I finally got what I really wanted for my birthday in November 2009, and it was something I’d been harping about since June.
It was a shiny, high-tech, highly waterproof rain jacket.
I believe my response was “Finally!!!” and then “Thank you!!!”
And I say with some certainty that many, many other people who were in La Crosse’s Memorial Stadium with me that first Saturday in June for the second day of the WIAA state track meet, had probably made the same request.
Let’s hope they were as lucky as I because I have made great use of that lovely jacket over the years and sorely wished that I had had it that day. It was a long, cold wet day, compounded by a one-time scheduling change that made it all the worse for everyone who stuck around to the end of the less than joyous occasion.
“I remember the monsoon well,” said Brookfield East boys coach Mike Steiner. “Miserable!”
Remarkably, but not entirely surprisingly, the kids, especially on the girls side, hung in there and performed incredibly well and likely complained less than we adults though I do remember interviewing one sprinter late in the day who whimpered “I just want to be someplace warm and dry!”
I wholeheartedly agreed with her!
It was supposed to be a grand state meet. UW-La Crosse had started its $14 million upgrade of Memorial Stadium almost as soon as the last race of the 2008 meet was finished.
And when everyone arrived in La Crosse in June 2009 what greeted them was a whole new bigger grandstand, a new pressbox, a shiny new pressroom, nine new excellent lanes on the track, permanent bathrooms, a state of the art scoreboard, and lots more. It was money extremely well-spent, as other venues in the state were upgrading their facilities too in an effort to pry away the meet from my alma mater.
They haven’t so far.
Everyone was psyched for the event and the first day did not let down, as sunny and warm weather greeted the athletes and they took advantage of it setting numerous sprint records.
One said after one exceptionally fast relay finish: “We’re just getting started.”
But then that scheduling decision and an awful, accurately forecast all day rain on Saturday put a kibosh on everyone’s optimism for the finals.
Everyone noted the change in the schedule in the program. Instead of the traditional 10:30 a.m. start on Saturday for the track finals, field events began at 10:30 a.m. but races were not scheduled until 1 p.m.
Arrowhead boys coach Chris Herriot, whose team won the D1 boys title (out of the now well respected sectional six) in a battle with sectional rival Menomonee Falls, chased his memory and noted the following as to why the change was made.
“(The) schedule change was to help whichever division had the late (trials) schedule for Friday,” he said. “The turnaround, especially on rain delays was hard (such as what happened on 2008’s trials day) but when you back up to a rain delay that’s even worse.”
But everyone knew the forecast for Saturday was going to be just the opposite of the balmy Friday everyone enjoyed. It was going to be dank, and cold and rain was going to come in the early afternoon and stay all day.
And the forecast was accurate, it was dry from about 10:30 a.m. to somewhere around 2 p.m.
Lots of races could have been run in that time, but weren’t and when the rain started, it was a steady, annoying rain, not enough to postpone things, but enough to make everyone, athletes, fans, and grumpy old reporters with inferior rain gear irritated and unhappy.
In the end, temperatures never got much above 50 degrees, with a chilling east wind to boot. My pitiful, not-so-waterproof rain jacket was not up to challenge to say the least!
The WIAA wisely took the pole vault events inside, but the other poor jumpers competing had to deal with 100 percent pure garbage conditions along with everyone else.
To no one’s surprise, the daily attendance, which was a spectacular 10,025 on Friday fell like a stone to 7,467 on what proved to be a very long, cold and wet finals’ Saturday.
As a result after the meet, the schedule change was mercifully discarded after just one year as the coaches’ association and the WIAA agreed, race finals on Saturday will forever begin at 10:35 a.m.
Thank Jesse Owens spikes for that!
But as noted, despite the depressing conditions, the kids persevered and overcame as well as they could.
Among them senior Tasha Allen of Milwaukee North. She had emerged in an emphatic way in 2008, breaking both the D2 100 and 200 dash records, but when North moved up to D1 in 2009, she became more ambitious.
Battling fellow City Conference star Dezerea Bryant of Tech as well as defending 100 and 200 champ Chidera Obasih of Brookfield Central, Allen claimed the sprint trifecta of the 100, 200 and 400 dashes. She set new D1 records in the 100 (11.76) and 400 (55.19) in the trials and then dominated the finals in both of those events under the sloppy conditions.
In the 200 final, she beat both Bryant and Obasih (who in the trials set a new record of 23.85). Allen would go on to win four National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) sprint titles running for two schools from 2010-12. She would also represent America at the Pan American Junior Games in 2009 and would also qualify for the US Indoor championships in 2012.
As for Bryant, the still rising sophomore would finish the meet with three individual runner-up finishes (100 and 200 and the 4 x 200 relay). Those would be the last times in her prep track career that she would be looking at anyone’s back during a race.
And those three runner-up finishes as well as a victory from the 4 x 400 relay and another runner-up finish in the 4 x 100 relay, would be more than enough to fuel the Trojans to a 55-37.5 victory over sectional rival Brookfield Central for the D1 title.
