By the time Milwaukee Vincent was done laying claim to its third WIAA state D1 boys track title in five years in 2005, a trend had been established.
That the boys D1 sectional that Vincent was a major part of on the northwest side of Milwaukee that included many inner and outer ring suburbs was well, to put it mildly, stacked!
And preparing for it every late May was not something that left coaches and athletes much opportunity for restful sleep.
“Good ol’ sectional 6 back in the day,” said then Homestead boys coach Dan Benson. “Arrowhead, Vincent, King, Riverside, (Menomonee) Falls, Germantown, Homestead, Watertown, Oconomowoc, Nicolet, Whitefish Bay, Cedarburg.
“…Oh my nightmares (laughs)!”
For good reason. By the time the 2005 state meet was concluded, that sectional had won four of the last five D1 boys titles (Vincent in 2001, 2003 and 2005 and Arrowhead in 2004).
It was just getting warmed up too. Germantown would eventually grab the crown in 2006, Arrowhead in 2009 and Homestead in 2010.
And the depth of the sectional was difficult for out-state teams to surmount too. Being a great track coach with a great interest in statistical analysis, Chris Herriot of Arrowhead put together a now famous chart analyzing the domination of the sectional in 2008, comparing the number of points D1 boys schools scored by team and by sectional from 2004-2008.
It wasn’t even close.
In that five year span, the 16 or so schools in sectional 6 (they remained largely the same in that time) would combine to score an average of 162 points per state meet. The next closest was the Waukesha/Brookfield/Wauwatosa sectional which came up with a distant average mark of 117.
The sectionals were adjusted a few years ago, but for that first decade of this still newish century, there was no stopping “Good ol’ sectional number 6.”
“It brings back some great memories,” laughed Herriot recently. “I didn’t realize this (the chart) was just for 2004-08. It would be even better if we could have done it through 2012. That sectional was on fire!”
And in 2005 the sectional was red hot. Vincent overpowered Green Bay Preble for the title, 50-37, but was hardly alone in the top tier of the team standings, as sectional rivals Germantown (tied for third), Arrowhead (fifth), Falls (seventh), Bay (ninth) and Watertown (11th) were all close behind making a lot of noise themselves.
Those teams combined to win seven events on that sunny and warm weekend none more memorable than the final event of the meet, the 4 x 400 relay, when four teams from the sectional were represented in the championship (Falls, Germantown, Vincent and Arrowhead).
And it was fitting, that the closing rush was a mad dash for glory by three of those squads. Just before the finish, Falls sophomore Pat Burns split between his two rivals and then held on for for title with a 3:21.93 time as runners from Germantown (3:22.04) and Vincent (3:22.09) were nipping at his heels.
Ironically, it was the first time that Falls had won the race all season.
It was such an exciting end to things that long-time state meet announcer Randy Pickering exclaimed as the runners hit the tape: “Now that’s what WIAA competition is all about!”
No one was about to argue his point as Burns noted.
“I didn’t think about it all,” he said. “I just went as fast as I could until nothing was left. I did what I could. I wasn’t going to let them pass me.”
HISTORY IS MADE
But three impressive records, two of which were historic in nature for their duration, with larger than life names attached to them, were finally passed in 2005, including one by a very large figure indeed.
Steve Marcelle of Green Bay Preble won the shot put in 2004 with a sound 57-plus foot throw, but he would get much bigger and stronger in the coming year.
And that growth reflected in his throws as he went well beyond the vaunted 60 foot barrier multiple times during the season and started tempting fate by making some people think he could take down Stu Voigt of Madison West’s hallowed 66-7 1/2 record that had stood since 1966.
He launched what would have been a new record 66-8 effort at sectional the week and that certainly didn’t diminish hopes. But many, strong throwers Jim Flanigan, Jim Nelson, Joe Thomas, etc., had all taken mighty whacks at Voigt’s mark before and couldn’t pass it on the big stage.
But before a record crowd of 8,919 in La Crosse, many of whom had crowded around the north pit ring just to see him, Marcelle proved to be up to the challenge.
Because the Preble giant (6-5, 240) put on a massively impressively show, breaking Voigt’s record on three separate occasions in his series before he finally set his still standing mark of 67-6 on his last throw.
The reaction was gigantic too.
As Marcelle took his steps up the podium to receive his medal, the applause got louder and louder and would just not stop as many of the crowd stood up and clapped, hooted and shouted for many minutes in appreciation of the vast achievement.
And Marcelle was just as appreciative in return soaking in the adulation, and then happily roaming the press pit for close to 45 minutes afterward, talking to anyone with a pad of paper or a microphone in their hand.
“I love this crowd,” he said. “The competition, the people, they fed off my energy and I fed off theirs. It felt so great. …When it (the record) finally happened, a shot of adrenaline went right through me.
“To get such a prestigious record is just amazing.”
And Marcelle, who also claimed the discus, was hardly done, as a few weeks later at the Nike Outdoor Nationals, he upped his best with a 68- 1/4 effort to win the competition.
