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Standout siblings

In northern Wisconsin, running has become a family affair. Three local cross country teams are benefiting from the efforts of sibling teammates this season. In Ashland, the Miller twins have put the Oredocker boys in contention for the Lake Super...

Zach and Donny Pooler
Zach and Donny Pooler

In northern Wisconsin, running has become a family affair.

Three local cross country teams are benefiting from the efforts of sibling teammates this season.

In Ashland, the Miller twins have put the Oredocker boys in contention for the Lake Superior Conference title. The Pooler brothers have done the same for the Northwestern Tigers in the Heart O’ North Conference, and the Kintop sisters have Superior eyeing the LSC girls title.

 

Donny and Zach Pooler

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Since making their debut on the Northwestern High School cross country team last season, Zach and Donny Pooler have been referred to in a collective sense.

The “Pooler brothers” never seem far apart. They pace each other in practice and run together on weekends. During races, one brother supports the other if he’s having an off day.

They have a peaceful family dynamic, but is there any competition between them?

The question draws wide grins from the siblings and a simultaneous answer:

Yes.

 “When you get two people with pretty much the same exact goals and then you throw them in the same room together … everything’s a competition,” Donny said. “We compete not only to get to those goals but to see who can reach them first.”

“We like to push each other, that’s for sure,” Zach said.

Phil McGrath, head coach of the Northwestern cross country team, said the Poolers have an interesting relationship. The brothers are close and work well together, but they are also relentlessly competitive.

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On one occasion, he found them facing off for a pull-up contest in the weight room.

“I think a lot of their lives are like that - turning everything into a competition,” McGrath said. “But it works for them. I don’t think they’d be as successful as they both are without each other.”

That has been especially true this year.

Donny, a junior, was sidelined for the first half of the season with an injury.

He ran his first race Tuesday at the Northwestern Invitational and took second behind Esko’s Joshua Kemp. Zach took sixth to help the Tigers to a second-place finish as a team.

“I don’t think today would have been possible without him pushing me every single day to get back,” Donny said.

Wednesday marked eight weeks since the junior underwent shoulder surgery. During his recovery, Donny said his younger brother encouraged him and kept him on track to make his return with the cross country team.

“It’s always nice to be pushing him because he’s also pushing me at the same time,” Zach said.

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That extra push helped the sophomore tackle a challenge of his own.

With Donny injured and three of Northwestern’s top five runners to lost to graduation, Zach found himself tabbed as the No. 1 runner to start the season. He’d contributed to the varsity score as a freshman but was never the lead runner.

“It was a little scary at first, but then I just had to step up and do it,” Zach said.

The sophomore dropped 41.7 seconds from this first race to his second. Following that were drops of 20.8 seconds and 44.6 seconds.

In all, Zach cut 1 minute, 47.1 seconds from his time over the first four races of the season - when Donny was unable to run. He finished in the top 12 in every race but the Rice Lake Invitational, where he was 15th of 232 runners.

“He was the only one returning, so he had big shoes to fill,” Donny said. “He’s matured and started to fill that role really nicely.”

With both Poolers now back, the Tigers are hoping to defend their Heart O’ North Conference title. Northwestern has won the boys cross country title the past seven seasons.

“You won’t find two closer brothers,” McGrath said. “There’s a respect there. Donny wants to win, but he wants Zach to win, too. Donny wants Zach to push him and vice versa.

“They’re great guys to coach because they’ll do anything you ask. … Zach and Donny are great people, in the sport and in school.”

NOTES: Although Zach and Donny are a year apart, one has never run cross country without the other. Donny was encouraged to run cross country after a breakout track season in his freshman year. Football had been his sport of choice, but he decided to give cross country a try. When the season began, he and Zach joined the team together.

“We made the switch from football to cross country because we have some big goals in wrestling,” Donny said. “We felt that was the best decision to help us get to those goals, and like I’ve said before, we both have the same if not similar goals.”

Wrestling is a focus for both brothers. Donny advanced to the state meet last year in the 152-pound class. He won the regional title and finished second at the sectional meet.

Zach finished third in the Ashland regional meet at 132 after losing a 10-6 decision.

As a team, the Tigers advanced to the sectional team finals for the first time in school history. They took second to eventual state champion Ellsworth.

“The Pooler boys are incredible. Their work ethic is unparalleled,” McGrath said. “Wrestling has had a huge impact on their lives, and I believe that is where they’ve learned to be tough, to give all and to train to win.”

 

Maury and Walker Miller

The Ashland Oredockers have one of the better known sibling duos in northern Wisconsin.

The Miller twins, Walker and Maury, rank among the state’s elite runners.

Both have finished within the top four in every race they’ve run this season.

“They are really nice young men who love to run and compete,” said Dave Beeksma, Ashland head coach. “They are always smiling, unless it is race time.”

Maury has won four races and finished second once. Walker has three second-place finishes to go along with one third- and one fourth-place finish.

At the Rice Lake Invitational Sept. 13, both juniors finished in less than 17 minutes. Only five of the 232 total runners managed that feat.

