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The Tigers’ cross-over talent

Northwestern’s Emma Nelson just beats out South Shore’s Ketzel Levens for second place in the 1,600-meter run at the Simpson Invitational at UWS recently. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The Northwestern High School track and field team is counting on some cross-over talent this spring … from a dominant group of cross country runners.

“I think the success from the cross country season is definitely pushing our athletes to work hard this track season,” said Jennifer Forsythe, head coach of the Tiger girls track and field team. “A few of our distance runners are overcoming some injuries, but I’m excited to see what they’ll accomplish once they heal up. It’s early in the season, and we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

 Forsythe and Phil McGrath, head coach of the Northwestern boys, have taken over coaching duties this season after leading the Tigers to state in cross country during the fall. The cross country season also saw the Tiger boys win the Heart O’ North Conference title for the seventh straight year, while the girls won their title for the fourth year in a row.

McGrath and Forsythe are hoping Northwestern’s success on the cross country course will carry over to the track, and signs have been positive so far.

At last week’s Dennis Simpson Invitational, athletes who ran in the state cross country meet scored points for the Tigers in 13 events — seven for the girls and six for the boys.

For the boys, the entire 4x800 relay team was comprised of cross country runners, and the other two relay teams included at least one. Northwestern swept the boys relay events.

“On the boys side, we don’t have any burners, but a lot of quick guys who, put together, will have some great relays,” McGrath said.

The Tigers sent two relay teams to the WIAA Division 2 Boys Track and Field Championships last year. Three runners who were members of either the 4x200 or 4x400 state-qualifying teams return: seniors Nate Pearson and Reilly Moore and junior Connor Johnson.

Pearson also qualified for the long jump in 2015, finishing seventh in the state.

McGrath said Pearson should do very well again this year. The first-year coach also touted Northwestern’s “phenomenal” runners in the distance events.

Senior Timmy Heikkila and sophomore Donny Pooler headline the distance crew. Both were members of the state-qualifying cross country team. Pooler finished second and Heikkila finished fourth in the 1,600-meter run at the recent Simpson Invite.

Fellow cross country runners Leo Mack and Zach Pooler led the Tigers in the 3,200-meter event, finishing fourth and sixth, respectively.

The Tiger girls have a young team overall this season.

One of the more experienced athletes back is senior Emma Nelson — Northwestern’s top cross country runner for the past three seasons.

“Emma Nelson is returning for our distance crew,” McGrath said. “She was out last year with an injury but has had a very good cross country season and had been to state in 2014 in track.”

Another standout from cross country, freshman Abby Nelson, will try to get the Tigers back to state in the pole vault and is running on the 4x400 relay team, which McGrath said could be “very good.”

The Tigers finished second in the 4x400 at the Simpson Invite. Nelson finished fourth in the 400 and took third in the pole vault with a height of 8 feet, 6 inches. Sophomores Emily Nelson and Alicia Michaud also placed within the top six for Northwestern in the pole vault.

Journey Amundson, another freshman and cross country runner, led the Tigers in two events at the Simpson meet. She took third in the 400 and fourth in the triple jump.

Sophomores Syndey Anderson and Hope Rankila give Northwestern depth in various sprint and field events.

The Tigers are back in action today at the Packy Paquette Invitational, hosted by Superior High School at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Twelve teams will compete in the meet, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Season outlook

The Tiger boys are hoping for a repeat of their success in 2015.

Northwestern advanced to state in two individual events and two relays last season. The Tigers also won the Heart O’ North Conference title for the first time since 2003.

The Northwestern girls are looking to rebound from last year, when they failed to send an individual or relay team to state for the first time since 2001.

The Tigers are also looking to climb back atop the pole vault podium.

Northwestern had been represented at state by at least one boy or girl in the event every year for the past 13 seasons until last year’s miss.

Returning for the boys in the pole vault is junior Connor Wheeler, who was eighth at the 2015 sectional meet. At last week’s Simpson Invite, he cleared 12 feet to finish second.

Senior James Nelson and junior Jon Morley also scored points in the event for Northwestern, both clearing 11 feet.

NOTES: Among the newcomers for the Tiger boys this season are two upperclassmen joining the team for the first time: senior Noah Antilla and his cousin Jared Antilla, a junior.

“Noah is a natural hurdler and should do very well,” McGrath said. “Both boys have the Antilla speed.”

Freshman Michael Knaack has emerged also as “a pleasant surprise in the sprints,” McGrath said.

For the Tiger girls, freshmen or sophomores were the top finishers for Northwestern in eight events at the Simpson Invite.

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