In 2002, Homestead’s Big Man Invitational as it was called then (I still have a t-shirt from that meet), brought in a historic quartet of throwers for some magic on a dank and misty day.
The picture for posterity took afterward of the once and future state champions and state record-holders and flat out giants Joe Thomas, Brandon Houle, Gavin Ball and Katon Bethay arms thrown happily over their shoulders is one of catching lightning in a bottle, bringing in the best across the state so they could bring out the best in each other.
By 2008, Homestead’s meet had morphed into a field event festival (after all then Highlander coach Dan Benson was once a state champion long jumper at Wauwatosa West) and again they brought in the best to bring out the best in each other.
That included Paul Annear of Richland Center who would go on to win his fourth straight D2 high jump title later that spring. He would flirt with the historic 7-0 barrier that fine May afternoon in Mequon, just missing out on it on his final jump and merely “settling” for a meet record of 6-10.
Annear would later go on to have a solid career at Wisconsin and then Badger coach Ed Nuttycombe had came out to Mequon to watch him put him on a show, even leading the crowd in rhythmic, supportive claps as Annear made his runs at seven feet.
It was a deep high jump field, as future two-time Homestead state placewinner Dan Schiller could do no better than fourth with an excellent clearance of 6-5.
Annear won the meet’s “Jumpmaster” award in both 2007 and 2008 for his efforts in the long, triple and high jumps. He would win only the high jump in 2008 but that’s because Benson and the Homestead staff made sure he had great competition.
Nuttycombe was also in Mequon to observe a different kind of history. Defending state long jump champion Marcus Jenkins of Bradley Tech had flirted with the rarely seen 24-foot barrier in winning his 2007 state title.
He would go a long ways past flirting and wave good-bye to the 24-foot barrier in 2008. Benson remembered seeing him at the state indoor meet in early April.
“I think Jenkins went 24-10 (at) that indoor meet and if I recall correctly he didn’t even hit the 8-inch takeoff board,” Benson texted to me, intimating and then further enhancing with an amazed looking emoji, that Jenkins in missing the board, may have actually gone about an astounding 25-6, well beyond Larry Franklin‘s legendary 55-year old state record of 25- 1/2.
Then just a few days before the Field Event Festival, Jenkins validated his potential as he officially flew beyond Franklin with a still state best of 25-2 1/4 at the Hartford Invitational.
Jenkins couldn’t quite replicate that kind of wizardry at the Field Event Festival, but he didn’t disappoint the old long jumper Benson.
He shattered the meet record with a 24-3 1/2 effort only being mildly frustrated with that effort.
Benson, in that recent text added that it was amazing good fortune to be able to bring Jenkins to the Field Event Festival.
“I saw him jump at that indoor at Whitewater and couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Benson said. “Then 25 feet outdoors at Hartford? What a talent!”
It was just that kind of meet.
And Annear said later it was well worth it to make the trip out to Mequon two years in a row.
“That was the best collection of talent outside the state meet that we’ll see this year,” he said.
He was not wrong.
Neither Annear or Jenkins disappointed at state. Annear repeated his D2 jumps triple crown of claiming the long, triple and high jump completing his four-year sweep in the latter with a division record of 6-11, again just narrowly missing out at 7-0.
Meanwhile, Jenkins, who had also been part of a state championship 4 x 200 relay for Tech in 2007, repeated his D1 long jump title with a still impressive 24-4 showing and took second in both the 100 and 200 dashes.
He lost both dash titles to Milwaukee City Conference rival Centrell Minter of Milwaukee Vincent. But those two wins weren’t the most important thing that Minter did at this particular state meet.
THE 4 X 200 GETS A BOOST
In the trials of the 4 x 200 on Friday, Minter’s teammate Dominic Blockmon, after he got the stick to Minter, raised his arms in triumph as if he knew something big was going to happen.
And it did, Minter roared home at full speed as the Vikings obliterated the state record in the event with a 1:27.29 effort. Vincent would narrowly miss out on doing that again in the finals, winning the state title in a still very quick 1:27.44.
The 4 x 200 had been run for many years in the Wisconsin state meet program, but was taken off and replaced in 1984 by the 4 x 100. Racine Case had set the official state record in that final year of 1983 with a 1:28.15 clocking with Milwaukee Marshall turning in the unofficial state best of 1:28.0 in 1980.
The 4 x 200 was brought back on board to state in 2001, but though the D2 and D3 records had already been broken beforehand, it took seven years after bringing it back before Vincent took down the D1 mark.
After that, it was as if a damn had burst, as Vincent’s effort opened the floodgates in the event. A myriad number of teams and programs would then take turns radically rewriting the all-time top 50 in the 4 x 200 over the next 11 years in a way that has happened in no other event (more on that in a future post).
AUSTIN GOES OUT A WINNER
Other finishes at the Homestead Field Event Festival that would have otherwise gone unnoticed would have a major impact at the state meet. Defending state high hurdle champion and triple jump runner-up Marcus Smith of West Allis Central had won the triple jump at the Field Event Festival with an impressive 47-7, but tweaked his hamstring there.