“We respect the Miller brothers a ton, and they’re great athletes,” said Donny Pooler.

With the Millers leading the way, Ashland is poised to return to the WIAA Division 2 state cross country meet as a team after missing the cut last year.

Maury qualified as an individual in 2015 and finished 15th of 150 runners at state. Walker, who finished 10th at the sectional meet, was one place away from qualifying for state as an individual.

This year, the twins are running closer together. The average time between them in their first five races is just 17.4 seconds.

“The Miller twins work extremely well together and are very close, as twins are,” Beeksma said. “But they are also very close to their brother.”

That brother, Bryce Miller, now runs for the University of Missouri Kansas City and competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the steeplechase. He placed sixth overall at the WIAA Division 2 state cross country meet in his senior year and won the 3,200-meter title at the 2013 Division 2 state track meet.

“He is a great resource for them in this sport,” Beeksma said. “I think one advantage they have over their older brother is that they have each other to train with and push each other.”

At the Rice Lake sectional Oct. 21, the Miller brothers and Pooler brothers will go head-to-head for a chance to compete in the WIAA Division 2 state cross country tournament. Ashland, Northwestern, Osceola, Bloomer and Rice Lake rank among the favorites to advance to state as a team.

Only the top two teams advance to state.

NOTES: The Millers are not the only set of twins running for Ashland this season. Sophomores Matthew and Marques Hoglund also run for the Oredockers.

“I can tell the Miller twins apart during a race,” Beeksma said. “For Matthew and Marques, I need to know their race bib numbers to tell them apart while they are running.”

Beeksma said he often refers to the Hoglund twins by the wrong name but is working hard to get their names right.

“They also get along very well and are a treat to have on the team,” he said.

Freshman David Wallis, meanwhile, does not have a twin running with him, but he does have an older sister. Amy Wallis, a senior, is the top runner for the Ashland girls team.

“Amy is one of the nicest and sweetest young people you would ever meet but is also one of the most tenacious competitors you will ever meet,” Beeksma said.

Amy Wallis has one first-place finish, one second-place finish and two third-place finishes this year. She ran in the WIAA Division 2 state cross country meet with the Oredocker team last year and took 34th overall. She took 67th with the team in her sophomore year and 59th as a freshman, when she qualified as an individual.

“All three sets of siblings are awesome and great teammates,” Beeksma said. “They work hard and treat everyone with respect and care. I really appreciate that about them.”

 

Sophie and Chloe Kintop

In Superior, sisters Sophia and Chloe Kintop have been in lockstep on the cross country course.

They’ve finished less than a second apart in two of their four races so far this season. In the others, they finished three seconds and 12.3 seconds apart.

The sisters have finished sequentially in all but one race, but they claim the close finishes are not planned. It’s just happening,” they said. In unison.

Through four races, the Kintop sisters have been separated by a total of only 17.1 seconds.

Lee Sims, head coach of the Spartans, offers a simple explanation.

 “Their times reflect how similar their running ability is, and as they’ve gotten in better shape they’ve begun to basically pace each other from the first mile onward,” he said. “As the race progresses and they push toward the finish, they move up together, not letting the other gain an edge as the finish comes into view.  As they finish, you can tell they leave it all on the course by how hard they battle each other all the way through the finish line.”   

Sophie, a junior, and Chloe, a sophomore, have been consistently strong for the Spartans this season. They are Superior’s No. 2 and No. 3 runners behind Audrey Phillips.

During races, the Kintops typically run side by side. Sophie sometimes moves ahead of her younger sister, but halfway through the race they are back in step.

“It’s easier to run with someone, especially when you know them,” Sophie said.

“We kind of know how each other run, so it makes everything easier,” Chloe said.

Each sister is grateful to have the other, but there is one downside:

They are often mistaken for each other.

The Kintop sisters have been told they look similar, but it is the way they talk that creates the most confusion. Not only do they have a similar tone of voice, they also use many of the same phrases and have the same delivery.

“We’re always together, so I guess we say a lot of the same things,” Chloe said.

When their older sister, Natalie, is in the mix, it adds another layer of confussion. Natalie was also a prominent cross country runner for Superior.

“It runs in the family,” Sophie said.

“Literally,” Chloe said, laughing at her sister’s unintentional pun.

Natalie Kintop graduated in 2013 and was Superior’s No. 2 runner behind Leah Holmes, a four-time state qualifier. In Natalie’s senior year, Superior was one place away from qualifying for state as a team, a feat the Spartan girls have yet to accomplish.

Sophie and Chloe have this season and the next to reach the state meet.

For this season, they share the goal of earning Lake Superior All-Conference recognition.

“Sophia has just missed being All-Conference in the Lake Superior Conference the past two seasons, and Chloe was ill last year at Conference as a freshman,” Sims said.

The Lake Superior Conference meet will be held Oct. 11 at Chequamegon Bay Golf Club in Ashland.

“Although they know they are ultimately competing against runners from other teams, there’s no doubt they compete against each other too,” Sims said.

“Their sibling rivalry is healthy and has really pushed them to get faster in practice and races.”

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