Long-time Homestead girls track coach staff member Joe Ciurlik remembers when Wisconsin distance running deity Chris Solinsky first made his jaw drop at the 2001 WIAA state track meet in La Crosse.
Solinsky was just a sophomore at Stevens Point, but he had already won the first of what would be an historic three state cross country titles the previous fall. But here he was caught in a brutally quick 3,200 final with the experienced and talented Matt Esche of Waukesha West.
Ciurlik picks up the story from there: “This is one of my favorite memories,” he told me recently, “Solinsky sits on Esche’s shoulder for 2,400 meters…and then drops him in the final 800 like a bad habit (laughs)!”
Fellow state runners, many of vast ability, were unfortunately starting to get used to being caught in that same maelstrom every time Solinsky was in their race.
Solinsky would also finish second to Racine Park’s Ben Gregory in the 1,600 in that 2001 state meet but following that, he would be untouchable the rest of his high school career including a dominating junior year at state track in 2002.
At that meet, he buried an excellent field in the 1,600 (seven runners under 4:20) with a 4:09.6 showing and then smashed Scott Jenkins’ (Kenosha Bradford) 21-year D1 3,200 record with an impressive 8:58.39 mark.
It just built on a year that had started with a still virtually untouchable state best and absolutely ludicrous eye-popping time of 8:48.44 in the 3.200 at the Arcadia Invitational in California in April.
No wonder everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to watch when he was running.
He would finish his career with two more wins in the 1,600 and 3,200 the following year and the rest is history, including collegiate, national and international acclaim (more on that amazing “what if” history of Solinsky’s in a later post).
And Solinsky’s “Wow!” moments were only two of many in 2002 as the La Crosse weather gods made up for the pure misery they visited upon the 2001 state meet with a near perfect weekend of sun and balmy conditions.
And the athletes responded in kind with one record-shattering performance after another. In all, a total of 17 boys and girls records were set and reset that weekend.
But here’s the kicker. 2002 would be the start of a powerful trend as the WIAA state record book of 2001 would be all but erased and rewritten over the next 17 years.
So much so, that as of 2019, not a single one of those 2002 records still exists.
Still, 2002’s meet set more records than any other since that Gabe Jennings and Michael Bennett inspired year of 1997 when 13 marks were reset and it was also historic because, in just their second year of inclusion to the WIAA state track meet program, private schools won state D2 team titles on both the boys and girls side for the first time. Green Bay Notre Dame took the boys crown and Madison Edgewood earned the girls championship.
2002 was such a meet, that then veteran Germantown boys coach Todd Brawner, in the middle of his dominating run with the Warhawks said: “Just a phenomenal meet. A lot of fun. …It really allowed me to become a fan.”
A lot of the “wow’s” in 2002 were on the girls side, primarily because of the brilliant state female athlete of the year, Melissa Talbot of Freedom. Talbot, who had won both the D2 100 high and 300 low hurdles (setting a record in the process) in the 2001 state meet, became only the second girl to win four events in a single state meet (Hillary Hyland of Nekoosa was the first in 1998).
Talbot claimed both hurdles (erasing the D2 records in the process), narrowly missed out on a state mark in winning the 200 and then seized the long jump crown for good measure. She would finish her career with seven WIAA gold medals including three in the 300 hurdles.
She would go on to have an NCAA D1 meet qualifying career as a heptathlete.
REPETITION AND RECORDS
Another girl who would erase her own record was Amber Curtis, who won her third straight D2 discus crown while breaking her own mark set in 2001 and claiming this final title by over 30 feet.
Anna Monson of Stoughton wouldn’t break any records, but she would win her third straight D1 100 dash title and would repeat as 200 champ for good measure.
One of the more spectacular record setting efforts came from D3’s Jamae Gjermo of Deerfield as she improved on her fourth place performance in the shot put at state in 2001 by a remarkable eight plus feet to set what was then an all-classes state mark of 46-7 1/4.
On the boys side, the most impressive record set (aside from Solinsky’s 3,200 mark) was that of Demi Omole of Whitefish Bay Dominican, who took down Norm McGee’s (Milwaukee West) 18-year old 200 dash mark with a 21.65 showing. He also repeated as 100 champ and served as a role model to teammate Octavia Erkins who took the girls D2 100 dash.
“He’s (Omole) like a big brother to me,” said Erkins at the time.
LA FOLLETTE, HOWARDS GROVE BOYS DOMINATE
The boys meet was dominated by record-setting efforts from Madison La Follette in D1 and sprint-heavy Howards Grove in D3. In D1 competition, the La Follette Lancers would score in an impressive eight events, winning six of them, en route to a hefty 81-1/2 point total, easily outdoing a game effort by 2001 champ Milwaukee Vincent (53).
Their total was the most by any D1 champ since the dominant Nicolet squad of 1990 (70) and the most by any team since D2 champ Southern Door in 1993. They also beat the D1 state point record set by the Milwaukee South powerhouse of 1986 by a half-point.
