Tigers take busload to stateNorthwestern athletes will compete in eight individual events and two relays
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Northwestern High School is again transporting a busload of athletes to the Division 2 state track and field meet at UW-La Crosse. In all, the Tigers are sending athletes in eight individual events and two relays.
The state meet begins today and runs through Saturday.
A dynasty continues
Thirty-three. That’s the number of athletes NHS pole vault coach Bruce Nelson has guided to the state meet, according seniors Justin and Jeremy Knase.
The brothers are both headed to UW-La Crosse this year to represent the Tigers in the boys pole vault. On the girls side, a pair of sophomores — Logan Holly and Brooke McCauley — will compete.
“It all starts with our coach,” Justin said. “He really knows what he’s talking about.”
Nelson is well-known for his coaching, but the Tigers also look up to him for his past accomplishments as an athlete. He holds the school record at NHS in the pole vault, was a state runner-up one year and a state champion another year.
“He can still vault,” Jeremy said. “He could probably go 14 or 15 feet easy.”
Jeremy and Justin have both reached the 13-foot mark this season. Justin cleared 13 feet at the sectional meet, a personal best, and his brother made that height earlier in the season. Jeremy cleared 12 feet, 9 inches at sectionals to qualify for state.
At the state competition, each brother wants to see the other do well . . . to a certain extent.
“I beat him last meet, so I hope to beat him again,” Justin said.
Jeremy, meanwhile, said he planned to take back top standing within the family.
“I’ve always been ahead of him, usually,” Jeremy said.
The Knase brothers will be competing in their final high school meet today and tomorrow, so they say it will be up to the girls to keep Northwestern’s streak of state pole vaulting appearances alive in the next few years.
“They should go (to state) the next two years,” Justin said. “They’re really good.”
Holly and McCauley go into the state competition ranked No. 7 and 8 among Division 2 girls, while Justin and Jeremy are ranked No. 9 and 10, respectively.
NHS has more pole vaulters competing at state than any Division 2 school this year.
In two track events, Northwestern has state-qualifiers from both the boys and the girls teams.
Sophomore Tess Nelson — competing in the 300 hurdles — is Northwestern’s highest ranked athlete heading into the state meet. She holds the No. 1 seed in the girls 300 hurdles with a qualifying time of 45.5 seconds. Her time is about half a second faster than the No. 2 seed.
On the boys side, Mike Naumann finished fifth at sectionals in the 300 hurdles, but his time of 41.03 was the eighth best in the state, earning him a provisional spot.
Three of the top five seeded boys in the 300 hurdles came out of the Colby Sectional.
In the 800-meter run, NHS will also be represented in both the boys and girls races.
Austin Berube earned his state berth by winning the boys sectional race in 2:00.96.
“I was a little worried,” Berube said. “There was a big pack of guys at the front. At one point I was boxed in pretty bad.”
But the senior bided his time and looked for the opening he needed. In the last 300 meters he made his move. Berube, in fourth at that point, cut between two runners to move into second and then ran down the lead runner on the final turn to finish first.
Berube is seeded near the middle of this year’s state-qualifying field, which is comprised mostly of seniors.
“I’m not really looking for a place, per se, just a certain time,” Berube said.
After graduation, Berube plans to attend UW-Milwaukee. He said he’s been talking with the coach about running for cross country and track.
Berube competed in the Division 2 state cross country meet the past two seasons, something he has in common with Northwestern’s entrant in the girls 800, Jordan Johnson.
Johnson, a sophomore, finished third at sectionals in 2:22.33. She’ll be pulling double duty at state as she also qualified as a member of the Tiger girls 4x800 relay team.
The girls 4x800 relay team isn’t at all concerned about its handoff. They’re satisfied with a quick look back and a slight shuffle when they pass the baton onto the next runner.
“We don’t put a lot of pressure on our handoffs really,” said senior Jess Morris. In a race as long as the 4x800, the runners have the time and the speed to make up for a botched handoff if necessary, she said.
For Northwestern’s other state-bound relay team, the boys 4x100, a properly executed handoff can mean the difference between first and last place.
“The handoff is just so important,” said senior Max Biser.
The 4x100 relay team spends most of each practice just working on its exchange. When the baton changes hands, both runners need to be sprinting at top speed.
It’s critical for teammates to know just how fast everyone can run, said junior Zak Anttila. Something as simple as new team member can throw off the timing.
But Northwestern had all its team members for the sectional race and cruised to an easy second-place finish.
Jeremy Magnuson was first on the track for the Tigers. He wasn’t set properly for the start, yet he still beat his previous best time by more than half a second.
Anttila said he was running on pure adrenaline when he took the handoff for the second leg. The junior had to run with the wind in his face but kept the Tigers at the front of the pack. Biser took the baton around the last turn before the straightaway, where Dee Burse waited in the anchor position.
“It feels good having it all on your shoulders,” Burse said.
The Tiger boys were expected to do well in the 4x100, so their second place finish wasn’t a surprise.
The Tiger girls were not granted to same respect.
“It was pretty scary because we were ranked seventh,” said sophomore Beth Gurske.
The girls said they didn’t question themselves until they saw their ranking online. Their trepidation didn’t take long, though.
“We’re good at being the underdogs,” Morris said. “Being an underdog gives you more of an advantage than a disadvantage. It’s motivating.”
So the Tiger girls set three goals for the sectionals in Colby: run personal bests in all four legs of the race, break the school record and earn a place in the state-qualifying field.
“We met all three goals,” Morris said.
Gurske, as the leadoff runner, put Northwestern in good position to start the race. When she handed off to Angela Snow the Tigers were in second, and her fellow sophomore kept pace with the lead runner to keep NHS in qualifying position.
Morris had a personal best time against a speedy group of runners in the third leg, but Johnson still needed a strong finish to pass up two runners and give NHS a second-place finish.
Northwestern’s sectional time of 9:55.45 broke the previous school record by almost 12 seconds.
The Tiger girls are hoping for another record time at state, but they’ll be facing top tier competition. The No. 1 seeded team in Division 2 qualified with a time of 9:37.02.