By Paul Lecker
For Zaleski Sports
There will be no shortage of local runners at the 2019 WIAA State Cross Country Championships, which will be held Saturday at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
Marshfield will be sending four runners to the state meet. The Tigers had two boys, senior brothers Joseph and Joshua McKee, and two girls, Eliana Kanitz and Michaela Dick, earn individual qualifying spots at the Division 1 sectional on Oct. 26 at Stevens Point.
Joseph McKee was fifth in 16:21 and Joshua McKee was right behind in sixth in 16:23 at the sectional, a week after Joshua was second and Joseph took fourth at the Wisconsin Valley Conference Meet on Oct. 19 in Merrill.
“They both have switched off being our No. 1 runner all year long,” Marshfield coach Dan Akin said. “They are some of the best runners in the state. Basically, on all of our courses (during the season), they’ve had our best times ever. They are veterans, they know what to expect, what the pack is going to be like. They’ve worked hard for the last year to make sure to get back there.”
Joseph McKee is making his third-straight trip to state. He finished 48th as a sophomore and 38th last year in 16:28.4. Joshua McKee is back at state for the second year in a row. He took 91st in 17:00.6 in 2018.
“The first year I went I didn’t know what to expect,” Joseph McKee said. “At state, there’s people more packed. It’s a little unsettling, I guess, but it’s a lot of fun though to run at that pace with people that have put in just as much work as you have to get to that same place.”
The two have fed off each other throughout their careers, and especially this season.
“It makes running fast easier,” Joshua McKee said. “If he can do it, I can do it.”
A number of familiar runners will be at the state meet, including the Stevens Point team and Wausau West’s Ryan Hartmann, whom the McKees have ran against a lot during the season. Having solid competition has only made them better, Joshua McKee said.
“It really brings a lot of confidence because when you race against guys that you know, over the four years I’ve gotten to know them really well, it definitely makes it more fun,” Joshua McKee said.
Kanitz, a sophomore, is back at state as well. She took 39th in 19:39.4 in the Division 1 girls race last season as a freshman. Kanitz finished second at the sectional last week in 19:30.7. She said her training and diet have been key in her ability to make a return trip to Wisconsin Rapids, where she’s shooting for a top-25 finish this time around.
“Definitely had discipline with food, not a lot of junk food,” Kanitz said. “I’ve been training with people faster than me. Training with the boys and Michaela, and going a little bit faster than I’m supposed to be going.”
Dick is just happy to be back running, not to mention excited to have made it all the way to the state meet.
Dick, a freshman, missed her eighth-grade season at Marshfield Middle School due to a battle with Lyme disease, but has made the comeback and steadily improved all season. She finished seventh at the sectional in 19:55.3, earning the final individual qualifying spot.
“I thought it was a possibility,” Dick said about making state. “I thought I’d have to work for it though. I ate healthier, training with longer runs and faster runs, and thank you to my coaches! I’m getting back form Lyme disease and I’ve been trying to get back to where I used to be.”
Akin said he has high expectations for his runners on Saturday.
“I told Eliana, I gave her a place goal of top-25, and the boys, our top finish ever is 12th, and I’d like to see those guys beat that time and run low 16 (minutes) on that course,” Akin said. “It comes down to that last 300 yards. You’re going to pass people, or get passed. Michaela, it’s going to be a good experience, maybe top 50.”
The Auburndale girls team is making its fifth-straight state appearance and looking to add to its steady climb in the Division 3 standings. That, of course, would mean a state title in 2019.
Auburndale placed 13th in 2015, ninth in 2016, fourth in 2017, and second last year.
McKenna Zieher was sixth and Erricka Zenner seventh to at the sectional, to account for two of the Apaches’ six top-20 finishes. Macie Schmeiser was 12th, Jordyn Karl 14th, Autumn Richardson 19th, and Lily Kloos 20th for Auburndale. Vanessa Mitchell rounded out the strong team finish, taking 30th among the more than 100 runners at Athens.
Edgar senior Marissa Ellenbecker has won the past two Division 3 individual state titles, last year taking first in 19:06.4. At sectionals last week, however, Loyal’s Savannah Schley edged Ellenbecker for the title by just one-tenth of a second. Schley finished 15th at last year’s state meet.
In the Division 3 boys race, Auburndale’s Carl Lundgren and Stratford’s James Heeg will be competing after earning individual qualifying spots at the Athens sectional.
Heeg finished fifth in 17:01.6 and Lundgren was sixth in 17:02.8 to grab the final two individual spots from the sectional. Heeg finished 60th in last year’s D-3 boys race in 17:52.3.
Wisconsin Rapids Assumption’s Garrett Dolan won the sectional in 16:29.9 and Athens’ Johnathon Nowacki was second in 16:50.6 to grab two other individual spots. Dolan took 10th and Nowacki was 38th in last year’s D-3 state boys race.
2019 WIAA Cross Country State Championships Saturday, Nov. 2, at Ridges Golf Course, Wisconsin Rapids Noon – Division 2 girls 12:40 p.m. – Division 1 girls, including Marshfield’s Eliana Kanitz and Michaela Dick, Stevens Point team, Wausau East’s McKenna Taylor, and Wisconsin Rapids’ Willow Sering. 1:20 p.m. – Division 3 girls, including Auburndale team, Loyal’s Savannah Schley, Edgar’s Marissa Ellenbecker and Morgan Schnelle, Wisconsin Rapids Assumption’s Grace Dolan, and Marathon team. 1:45 p.m. – Division 2 boys 2:35 p.m. – Division 1 boys, including Marshfield’s Joshua McKee and Joseph McKee, Stevens Point team, Wausau West’s Ryan Hartman, and D.C. Everest’s Zach Brandenberg. 3:10 p.m. – Division 3 boys, including Auburndale’s Carl Lundgren and Stratford’s James Heeg, Wisconsin Rapids Assumption’s Garrett Dolan, Athens’ Johnathon Nowacki, Stevens Point Pacelli team, and Marathon team.
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Zaleski Sports.