First, there were many exciting and fun moments to the 2012 boys state track meet, so we’ll start with one of the best ones.
When he was in sixth grade, Brookfield Central distance runner extraordinaire Carl Hirsch tried the high jump.
He probably did it as a way to make his Mom happy, but it didn’t go well.
“I tried it,” he said with a chuckle in 2012, “but I just wasn’t flexible enough.”
Which no doubt was a great disappointment to Mom, who just happens to be the great Wendy Markham who has owned the girls state high jump mark since 1980 when she was a student at Cedarburg and became the first and still only Wisconsin female athlete to clear 6-0 in the event.
How impregnable has been her record?
Seven girls have cleared 5-10 since then but only one in the last decade, Tierney Lindner of Sun Prairie in 2015.
Markham went to Florida State on D1 scholarship and had a successful career, earning All-American honors four times, including finishing second in the NCAA D1 outdoor meet her junior year in 1983. Her best effort outdoors was 6-1 3/4 and she even took part in the 1984 Olympic Trials.
She moved back to Wisconsin, married former high school soccer player Chuck Hirsch and settled down in Brookfield where their children, including Carl, went to Central.
And that’s where genetics took a funny turn because as noted Carl did not inherit his mother’s sense for reaching for the sky, but he certainly must have tapped into the boundless stamina a good soccer player like his father must have had.
And let’s just say, he certainly made good use of it.
Because in 2012 and 2013 Carl Hirsch dominated the state distance scene in a way that was totally unexpected. He qualified for the state track meet in 2011 as a sophomore, and took a disappointing 21st of 24 in the 3,200, but he had a terrific summer and earned a strong fifth in the D1 WIAA state cross country meet in the fall of 2011.
But still, what happened in La Crosse in 2012 stunned almost everyone in attendance, as Hirsch stunned 2011 state CC champ Chandler Diffee of Madison La Follette as well as other more experienced talents like Tommy Meister of Janesville Craig, Ryan Kromer of Hudson, Brad Woodford of Waukesha South and Russ Sandvold of Arrowhead, in earning a trifecta of very fast state championships, beginning with the 1,600 on Friday.
He would follow that in short order late on Saturday morning by anchoring the Lancers 4 x 800 relay team that included Andrew Dusing, Amir Alwan and Nick Peterson to a new state record of 7:40.09. Hirsch’s split was estimated to be in the blistering 1:52 range.
The quartet shattered the five-year old mark of Monroe (7:42.91) by close to three seconds in a field that was the best in event history up to that point with seven teams going under the coveted 7:50 mark. Runner-up Arrowhead also went under the old state record with a time of 7:42.37.
Just an FYI, for a few minutes before the D1 fast heat of the 4 x 800 was run, Monroe actually held both the D1 and D2 records in the event (see note below).
And to further emphasize how good a meet Hirsch had, his 1,600 time of 4:08.21 ranked in the top 10 nationally that year and was the fastest in Wisconsin since Chris Solinsky‘s 4:05.25 in 2003 and is still in the top five in state history.
The fact was, Hirsch needed to run that fast, as the D1 1,600 field included a stunning four other runners under 4:12, including Meister (4:10.76), Woodford (4:10.89), Sandvold (4:11.39) and Diffee (4:11.41), all of who’s times are still easily among the state’s top 20 times all-time.
Hirsch himself was even surprised by the turn of events.
“It’s a really exciting feeling,” he told me at the time. “It was a fun race (the 1,600). I stuck around outside a little bit but then I felt the race wasn’t going fast enough so I took it out a little bit to where I wanted it. I thought the others (especially state champions like Meister and Sandvold) would come push me, but they never did.”
And he was absolutely floored by what happened in the 4 x 800.
“Winning a second title is a heck of a lot better than just one,” Hirsch said “I thought we ran that race very smart. I was thinking about how how fast I could do this, but I really didn’t think we could go this fast.”
But after those two impressive “wind at the back, flying races” no one expected much from him late in the day on a sunny and warm Saturday when it came to his third race, the 3,200, the same race where a year ago he plodded around in a 10:15 time.
But yes, as noted, Hirsch did pick up a lot of stamina from his father and he made sure everyone understood that fact. He ran smartly for six laps with a field that included Diffee, Kromer and Woodford, and then ran away from them all to win by close to seven seconds in 9:12.76.
