West De Pere girls’ track and field team wins state title
By Rich Palzewic
LA CROSSE – For the first time in program history, the West De Pere girls’ track and field team won a state title.
The Phantoms’ 60.3 points easily outdistanced Homestead (36) for the Division 1 championship.
Junior Eliza Aitken scored 19 of the team’s points herself in three individual events.
Aitken was second in the 400-meter dash (56.57), second in the pole vault (12 feet) and sixth in the 200 (26.0).
“We went into (the state meet) knowing we had a chance, but we took it one event at a time,” Aitken said.
She said the team realized after it won an invite at Arrowhead early in the season, that it could compete for state.
“When we won that (invite), it put things into perspective,” Aitken said. “Our coaches never let us dwell on that result too long, though. Everyone on our team pushed each other.”
With all but one of the state meet point-scorers being underclassmen, Aitken said the sky is the limit next year.
“You never know what can happen from year to year, but that’s super exciting,” she said. “We all work hard and won’t stop working hard. We’ll have to go into next season with the same mentality.”
Aitken said she’s looking to compete in track and field in college – hopefully, at the Division I level.
“I’d like to pole vault and run,” she said. “I’ve been talking to some schools, and there are already some good options.”
West De Pere Head Coach Craig Zellner said Aitken is one of the best track and field athletes in the state.
“That was on full display this past weekend,” he said. “She went from one event to the next and had quite the workload. I’m super proud of her. She had a nagging injury last season, but this year it all worked out.”
Other strong individual performances
Freshman Kate Schmoll added 10 individual points by placing fourth in both the 1,600 (5:01.29) and 3,200 (10:43.67).
Schmoll set school records in both of her events.
“She also had a great year in cross country and swimming,” Zellner said. “We couldn’t get her in a perfect race to push her this season, but once she got to state and took off in the 3,200 and finished strong, that got our team going.”
Senior Madeline Zirbel tied for second in the high jump (5-2).
West De Pere earned another 25 points with its strong performance in the relays.
The Phantoms won state titles in the 4×100 relay (Kayla DeBruin, Faith Kibbe, Jocelyn Thomson, Jayna Schema – 48.83) and 4×400 relay (Kibbe, Thomson, Emily Sharapata, Aitken – 3:54.61) and placed fourth in the 4×200 relay (Erika Ukkola, Thomson, Ellie Drews, Kibbe – 1:43.62).
West De Pere’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams also set school records in the process.
“Our success in the relays showed our depth,” Zellner said. “To be honest, Jocelyn Thomson and Faith Kibbe could have done well individually, but they bought into what we thought was best for the team and are unselfish girls. We thought by going the relay route, that would put the most medals around the kids’ necks.”
Zellner said the team and coaches are still basking in the glory of winning a state title.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “We knew a state title was a realistic goal. During the season, we won every meet we went to. As coaches, we looked at times and results from around the state. We felt if we could set things up right, we could put the girls in a good position.”
‘Small fish in a big pond’
With an enrollment of about 1,050, West De Pere is an average-sized Division 1 school.
“I think we went Division 1 in 2011,” Zellner said. “We’re a small fish in a big pond, and we knew once we went Division 1, we weren’t coming back down (to Division 2). Our area has great track and field teams, and we belong in Division 1. It’s impressive to win a title with the area we draw from – it’s not nearly as big as other Division 1 schools in the state.”
Zellner said he’ll have a great group coming back.
“We’ve been asked that several times already (since we won state),” he laughed. “One state championship is great, but two would be better. Ultimately, we’ll live in the moment, take it all in and come down from the excitement. I know the girls will put in a ton of work in the offseason.”
West De Pere boys
The Phantoms’ 4×400 relay team (Eli Olson, Bryce Smith, Yadiel Marrero-Flores, Gyriece Goodman) also won a state title.
West De Pere’s time of 3:19.65 was almost a second faster than second-place Menomonee Falls.
Other local state placings – Division 1 boys
De Pere’s Jack May missed out on a state title in the 100 by one-hundredth of a second.
May’s time of 11.16 was an eyelash behind Lyndon Hemmrich Hartman’s (Oshkosh North) winning time of 11.15.
The Bay Port duo of Lucas Thibert and Jojo Azure placed second in the pole vault (15-2) and discus (172-4), respectively.
De Pere’s Hayden May (110 hurdles – third, 15.01), Aiden Cartier (triple jump – fifth, 45-2.25) and Miles Rades (long jump – eighth, 21-11.75) also scored points.
Green Bay Preble’s Josh Hurley tied for eighth in the pole vault (13).
Bay Port’s 4×200 relay team (Brody Holewinski, Brett Shipley, Max Merhalski, Mason Clark) finished eighth (1:30.18).
Other state placings – Division 1 girls
Bay Port’s Kyla Hendricks placed fifth in the 300 hurdles (45.53), while the 4×200 relay team (McKenna Sedlacek, Natasha Johnson, Macy Biebel, Nevaeh Johnson) finished eighth (1:45.40), the 4×400 relay team (Natasha Johnson, Hendricks, Abby LaRonge, Nevaeh Johnson) placed fifth (4:04.47) and Madeline Thoreson finished seventh in the long jump (17-11.5).
Other state placings – Division 2 boys
Notre Dame Academy’s 4×800 relay team (Federrico Auricchio, Jackson Fogarty, Conner Hawley, Isaac Nowak) finished second (8:13.83).
Other state placings – Division 2 girls
Notre Dame’s Anna Schueller, a senior, won a state title in the pole vault with a leap of 11-3.
Notre Dame’s Hope Barington placed eighth in both the 300 hurdles (47.48) and 100 hurdles (16:53), while the 4×100 relay team (Greta Fogarty, Isabella Ricci, Sydney Whitehouse, Danika Apple) finished second (49.89).
Sports editor’s note: For the complete results, CLICK HERE.