Bradley Tech sophomore Victor Reynolds had an extra source of energy too as he fed off the dynamics exuded by a powerhouse triple jump field that saw seven jumpers go over 45-7 and four go over 47 feet.
But it was Reynolds who went 48-11 and knocked out of the records book, the 22-year old mark of eventual world and Olympic champion Ken Harrison of Brookfield Central.
Reynolds achieved the mark despite missing most of the outdoor season with leg injuries. In fact, his regional efforts were the first of the outdoor campaign for him
“It felt good doing this,” he said. “Especially in a field as great as this one.”
But long ago legends weren’t the only ones who saw their records bite the dust. Distance hero Chris Solinsky of Stevens Point was just ramping up a sensational career at Wisconsin in 2005 after concluding his record setting prep career in 2003.
However, Solinsky’s three-year old 3,200 record would not last long, as state cross country champion Chris Rombough of New London erased it with a spectacular 8:57.73 time. He did that despite having to run virtually by himself, winning the race by 23 seconds.
Rombough also dominated the 1,600 with an excellent 4:11.61 time. In both instances, he shocked the big crowds by taking control early with shockingly fast 58-second first laps. He respected Solinsky greatly, having raced him eight times in the past and he even saw him a few minutes before the 3,200 which he must have taken as a sign of good luck.
In earning the distance runner trifecta in the 2004-05 school year, Rombough fulfilled a pledge he wrote about in a classmate’s yearbook three years earlier when he was just a freshman.
“I wrote ‘From a future state cross country and track champion,'” Rombough laughed at the time. He proved he was no flash in the pan, as at that same Nike Outdoor National that Marcelle was at, he turned in a scorching 8:50.85 3,200 to take third against the best in the nation.
PRUITT AND CURTIS ALSO GO BIG
Marcelle was hardly the only weightman having a great season, as Sean Pruitt of Valders and AJ Curtis of Brodhead showed that just because the legendary Gavin Ball of Monona Grove had graduated two years earlier, that didn’t mean that the D2 weights were going to fall into mediocrity.
No, far from the case.
Hilbert is a town of about 1,100 on the southern end of the Fox River Valley in Calumet County and on May 5 it hosted a triangular meet that included Valders.
And that is when and where the throwing gods smiled enormously and lavishly upon Pruitt. At first, when word trickled out on the amazing thing that happened there no one could believe it, but it actually did occur.
Pruitt had found perfection in a glorious toss of 215-7, which for the record is 23 feet beyond Ball’s imposing D2 mark and 22 feet beyond Luke Sullivan of Verona’s long-standing overall state record.
The throw stood as the best in the nation that year and landed Pruitt at Michigan, where he had a successful career throwing the hammer, discus and shot.
It also got him on Curtis’ radar who came into state as the defending D2 discus champion and with the top throw out of sectional qualifying in both the shot and discus.
“Pruitt has put those (discus) throws out there,” Curtis told Rob Hernandez of the Wisconsin State Journal in 2005. “While that 215 may have been one of those things, he’s had a lot of other great throws. It’s not like it was a fluke.”
And Pruitt, who had finished a distant second to Curtis in the discus in 2004, validated Curtis’ respect as the two staged an epic dual in the event as Pruitt up-ended Curtis for the title with a mighty toss of 185-8, just a touch better than Curtis’ 183-5.
The pair were so good, that they both beat Marcelle’s winning D1 discus effort of 178-7. Curtis still defended his shot put title with a hefty 63- 11 1/4 toss that missed Flanigan of South Door’s still epic D2 class record of 64-8 3/4 by less than a foot (that mark still stands today).
Marcelle, Pruitt and Curtis were all paying attention to each other at this meet and formed an informal mutual admiration society. “It feels really good to be a part of all this,” Pruitt said. “Steve (Marcelle) is such a great thrower.”
“We’ve all been competing together for such a long time,” Curtis told me. “I know we’re sort of in his (Marcelle’s) shadow, but it’s a nice shadow, because it’s been such a great year for throws.”
And it was another great year to review family matters. Wild Rose, located almost smack-dab in the dead center of Wisconsin is a town of about 700 people but has a great track history and Jake Morrow was right in the middle of it all in 2005. His grandfather had coached the team to state titles in 1978 and 79 and his father and aunt were both state event champions.
It was Jake’s third try at state and this time, he struck gold, winning both the D3 long and high jump as well as taking third in the triple jump.
And family was a big part of the girls’ competition too, as in D1 girls 100 dash, first cousins Stefnee Ross of Bradley Tech and Brittany Henderson of Whitefish Bay went one-two, respectively.
“We’re really competitive in this family,” smiled Henderson, “but it’s love, all love.”
Meanwhile, state distance giant Steve Lacy‘s influence remained strong, as son Andrew Lacy won the D2 3,200 for McFarland. His older brother Tim Lacy had won the 1,600 in 2002. Andrew would win the 3,200 again in 2006.
There was more history made on the girls side as Jenny Soceka of Madison Memorial, who had won the pole vault in 2004, came back to earn state athlete of the year honors after she repeated as D1 vault champ and also won the 100 hurdles and handled a leg on the victorious 4 x 200 relay.