Even veteran Lancer coach Mark Pulkownik, who was around when the terrific Joe Thomas was in action, a decade earlier, was impressed.
“I was amazed at how Carl performed,” he said. “It was truly a state meet to remember.”
THEY GOT IT WRONG IN THE D1 4 x 400
“You can’t redo a major upset.”
That was a recent text from long-time Arrowhead boys track coach Chris Herriot to me concerning the still-painful-to-discuss fiasco that followed the D1 4 x 400 final on Saturday.
His Warhawks had one of their powerhouses in 2012 and dominated the sectional at Menomonee Falls. They got many, many expected qualifiers and one they were very happy to sneak in, the boys 4 x 400.
The crew of Mark Duchow, Sean Berendes, Steve Radeztsky and Ryan Adamski had finished fourth in a very fast race where Grafton, Riverside and Homestead had beaten them, but their 3:22.06 time easily placed them in the top eight of all sectionals statewide and so they advanced to state as an extra qualifier.
Further, they improved on that time substantially in the preliminaries at state on Friday and advanced to the finals as the fifth seed in what promised to be a very competitive final race to the 2012 Wisconsin prep track season.
And by miracle of effort and teamwork and against all odds, the Warhawks stunned the talented field and won the race, vaulting them into second place in the team standings behind now two-time state champion Brookfield East. La Crosse Central, which finished second in the race, was one point back of the Warhawks in third.
A runner-up trophy was coming back to Merton.
But what happened next left Herriot, Homestead coach Dan Benson and many others distinctly unhappy. In fact, eight years later, Herriot still finds it hard to talk about.
As the second runners were coming in for their exchange with their third legs, the field had spread out across the track (standard procedure) so everyone had space to make a clean pass. Green Bay Preble was well back in the pack (ninth out of 10 competitors by my estimate), and well wide in the field. There were still lots of bodies in play, with second runners getting off the track and third runners accelerating.
The Preble third runner took the stick and made a hard, awkward and sharp left turn to the inside of the track, crossing many lanes when he did so. He narrowly missed a collision with one runner and then slightly clipped the foot of a runner from Riverside who was leaving the track and went down.
Frankly, the guy would have been much better off going straight up the track for a few paces and then cutting in, as he would have avoided traffic.
As expected, the red flag went up went up from the finish line judge and while the Warhawk runners were celebrating their presumed race title, officials were huddling. The WIAA does not permit video replay in any sport and so the officials had to go with the best information at hand.
My former editor at NOW Newspapers JR Radcliffe did a fine look back at the race in 2017 for Lake Country Publications and consulted the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) for what criteria were at work when the officials convened to discuss the matter. He wrote this:
For a rerun to occur, interference by another competitor (resulting in disqualification) is one of the possible criteria that must take place.
The referee must carefully weigh the disadvantages of the interfered competitor with the hardship or possible disadvantage of the original place-winners, record-setters, etc. and consider the possibility an original place-winner may not physically be able to participate in the rerun. In other words, an official does have the freedom to assess whether the incident had no bearing on the top places, and whether a rerun would be damaging to the overall integrity of the meet.
The meet referee had in his power the ability to lock in the top two spots (Arrowhead and Central) and in fact, Herriot and the LC Central coach had petitioned to do just that, but what the officials did was order an entire re-run of the race with Riverside disqualified (in my opinion and many others, a poor decision), much to the dismay of many coaches, runners and fans.
But after a 30-minute wait for rest, Arrowhead could not grab lightning in a bottle twice and slipped all the way to seventh in the race, while LC Central, which had come into the finals as the ninth seed, won it going away and subsequently moved into second place in the team standings as Arrowhead dropped into a tie for seventh.
Video replay might have made the decision of the officials easier said Herriot but that was not going to happen and they had to live with the decision.
“It’s really hard to find the bright spot from our perspective,” he said in that text to me. “We had four guys who went into the race knowing that they were extra qualifiers (to state) and yet beat the hands down favorites to walk away with a team trophy.
“When they (the officials) did that (ordered the rerun), I knew it couldn’t happen again in a rerun. …Of course we did our best to build them up for a second run but we had already done far better than expected.
“To this day when I see those guys that is the first thing we go back to. I told them at the time that everything happens for a reason and we will one day find out what that is. I think its been eight years now and we are still searching for that silver lining.”
