, and we’ve got that kind of depth that has really helped us as a team.”
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Cross Country Championships take place Saturday at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
Running for the NHS girls at the state meet are freshmen Olivia Amber, Jordan Johnson, Angela Snow and Tess Nelson; sophomores Elli Teige and Nicolette Amber; and junior Jessi Morris. On the team for the NHS boys are seniors Zach Yepma, Nathan Nelson and Jari Mackie; juniors Josh Hensrud and Austin Berube; and freshmen Travis Sznaider and Ryan Lind.
The only Tiger with state experience running for the Northwestern this year is Nelson, who qualified for the state meet last year as an individual.
A team effort
Seniors Yepma, Nelson and Mackie have run for the Tiger cross country team for many years, but they have never seen a race as close as last week’s sectional meet in Amery.
“It was one of those races where when it’s over you just get this empty feeling,” Woodbury said. “You don’t know which way it’s going to go.”
Last year, the boys team limped into the sectional meet, struggling with illness and injuries. Yepma, who came down with strep throat, wasn’t even able to run in the 2008 sectional meet, and the Tiger boys finished nine points shy of qualifying for state.
This year the Tiger boys were healthy and looking for redemption. “We really wanted it this year,” Yepma said. “We knew we had a really good chance, but we knew we also had to run a really good race to make it.”
The trio of seniors did what was expected of them, finishing high in the standings as Northwestern’s top three runners. From there, it was up to two freshmen and two juniors to push the Tigers into a state meet berth, with only the top two teams advancing.
“The difference between the second place team and the sixth place team was seven points, so we had no idea, not a clue, who won when we finished the race. Four teams were right in the middle of it,” Nelson said.
For the Tigers, the race for state literally came down to their last runner.
“We beat Amery by two points,” Woodbury said. “Our fourth runner was a freshman, Travis Sznaider, and he beat a senior from Amery out by one second. That’s a two-point difference there.”
Ryan Lind, also a freshman, came in four seconds behind Sznaider to round out Northwestern’s scoring runners, but the Tigers still needed help from their No. 6 and 7 runners, Hensrud and Berube.
“This is where our depth shows,” Woodbury said. “Our sixth and seventh runners were just two seconds ahead of Amery’s fifth runner. They could hear, they knew that they were just ahead of that guy, and the Amery coach was yelling to get them and they held him off.
“That’s two points. If he beats those two guys, he moves up two points. It was that close to not going to state this year.”
Mackie was quick to praise Hensrud and Berube, pointing out that at sectionals, they played just as important a role as the top runners. Without the efforts of the two juniors, Northwestern would not have qualified for state.
“Now the pressure’s off,” Yepma said. “We can just run at state and try to do our best.”
At the girls sectional meet in Amery, the Tigers came in as a team to beat. A few minutes into the race, however, and the Northwestern runners began to feel nervous. They couldn’t overtake the horde of red jerseys running in front of them.
“There was a lot of red ahead of us,” Morris said. “We saw all these girls in red and we thought, ‘Oh, jeez.’”
“Turns out it was two different teams,” said freshman Olivia Amber.
The Tigers’ efforts to run down the girls in red helped put them well ahead of the remainder of the field. The second-place team was more than 40 points away from Northwestern.
“We’re very young and very talented,” Morris said. “Our top nine could have gone on in sectionals for any other team.
“It’s never been the same seven girls on varsity this year. Everybody’s had a turn on JV.”
Morris, a junior, was one of those who spent time on both the varsity and JV squads. She reclaimed a spot on the varsity team with her strong finish in the conference meet — the last race used to determine the varsity team for the sectional and state meets.
Had Morris failed to qualify, the varsity team would have been made up of five freshmen and two sophomores.
The Tigers are very young heading into the state meet. Competing will be four freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. The irony is that Northwestern also has very strong upperclassmen running this year.
“I have good seniors,” Woodbury said. “Come to think of it, Lakyn (Lombard) and Carinda (Larson) both ran in the state meet as freshmen.”
The seniors continued to be leaders for Northwestern this season, but the incoming freshmen proved difficult to catch, even for Woodbury.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time, and at the beginning of the year when I was running, and seeing those freshmen girls ahead of me, all I could think of was, ‘Wow,’” Woodbury said. “At the beginning of the year I could see that this team was something special.”
Amber has been the strongest of the freshmen phenoms this season. She won the Heart O’ North Conference meet at Hayward, setting a new course record. Amber also won a number of other races as has consistently been the top Northwestern finisher.
The freshman said she never expected to be Northwestern’s No. 1 runner this year, and she’s as surprised as anyone to be heading to state with three of her classmates. Amber knew her class had strong runners, but she would never have predicted four freshmen running on the state team.
Northwestern’s No. 2 runner, Elli Teige, doesn’t have much more experience. Teige is just a sophomore. This year, she has dropped more than a minute from her finishing time.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all,” Amber said of running in the state meet. “I don’t feel like anybody expects me to do anything (at state) because I’m just a freshman.”
Amber added that she hopes to see the Tigers place within the top five, as does Morris.
“We don’t want to just say we went to state, we want to do good at state,” Morris said. “We want to be known at state.”
Spartan siblings compete
A brother and sister will represent the Superior High School cross country teams Saturday in the Division 1 race. Shane Holmes, a junior, placed sixth in the boys sectional race in Merrill to advance. Leah Holmes, a freshman, was seventh in the girls race.
The Division 1 girls race begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, and the boys race starts at 2:20 p.m.