He would never quite recover though his still very good 46-4 1/2 in the triple was still good for fifth in La Crosse.
Also competing in Mequon that year was six-time D2 state sprint champ Justin Austin of Brown Deer. He turned in an impressive 22-6 3/4 for third behind Jenkins in the long jump while teammate David Kuczynski was fifth (21-7 1/2).
Both would play major roles in the Falcons winning the D2 state team title less than a month later, as Austin, who is still the all-time boys leader in state individual titles with nine, went out in grand style.
He would make it a three-peat in both the 100 and 200 dashes, winning the 100 in his fastest state time of 10.75 and also anchored the winning 4 x 100 relay. He could not replicate his great long jump from the Field Event Festival, only taking 11th, but that’s where Kuczynski played his role, earning four valuable team points with a fifth place effort in the event.
Couple that with sixth place finishes from Zach Schimenz in the 300 intermediate hurdles and from the 4 x 400 relay and the Falcons had enough to outlast regional and sectional rival Milwaukee Lutheran, 41-37, for the team crown.
The 4 x 400 earned special kudos from Falcon coach Rob Green as due to a rain delay in the Friday trials, they didn’t get to run their preliminary race until 11 p.m.
“We were lucky to find open an McDonalds and Burger King at 11:45 p.m. that night,” laughed Green about his hungry and tired athletes.
Austin said being able to finish up with a team title after all the individual glory meant everything to him in the world. He emphasized that point by spending a long time late Saturday afternoon carefully cradling the D2 championship trophy at one point turning around to his happy teammates and asking:
“Do you want to slow down and savor this awhile?
And the Falcons did.
“I’ve almost forgotten what individual titles feel like after carrying this trophy around for awhile,” said Austin. “This is great. We came together for this one goal.”
Austin started his collegiate career fine at Kentucky but finished up a legend at Iowa with five individual Big Ten titles, five All-America citations and five school records.
VAULTING GETS A BOOST
Other individual boys highlights in the 2008 boys meet included pole vault records in two classes, as Dan Novak of DC Everest took the D1 mark up to a stratospheric 15-8, breaking Scott Synold of Tosa West’s 18-year mark by an inch and Jack Szmanda of Wausau Newman added an inch to Dan Drewek of Athens’ still fresh 2007 D3 record with a 15-2 leap.
ABBREDERIS MAKES AN APPEARANCE
Also making his name known in D2 was future state record setter as well as top notch Wisconsin and NFL football player Jared Abbrederis of Wautoma, who won both the 110 high and 300 intermediate hurdles. Abbrederis would make even larger waves in 2009.
And its a drumbeat that every track coach new or old knows by heart, that it is always helpful to have a really good 4 x 400 relay to close out a meet with.
AND A GOOD 4 x 4 ALWAYS HELPS
Kettle Moraine made that point abundantly clear late Saturday afternoon in La Crosse in the final event of the meet, as the Lasers secured their first state team track title with a victorious 3:20.54 effort in the race.
The Lasers were ahead of D.C. Everest by a scant 33-32.5 margin going into that race and the big crowd at La Crosse knew that both teams had top-notch teams in the 4 x 400.
They bellowed their approval as the Lasers held off the runner-up Evergreens by just about a second for the event and team title. The win would put Kettle Moraine ahead of Everest by a 43-40.5 margin.
RENNHACK AND OTHERS GO OUT ON TOP
The graduation list of girl superstars who graduated in 2007 was long, but there were still several who finished up their legacies in 2008 in spectacular fashion.
Topping the list was Megan Rennhack of Dodgeland, who had three state D3 hurdle titles going into 2008 and left with her name nearly permanently etched on the record books. First she took down the 100 highs mark with a time of 14.63 that was an absurd 1.44 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
Then she hammered the 300 low hurdle mark into oblivion, winning by well over two seconds in 43.75. Both marks were all classes bests for the meet and both stand unassailed as division marks to this day.
What made her hurdle efforts in the finals even more impressive, is that after setting the 100 high hurdles record she came back immediately and claimed a strong second in the 100 dash.
For her efforts, she was named state female Athlete of the Year. Curiously enough, she went to Wisconsin and took up the javelin, becoming a school record holder in the event and a two-time NCAA meet qualifier.
And it wasn’t like the 2007 female AOY had a bad meet either, as Ashley Beutler of Belleville/New Glarus successfully defended her D2 1,600 and 3,200 sweep setting a new division mark in the 3,200 of 10:33.43.
She too wound up at Wisconsin and set a school record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2013, earning second-team All-American honors in the process. She was also a three-time academic All-American.
Becca Buchholtz of East Troy couldn’t top her 2007 D2 record of 5-9 in the high jump, but she did claim her third title in a row in the event as well as well as win the triple jump. She would go to Michigan State, and win three Big 10 Conference titles in the 60-meter indoor hurdles and set the Spartan school record in the high jump at 6-0.
Also making a strong case for state AOY was Jamie Vandenberg of Niagra, who not only won her third straight D3 400 title with a still standing divisional mark of 56.15, but also won the 800 with a new D3 record of 2:13.29.