He had support for that thought from Benson, whose Highlanders were third in the original run of the race and then dropped back to sixth in the rerun. At the time, Benson prefaced his thoughts with the concept that officials (which there are too few of anyway) are human and get it right far more than 90 percent of the time, but in this case, he said:
“…It was incredible how poorly that race was officiated.”
And in a milder way, Radcliffe agreed closing his 2017 piece on the race with this:
It doesn’t feel like they arrived at the right solution Saturday.
But in small consolation, Herriot, who in 2017 was WISTCA president and chairman of the sprint group, said the NFHS later changed its rules regarding situations like this and now allow for a meet’s games committee to be part of the decision-making process, allowing for more voices to be heard.
“At least they changed (that),” he said.
JOHNSON AND ROHDE LEAD EAST
Brookfield East had come into that same 4 x 400 as the defending champion in the meet and the race and as the top seed out of the preliminaries. The worst that could happen to the Spartans in the team standings was that LC Central could tie them for the title if it won the race and the Spartans were not to place in the top eight, not earning any points at all.
But that was not likely to happen, despite East having taken a big graduation hit on the relay from 2011 champions.
Though the rerun finish was disappointing for the Spartans, the job got done as junior Brad Johnson anchored the crew to a fifth place finish, cementing the Spartans second straight title by a 39-35 margin over LC Central.
And there must have been something in the water in the Brookfield/Elm Grove area at that time that bred strong distance runners, as Johnson was a major factor why the Spartans earned that repeat crown.
Johnson had run on that state championship 4 x 400 in 2011 on a team that was otherwise made up of seniors. He came back stronger and more determined and it paid off with a huge meet.
On Friday, he had watched the 2011 state 800 champ Meister post a very quick 1:53.26 coming out of the slow heat (Meister had jogged to a qualifying time of 2:00.67 at sectional the week before) but was undaunted and got the Spartans title defense off to a spectacular start by running away from the field in the fast heat with a quick winning time of 1:52.54.
Later that day, he helped the defending state champion 4 x 400 relay turn in the fast preliminary time. Then he turned around on Saturday morning to anchor the Spartan 4 x 800 relay to a strong school record third behind Central’s new state mark.
Then came the 4 x 400 and Johnson already knew what he and his teammates had to do when the re-run was ordered.
“We knew the situation,” he said. “Stay away from DQs and just finish in the top eight.”
Which is precisely what they did.
Greater Metro Conference MVP Kyle Rohde also got the Spartans 14 big points with a second in the long jump and a third in the triple jump.
“A lot of energy went into winning (the team title) last year,” Rohde said, “and I think we came into this meet with the same energy. We’re in it to win it. We knew we had a chance.”
And almost lost in the shuffle of Johnson’s 800 win that year was a skinny freshman from Wisconsin Lutheran named Eric Brown earned a credible fifth in a quick 1:54.08.
Brown would never finish that low again and carve his name in the record books over the next few years. Meanwhile in a similar vein in D2, sophomore Ethan Moehn of Monroe would get a distance career for the ages underway in a very sound way (more on him later).
*When the WIAA introduced wheelchair events to state meet competition in 2010, it didn’t take long for elite para-athletes to rise to the top, and by 2012, just three years in, the sport’s first true all stars had arrived.
On the boys side, West Bend East’s Trey Roy set all four boys track records (100, 400, 800 and 1,600) over the course of two years in 2011 and 2012 and all of them still stand. In 2012, he won the 100, 400 and 800 distances and in the process of claiming the 100 and 800, he became the first wheelchair athlete to win three titles in two events.
Also in 2012, Zak Giemza of Greendale won the shot put with a record toss of 24-11 1/2. He still owns a share of that mark.
*On the girls side, Melanie Watson of Oconomowoc set three records over the course of the 2011 and 2012 campaigns in the 100, 800 and 1,600-meter distances, and like Roy’s mark, all three still stand. In 2013, Watson would win the 100 again to complete a run of three straight championships in the event.
In the 2012 meet, Watson won the 100 and the 1,600, setting records in both while Dani Ebben of Fort Atkinson took the 400, 800 and shot put titles, setting new marks in both the 400 and the shot put (she still shares the latter).
ELLENSON JOINS 7-FOOT CLUB
Wally Ellenson of Rice Lake won the D2 state high jump title in 2011 with a leap of 6-6 (he had cleared 6-11 in sectional qualifying). Rice Lake moved up to D1 in 2012, but that didn’t bother Ellenson in the least, as he cleared 6-10 for his second high jump title.