Soceka, who earlier in the season became the first girl in state history to clear 13 feet, had to overcome mono to earn the honors.
“I didn’t even think I was going to make it to state,” she said. “Two weeks after I learned about it, I ran the hurdles for the first time and my speed was gone. Even two weeks ago I didn’t think I was going to get better. So I’m very glad to win a state championship and help my team.”
Joanna Schultz probably nodded her head in agreement with Soceka. The Holmen junior sprinter won her third straight D1 200 and 400 dash titles but it was hardly easy. An ankle injury suffered in gym class in January was never completely right all season. She said she only started feeling better about the time of her conference meet and noted that she would need more medical attention on the leg in the off-season.
Schultz became just the sixth girl to win two events three years in a row.
“I’m just relieved that I got my goal,” she said. “…There was so much I had to push through at the beginning of the season. I didn’t think state was even in my reach. It took a lot of support from my family and coaches to get me to this point.”
And there was the bitterweet story of Caitlin Dodge and Brenda Hernandez of Whitefish Bay Dominican. Dodge and Hernandez helped the Green Knights 4 x 200 relay win the D2 title and then Dodge came back on short rest to dominate the 400 dash by over a second in a time that was then in the top 10 all-time for the event (56.76).
But it came at a cost. The pair were dual sport athletes in the spring and to win these state titles they had to forego playing in the WIAA sectional soccer final Dominican eventually lost to Racine St. Catherine’s on what was championship Saturday for state track.
A negotiated alternative date for the soccer final could not be reached between the two schools so Hernandez and Dodge had to make a hard choice.
Fellow relay runner Rebecca Taylor summed up the situation best: “We’re proud of our teammates and we would have supported any decision they made, but either way they shouldn’t have been put in that situation in the first place.”
WEST AND ROSHOLT GET ROLLING
On the team front, behind four placewinning relays including the championship 4 x 800, Waukesha West won the second of what would be three consecutive D1 team titles. In doing so, the Wolverines bookended their dominating state cross country crown from the previous fall.
In D3, Rosholt won its third title in five years and broke the two year title run of Arcadia with a dominant total of 76 points as Jamie Scott set a class record in the pole vault of 11-0 and the Hornets’ 4 x 400 relay team was also victorious with a class record of 4:00.41.
The Hornets would make it four titles in six years in 2006.
Then, just because I like talking about them, it should be noted that relays were fully half (five) of the 10 state records set this weekend. Along with the Rosholt girls 4 x 400 the D2 girls team champ Lakeside Lutheran won its crown behind a record-setting effort of 49.72 in the 4 x 100. It also formally clinched the team crown with a win in the 4 x 400.
And in boys D2 competition, three relay marks were broken, as the D2 runner-up Brown Deer boys took down the class 4 x 200 mark (1:29.34) in a romp, and Wautoma/Faith Christian overwhelmed the field in the 4 x 100 with an impressive 42.81 clocking, and Grafton completed a three-year domination of the D2 4 x 800 as the team of Chris Eernisse, Andy Ashenden, Tyler Bursten and Nate Maschke mauled the old mark and won by an echo-inducing margin of 11 seconds in a then state top 10 time of 7:50.94.
Maschke had the unique honor of anchoring all three championship units for the Black Hawks.
Ironically, Grafton’s North Shore Conference rivals Whitefish Bay won the D1 4 x 800 with a time that was just a smidge (7:49.45) faster than that of the Black Hawks. Members of both champions could be seen shaking hands in the press pit after their respective awards.
“They’re all good guys down there (at Bay),” said Maschke. “If we have to lose to anyone, it’s great that it’s to them.
PAST CHAMPIONS SHINE
2005 was also a great year for state meet alumni as Freedom’s Melissa Talbot defended her Big 10 heptathlon title for Wisconsin, while at Minnesota, Oak Creek’s Liz Woolford set a school record in the 100 hurdles and Chilton’s Liz Roehrig also set a school record in the high jump.
THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
In short it was a good year for state track in 2005, as there was another two day attendance record in La Crosse of over 17,000 and in the June 4 edition of the La Crosse Tribune there was a banner headline announcing the upcoming $14 million facelift of Memorial Stadium that would keep the meet in front of Grand Dad’s Bluff for years to come.
And those years would be fun too as getting their feet wet and preparing for future glory were the likes of Paul Annear of Richland Center (who won the first of four straight D2 high jump titles), Justin Austin of Brown Deer (who was on the Falcons’ record-setting 4 x 200, hardly the last time he would step to the top of the podium); Kaya Senaya of Brown Deer (who won her first girls D2 100 dash), Andrew Perkins of Watertown (third in the D1 800) and future hurdles phenom Megan Rennhack of Dodgeland (third in the D3 300 hurdles).
Yes, the fun was just getting started, but not without some controversy first.
UP NEXT: Schultz finishes as a champion, new empires get established and the state D1 boys competition is rocked by scandal.