SENAYA FINISHES WELL AS ALLEN RISES
And finally, it was a mixed finish line for Brown Deer girls sprinter Kaya Senaya. She had entered the meet with six D2 sprint titles and with divisional records in both the 100 and 200, but this was also the year that Tasha Allen of Milwaukee North burst upon the scene.
Allen, who had battled Senaya in both the regional and sectional qualifying meets, took down Senaya’s 100 mark with an 11.99 explosion down the runway. Then she broke Senaya’s 200 record with a 24.79 showing.
Compounding issues for Senaya, she had a hamstring issue that she had to monitor. Yet, despite all that, she was still second in the 100, third in the 200, finished a quarter inch behind Maya Vazquez of Arcadia for the long jump title and then joined teammates Sydney Nelson, Ariel Kinlow and Chelsea Stingley to set a new D2 mark in the 4 x 100 relay (49.35).
All those efforts helped the Falcons tie for second in the team standings with West Salem with 38 points behind winner Arcadia (45).
Senaya, who received a lot of emotional support all weekend, was praised heavily by teammates and her coach.
“She’s a fighter so we knew that she’d be back,” said relay teammate Nelson.
“I thought she really reached down and fought hard,” added her coach Rob Green.
In a sweet piece of serendipity, Senaya, who wound being a school recordholder in both the 60 and 300-meter dashes before graduating from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, was inducted along with sprint star classmate Austin into the Wisconsin State Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.
Meanwhile, Allen would move up to D1 competition in 2009 and do even more damage.
BRYANT AND OBASIH SAY “HELLO!”
Meanwhile, girls sprint fans would be introduced to two amazing freshmen athletes who would startle people with their talent and make easy work of state recordbook in the next few years.
Chidera Obasih of Brookfield Central would lead a balanced Lancers’ team to its first D1 state team title by winning both the 100 and 200 dashes. She would also place in the long jump too.
The team championship was something special for long-time Lancer girls track and cross country coach Lorie Lewis who said senior distance runner Katie McCormack was the primary inspiration for the title for her leadership and maturity.
McCormack displayed those attributes after her third place finish in the 1,600. She was surprisingly leading the race coming off the final turn, before being passed twice. She later said that she was not disappointed in the individual loss, simply noting that earning points towards the team title was the more important thing.
Obasih had gotten to state doing battle with the resurgent Milwaukee Tech sprinters. The Trojans, who had won a state title and finished second three times in the mid-late 1990s, had come back to the fore with a series of brilliant sprinters.
Tech finished second to Central in the D1 team standings by a 59-49 score, but then would go on to win three consecutive state championships setting new standards for girls track excellence in Wisconsin.
A freshman on that team was one Dezera Bryant. She would join teammates Sharonda York, Symona Gregory and Jasmyn Hudgins to dominate the 4 x 200, relay, winning the race by close to four seconds and setting a record time of 1:38.46 that is still envied to this day.
It would hardly be the last record that Ms. Bryant would lay her hands on over the course of the next three years.
LEMANSKI SETS ANOTHER RECORD
Aileen Lemanski of Florence won her third straight D3 state long jump title breaking her own record set in 2007 by exactly a 1/4 of an inch. She would do so again next year.
Meanwhile, also in the D3 jumps, freshman Bria Halama of Independence/Gilmanton won the first of what would be four triple jump crowns.
SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR CONSISTENCY
Lindsay Schwartz of Watertown battled Callie Burrows of Menomonee Falls in both the 100 and 300 hurdles in WIAA regional and sectional competition and then she did so again at the D1 state meet. And at both sectional and state, Schwartz and Burrows finished one-two, respectively, in both races.
Burrows, who had finished second in the 300s to Sharyn Dahl of Hudson in 2007, was not at all frustrated by losing to the talented 5-10 roadblock Schwartz so many times, praising Schwartz’s talent and adding a note of gratitude:
“I’m really a very blessed girl.”
Burrows went on to have a very nice career at UW-Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Schwartz went to South Alabama where she thrived, winning three Sun Belt Conference titles in the heptathlon earning second-team All-American twice in the event and even taking part in the 2012 Olympic Trials.
THANK YOU, MARK!
I meant to do this in my last post, but for the stories covering the 2002-2007 years I leaned heavily on the state meet essays I wrote for Mark Rongstad in his State Track and Field Yearbook, which lasted for far too short a time before Mark closed it up after 2007.
Our arrangement allowed me to talk to a wide range of state legends including Chris Solinsky, Steve Marcelle, Joanna Schultz, Beutler and many others while I was also working my day job of covering the excellent athletes in the CNI/NOW Newspapers coverage district (Senaya, Austin, Joe Thomas, etc.).
I really appreciated the opportunity to write those essays and Mark never complained as they got longer and longer. They remain among the most entertaining stories I have ever done in in my 38-year career.
They expanded my horizons and made me a better writer.
Thank you, Mark!!!
UP NEXT: Tech and Bryant really start running, Edgar girls lay the foundations of an empire, Vazquez carries the load for Arcadia girls, sectional six rises again in D1 boys and oh yes, the rain on Saturday and the change in schedule that made it all worse!