But that wasn’t his best effort of the season, as he cleared an imposing 7-1 in the regional qualifier, which at the time was just two inches short of an Olympic Trials qualifying height. At the time, he was only the fourth member of the 7-foot club in Wisconsin prep history (Jason Smith of Milwaukee Juneau, David Greenwood of Park Falls and Matt Fisher of Green Bay East).
Ellenson wound up playing basketball and competing in track at both Minnesota and Marquette having far more success in track.
He turned into a four-time All-American in the high jump with his highest-ever finish coming in 2014 when he was runner-up at the NCAA Outdoor Championships as a member of the University of Minnesota squad.
In his first season at Marquette in 2015, he placed third and fifth at the indoor and outdoor NCAA championships, respectively. He also set the Marquette high jump record in his first-ever meet, clearing 7 feet, 5 3/4. inches at the Wisconsin Open on Jan. 17, 2015.
Ellenson also won both the indoor and outdoor Big East Conference high jump titles for Marquette in 2015, while setting conference records and earning the Most Outstanding Field Athlete award for his efforts at the indoor meet.
SPRINTERS COME TO SHOREWOOD
Normally known as a distance school with eight state D2 cross country titles to its credit, Shorewood was a sprint-oriented track team in 2012 and took maximum advantage of its talent.
Junior Justin Rabon overcame a slow qualifying heat time (and a subsequent poor lane placement) to win the 400. He later won the 200 and then came back to anchor the Greyhounds’ 4 x 400 team that included Jacob Goldberg, Taylor Dennis and Alec Grimmer to still another victory.
In the prelims on Friday, the quartet had broken Arcadia’s six-year old record of 3:21.67, with a clocking of 3:21.42.
The sudden turn to the sprints confused the Greyhounds’ opponents laughed Grimmer at the time.
“Other coaches were looking around and asking us about this,” he said. “They said (incredulously) ‘Shorewood finally has some sprinters?!?'”
Rabon said simply: “Everybody contributed to this. It was like a gathering storm. And the fact that we’re all coming back next year? That’s just great!”
Yes, it would be for the Greyhounds.
MOEHN GETS ROLLING
As noted before, Moehn from Monroe was another athlete in 2012 just ramping up a great high school career. He was just a sophomore, but he ran away from defending D2 state champion Jake Schimenz of Brown Deer to make some major history in the 800 setting a new state record with an impressive 1:54.00 time.
And this was not an idle feat, as former D2 record holder Mike Raemisch of Waunakee’s former standard of 1:54.3 had stood since 1986. Raemisch still his top 10 school best times in both the indoor and the outdoor 800 for the University of Wisconsin.
Moehn was not done making history just yet this meet as he helped keep the Cheesemakers stay in the recordbooks by anchoring their 4 x 800 relay team to a new D2 state mark. The crew that included Steve Christiansen, Matt Bush and Alex Barenklau turned in a time of 7:50.13, taking down the seven-year old standard of Grafton (7:50.94).
Moehn would continue winning next year and also get involved in one of the greatest 800 races of all time and then in 2014 would simply have a meet for the ages.
He was just that good.
ZAESKE TAKES DOWN AN OLD RECORD
In the state of Wisconsin, boys long jump records tend to last about as long as Grand Dad’s Bluff has been around in La Crosse, a long, long time. The D1 record has been etched in stone for 55 years and is owned by Larry Franklin of Madison Central (25- 3/4) and the D3 record of 23-6 1/2 has been around 50 years and is held by Norwegian AFS student Dag Birkeland, who just happened to be attending Iowa Grant in 1969-70.
And prior to 2012, the D2 long jump mark was owned by Ken Peterson of Grafton, who went 23- 1 3/4 way back in 1966.
Enter junior Cody Zaeske of East Troy, who as a sophomore in 2011, was sixth in the triple jump, but took only 15th of 16 in the long jump with an average leap of 19-8 3/4.
Let’s just say Zaeske improved a lot in a year.
Really a lot!
On Friday, he missed out on Ben Schreib of Greendale Martin Luther’s D2 triple jump mark by just 2-2 3/4 inches winning the event by more than a foot (46-7 1/4) and then on Saturday, he swept Peterson out of the state meet program with an impressive new record of 23-8 3/4 in the long jump.
