Spartans' Holmes stands aloneSenior is first SHS runner to advance to four state CC meets
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Every year when the cross country sectional meet approaches, Superior High School coach Dan Conway gives his runners a sheet of paper. Listed on it are all the previous Spartan teams and individuals who advanced to state.
For the boys, the list is long — five teams and 11 individuals.
For the girls, there are only three names ... and Leah Holmes.
“She’s really a special athlete, one that doesn’t come along too often,” Conway said.
Holmes has advanced to the WIAA Division 1 Girls Cross Country Championships every year since she was a freshman and is the first Spartan ever to reach the state meet in four consecutive years. She qualified for this year’s event by finishing fourth overall at the Oct. 20 sectional meet in Menomonie.
“That’s a record that will never be broken,” Conway said. “It might be tied but it will never be broken.”
Going back to 1966, only two Superior runners have come close to Holmes’ achievement.
Jason Aho was a three-time individual qualifier for the Spartan boys from 2000-2002. Dan Stack also advanced to state three times — twice with the Spartan team, in 1975 and 1976, and once as an individual, in 1977.
No Spartan girl but Holmes has advanced to state more than once.
“It’s crazy that I’m the only girl who has gone consecutive years,” Holmes said. “It’s an honor be representing the school.”
Holmes has matured as a runner since competing in her first state meet in 2009. All the spectators and runners had her wide-eyed then, and Holmes said the experience was overwhelming.
In her sophomore season, Holmes dropped 37 seconds from her state meet time and moved up from her 78th place finish as a freshman to 36th place.
“I think a couple of things helped her,” Conway said. “First of all, her freshman and sophomore years her brother (Shane) was running, so that was somebody to sort of key off of and run with. And then between her freshman and sophomore year in the summer, she and Natalie Kintop went to running camps.”
Conway said the camps gave Holmes knowledge and allowed her to meet other highly motivated runners. The self-motivation she gained from the experience paved the way for the remainder of her high school career, Conway said.
This season, Holmes gained a greater appreciation for her running. She is healthy heading into the state meet, but her year got off to a slow start due to a lower back injury.
“The whole season has been different,” Holmes said. “It’s been unpredictable; my races have been going up and down.”
Holmes hyper-extended her back near the end of the school year and was forced to go almost two months without running as she recovered. One of her first races was the Superior Mini-Track Meet summer series, where she competed in the predicted mile.
“She predicted 10 minutes, which is slow, and she ran 12,” Conway said. “I thought, ‘Uh oh, this is going to be a real journey.’ But she gradually just kept working it and getting a little better and a little stronger.”
“In the beginning of the year it was a little tough,” Holmes said. “I had to run slow, and when somebody passed me I just had to stay where I was because I wasn’t up to running fast yet.”
Holmes said she was frustrated in many of her races, but she made steady improvement.
By the time of the Lake Superior Conference Championships, Holmes felt nearly back to her old form. She finished fourth individually, but it was a turning point for her.
“I’ve won conference three years in a row, and this year I didn’t, but that was my first good race of the season,” Holmes said. “I ran a good time, and I still made first-team all-conference.”
Holmes now looks forward to the state meet Saturday at Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
In her final year at state, Holmes hopes for another performance like she had in 2011, when she ran a personal best and finished 18th of 190 runners.
“I had a great race and I gave it everything I had last meet,” Holmes said. “I blacked out after the race, so maybe not go that far.”
Holmes was treated in the medical tent for about 20 minutes after that race and then joined her parents and coach. With a little food and water she began to recover and avoided a precautionary trip to the hospital.
“I didn’t realize this, but after I watched the video of me, I crossed the finish line and I literally fell to my face,” Holmes said. “I guess that means I really gave it my all.”
The 2012 Division 1 girls race is scheduled to begin at 2:20 p.m. Saturday.
SPARTAN SPIN: After graduation, Holmes hopes to continue running at the collegiate level. She has narrowed her choices down to UW-Milwaukee or Bradley University in Illinois, both Division 1 schools, and would compete in cross country and track. Academically, Holmes plans to pursue a degree in physical therapy.
Superior state cross country meet qualifiers
1966 — Billy Elowson
1971 — Gary Waint
1977 — Dan Stack
1991 — Andy Hopkins
1996 — Jeff Beers
2000 — Jason Aho
2001 — Jason Aho
2002 — Jason Aho, Brent Eliason
2004 — Brent Eliason
2009 — Shane Holmes
2010 — Shane Holmes
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.
1979 — Margee Zeug
1981 — Kelly Gaynor
2003 — Katee Rosburg
2009 — Leah Holmes
2010 — Leah Holmes
2011 — Leah Holmes
2012 — Leah Holmes
No Superior girls teams have advanced to the state meet.