Nathan Brown won both the 110 high and 300 intermediate hurdles for the Lancers, and also contributed a leg to La Follette’s victorious 4 x 400 relay. Lewis Stotts in the high jump, Chris Cox in the triple jump and Elliot Enright in the 800 also won events for the Lancers.
Howards Grove finished up an interesting three year run as the Tigers went from finishing fifth in D3 in 2000, to taking 26th in D2 in 2001 to falling back into D3 in 2002 and completely dominating the division.
They won six events and overwhelmed runner-up Marshall by 36 points with a D3 state point record of 75-points. Marcus Ver Duin won the sprint trifecta of the 100, 200 and 400 dashes and set a class record in the 200 (he set the 100 mark two years earlier as a sophomore). He got help from Joe Schmidt who swept both the 110 and 300 hurdles.
So deep in the sprints were the Tigers, that they still won the 4 x 200 relay without Ver Duin’s help, though his brother Nick Ver Duin did anchor the winning unit.
Steve Lacy, like Solinsky, is Wisconsin distance running royalty as the McFarland native still owns the all-time best ever 3,200/2-mile run at the WIAA state meet, an absurd 8:56.6 two mile mark he turned in way back in the 1974 state Class C meet. He then went on to have a spectacular career at Wisconsin, run at a high level internationally and even qualify for the Olympics.
He also married well as he wed Cathy Hacker, a member of the talented distance running Hacker family of Menomonee Falls North and Menomonee Falls High Schools of the 1970s and 80s.
Jeff, Tim and Bill Hacker would all win WIAA state track and cross country titles. The talented Dr. Tim Hacker would etch his name in Wisconsin history by being part of two Badger NCAA national championship cross country teams including leading the Badgers to the national crown in 1985 on his old high school course of Dretzka Park in Milwaukee by winning the individual title.
And at the 2002 WIAA state track meet, Tim Lacy would make his father and his uncles proud as he won the D2 1,600 title. Even better, he and his brother Andrew led the Spartans to the state D2 cross country title that following fall.
There would also be second generation Hacker fireworks coming down the line about a decade later (see upcoming post).
In another case of good genes, Ty Greenwood of Park Falls/Butternut won the D2 110 high hurdles. His uncle David Greenwood, a former NFL star, won the same event (in yards for Park Falls in 1979) and also won the D2 high jump four times.
TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY
The Franklin girls track team had won the D1 4 x 400 relay in both 2000 and the rain-soaked year of 2001 (see previous post for details) and the Brookfield Central girls were getting sick of the Sabers as the Lancers had finished second in both those races.
So the Lancers set about rectifying that, as behind the powerful anchor leg of state 400 champ Patrice McMillan, the Central team that included Shawna Edgerson, Jakara Johnson and Leah Sabin turned the tables on the Sabers, earning the D1 title with a fine time of 3:58.96.
McMillan, who passed both Franklin and La Crosse Central runners on the anchor, said motivation ran high for Central at state.
“We really respect those runners from Franklin,” she said at the time, “but we really, really wanted to beat them this year!”
THAT WAS INTERESTING
And for entertainment value on the boys’ side you could not beat what happened in the D1 4 x 800 relay. Ever since the event was brought on in 1994, it has been split into slow and fast heats. Usually, at least one or two teams from the slow heat will overachieve and work their way into the top eight or even into a top six medal stand appearance.
But not much more than that.
In that D1 2002 race, Brookfield Central anchor Eric Khatchadourian willed himself past a Hartford runner just before the finish line to win the slow heat of the 4 x 800 for the Lancers with a season best of 8:02.13. Then he and his teammates Bill Morgan, Scott Mueller and Chad Meier waited to see what would happen in the fast heat. They were hoping their time, solid for a D1 state meet effort but not usually title worthy, could possibly sneak them onto the podium and earn the Lancers some hard won state medals.
Turns out, they would do a little bit better than that.
The thing was, as everyone watched the fast heat unfold on this warm and sunny day, they weren’t particularly fast. After the second leg of the race, it was still close with the slow heat times and it was remained so after the third runners finished up too.
Soon it dawned on everyone at Memorial Stadium, as the fast heat anchor runners ran, that Central, winner of the slow heat, had a distinct chance at a state championship.
And when Catholic Memorial hit the finish line in first in the fast heat, there were none of the usual wild celebrations of victory. No, there weren’t because the Crusaders’ time was only 8:03.89.
Meanwhile, over in the cool down area the Central guys stood there for a moment dumbfounded and then started jumping up and down for joy.
Turns out, Khatchadourian’s gritty finish had netted the Lancers a state crown.
It was believed to have been the first time a state champion for boys or girls in that event had come out of the slow heat and the Lancers were stunned at what they had done.
“I watched the fast heat and it turned out to be a lot closer than I thought,” said an amazed Khatchadourian after the race.
“Who says the slow heat is the slow heat?” laughed Morgan in response.
Yes, 2002 was just that kind of state meet!
UP NEXT: Big Men rule as Homestead coaches get a very good idea!