Taking a cue from their City Conference boys power Milwaukee Vincent, which won three D1 state titles in a five-year span from 2001-2005 under frequently iffy conditions, the Trojans just ignored the weather and ran.
Sophomores Kenzie Vicker of Whitefish Bay and Marissa Savitch of Homestead did much the same, as Vicker was a surprise winner of the D1 3,200 during the worst of the rain on Saturday afternoon, while Savitch fulfilled her favorite’s role in the D1 100 hurdles while it was just getting started.
Vicker practically leapt for joy when she saw the forecast for Saturday.
“Rain is our thing,” laughed Vicker after her victory. She was a key link in the Blue Dukes’ state championship cross country run the previous fall and was used to such conditions. “I woke up and I practically shouted ‘This is our kind of weather!'”
Vicker, who had medaled in the 1,600 the day before, waited until the final 600 before she made a dramatic move in the 3,200. No one went with her until the final 200 and then she held off Liz Berkholtz of Sun Prairie for the win.
Meanwhile, Savitch, who had made state in the 100 hurdles as a freshman in 2008, burst onto the scene in 2009 with a series of fast times including a 14.44 effort in sectionals that was faster than Jennie Evans of Waukesha South’s D1 record of 14.6 clocking set back in 1988.
Savitch couldn’t quite get the record this year, but her 14.82 was more than enough to notch her first state title. She would go faster and get the record in 2010 and then go much faster again in 2011 in one of the great races in state history.
She credited hard work all the previous summer in earning her first state title, but admitted her great season, which included the fastest time on the state honor roll going into La Crosse, got to be a little much at times.
“This all got so huge so fast,” Savitch said. “There was so much pressure that I would occasionally lose concentration. But I felt strong coming into state.”
Junior Maya Vazquez of Arcadia also felt strong at state, as she almost single-handedly willed the Raiders to their fifth state team title since 1998 under coach Lynn Sonnentag, as they defended their D2 crown by a 57-51 margin over sectional rival West Salem.
Vazquez was just an agonizing .04 of a second loss to West Salem’s Lauren Unser in the 400 from earning that same sprint trifecta that Allen won in D1. That loss also denied her the opportunity of being at the time just the third female athlete to win four events in one state meet as she also claimed the 100 and 200 dashes and snagged her third straight long jump crown.
Other elite female athletes got to close their careers on high notes. Jamie Vandenberg of Niagara was denied her fourth straight D3 400 crown, but did repeat her 800 championship. She graduated still holding both the D3 400 and 800 records.
Meanwhile, Aileen Lemanski of Florence did claim her fourth straight D3 long jump title, and for the third straight year, she set a new class record, adding exactly a quarter inch to her mark of 2008 with an 18-6 1/2 effort.
In achieving her feat, Lemanski did one better than past fellow Florence track superstar Jaclynn Kriegel, who won three long jump titles from 1995-98. Kriegel did win four 200 dash crowns in that time.
Meanwhile, Rachel Melum of Iola-Scandinavia won the second of what would be three D3 high jump titles, tieing the division record with a leap of 5-9. The effort was also an all-classes best for the meet.
In the D3 team race, Wausau Newman edged Edger, 54-50.5 for the team title. Newman was fueled by a victory in the 4 x 100 relay, which they set a new state record in during the preliminaries (50.44), taking down the 24-year old record of Poynette by .02 of a second.
Edgar was likely kept from the title by a DQ from its 4 x 200 relay in the final. It was a crew that would have likely finished in the top three of the race had they got the stick around and provided the Wildcats with enough points to win the title. Ironically, Edgar had just set a divisional record in the event in 2008.
Clearly that letdown was fuel for Edgar’s fire, as behind a powerful group of state legend caliber athletes, the Wildcats would come to dominate D3 for the next four years.
Freshman Tessa Thurs laid the foundation for the Wildcats’ domination as in the 2009 meet’s final race, as she held off the Newman anchor for a victory in the 4 x 400 by a scant .03 of a second. Earlier, she had won the first of what would be three 300 low hurdle crowns.
The relay victory, which secured the 2009 state team runner-up trophy, would be the first of a remarkable five straight D3 4 x 400 titles for the Wildcats and they still hold the division record in the event to this day.
In D3, two more records were met or broken as Chelsey Simon of Whitehall tied Linda Gassner of Marathon’s 23-year mark in the 100 dash at 12.2 while the Frederic 4 x 800 team took down Cochrane-Fountain City’s seven-year old record by just .16 of a second with a 9:39.67 effort.
And also in D3, a confident and talented freshman who would go on to be a multi-time NCAA champion and All-American at Notre Dame and who would also qualify for the 2020 Olympic marathon, was just getting her start.
Molly Seidel of University Lake School won what would be the first of four straight 1,600 and 3,200 titles.
Seidel, who won the first of four straight D3 state cross country titles the previous fall, was also clearly not bothered by the weather. It was exactly as the hurdler Savitch glumly said:
“The conditions were the same for everyone.”
Sad to say they were.
UP NEXT: The boys deal with 2009’s weather too as good old sectional number six’s friendly rivals dominate things once more.