Zaeske could not find such lightning in the bottle again in his senior year of 2013 but his 2012 long jump record is proving as durable as Franklin’s and Birkeland’s as it has not been challenged since.
*Also in D2, the Luxemburg-Casco relay quartet of Kraig and Kyler Kinnard, Taylor Kroll and Elliot Pallex proved to be durable and focused, running in the same order for both races and pulling down titles in both the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 races.
In the 4 x 100 race, the focus came through, as the group was seeded second and then maintained clarity as the first and third seeds, Kewaskum and West Salem, had challenges getting the stick around in lanes immediately adjacent to LC and were DQed.
*And in the D2 team race, Belleville/New Glarus and Dodgeville/Mineral Point, were only third and fourth, respectively, in the Boscobel sectional, but that didn’t prevent them from claiming one-two in the state team standings. Ryan McCoy led the way for Belleville/New Glarus, winning the 3,200 (9:23.62) and taking second in the 1,600 (4:14.47).
McCoy won state D2 cross country titles in 2011 and 2012 and eventually earned an appointment to the Naval Academy where he was a strong competitor for the Midshipmen in both track and cross country all four years. He earned a berth in the NCAA cross country championships his senior year.
DIXON TAKES DOWN TRIPLE JUMP RECORD
Josh Dixon of Cedarburg was the heavy favorite to win the D1 triple jump in 2011, but he had to settle for second place behind Brookfield East’s Aaron Dillon. He did win the long jump that year in a strong field, beating future Wisconsin Badger and NFL star running back Melvin Gordon of Kenosha Bradford in the process.
And in 2012, he again came into the state meet the heavy favorite in the triple jump and this time, he didn’t waste any time, hitting a new state record of 49- 1 1/4 on his very first attempt, winning the event by close to two feet.
In doing so, Dixon beat the seven-year old record of Victor Reynolds of Bradley Tech (48-11).
Dixon would go on to finish second in the USATF Nationals with a then best of 50-2 and later would have a solid career at Arizona State University, where he was second in the Pac-12 championships in the triple in 2014 and third in 2013. Also in 2014, he turned in a personal best of 52-7 1/4 in taking second in an NCAA D1 preliminary round qualifying meet.
BLAHNIK GOES OUT WITH A RECORD
While his little sister Kennedy kept writing (and re-writing) the D3 girls’ throws records, senior Zach Blahnik of Algoma went out in a big way, breaking the D3 boys discus record with a winning effort of 175-6. In doing so, he added three inches to the 1999 standard set by Jeremiah Rolfs of Wild Rose (175-3). Zach Blahnik had also been the D3 shot put in 2010 and 2011. He would go to South Alabama, get a degree in exercise science and competed soundly for the Jaguars’ track team, especially in the hammer throw.
EDGAR BOYS JOIN THE FUN
The Edgar boys have always had a credible team, but were highly overshadowed by their powerhouse girls’ counterparts. However, in 2012, the Wildcat guys finally earned a title of their own.
But they needed a little help in the end. The Wildcats were ahead of Marathon, 44-1/2-43 going into the final event, the 4 x 400 relay. Edgar did not have an entry. In fact, in high contrast to their girls’ teammates, they relied very little on relays, as their only one at state, the 4 x 100, got DQed in the final.
And in that 4 x 400, Marathon did have an entry, and it was seeded sixth among the finalists, which if the Red Raiders had finished in that spot, would have given them the state title by a 46-44 1/2 count.
But seeing how dramatic this meet was all-around, not surprisingly, Marathon could not get the stick around and was DQed. And in that way, the Edgar guys could fraternize happily with the girls on the awards’ stand and put not one but two very similar golden trophies side-by-side in the school display case.
Edgar was led by senior Kyle Schueller, who turned in a prodigious effort in winning the long jump (23-1 1/2) and also claiming the triple jump with an effort of 45-7 3/4. He was also fourth in the 100 dash (11.16) and third in the 200 dash (22.5).
Schueller was no doubt tired at the end of the day Saturday, but I have a feeling he celebrated the entire 148-mile trip home.
UP NEXT: Edgar completes its four-peat of D3 titles, West’s Rohde does a triple take in the D1 sprints, Robertson makes history in the triple jump and the duo of Riggins and Gulley get it done for Tremper.