I’m not sure when we’ll ever see a level of sustained excellence again on the girls WIAA state track scene like we did with four-time D3 state champion Edgar from 2010-13.
It’s hard to comprehend how dominant the Wildcats were during that four-year run. They own the top three all classes point totals in state meet history for both boys and girls (114 in 2010, 112 in 2012 and 108 in 2011) and won a hard-to-imagine 27 individual event titles in that time, including a ridiculous 10 relay championships.
Tessa Thurs and Elizabeth Pospyhalla each had a hand in 10 state event titles and are are tied with Jaclynn Kriegl of Florence and Camille Davre of Whitefish Bay for most individual state crowns in history while former Edgar teammates Jena Heidmann and Holly Denfeld‘s have eight apiece.
Further, Thurs and Heidmann both won four events apiece in the 2012 title year joining all-time greats Hillary Hyland of Nekoosa and Melissa Talbot of Freedom as well as wheelchair athlete star Gabi Berthiaume of Racine Horlick as the only female athletes to do that in the 50-year history of girls state track.
Further, the Wildcats still own the D3 4 x 100, 4 x 200 (tied), 4 x 400 relay records as well as the pole vault mark (Faryn Wirkus).
They did this at a very small high school in northwestern Wisconsin (176 students as of the most recent assessment) where all athletes male and female are multi-sport participants by necessity. Also, somehow, through all that work and toil and repetition (including all those relay runs), the most important athletes stayed healthy all the way through to the 2013 state meet.
An amazing feat indeed.
To get a handle on that concept, you can talk to coach George Streit about the Bigger, Faster, Stronger (BFS) training program.
In 2013, Streit, a graduate of Edgar, who had been on the Wildcats’ staff for several years, stepped in to help long time Wildcats leader Dave Bielmeier co-coach the team after Kevin Kuplinger retired after working with Bielmeier on the previous three state championships.
The BFS program had already been in play at the school for awhile as a way of keeping everyone fit, seeing as Edgar is also a big-time football, wrestling and cross country power.
And when Edgar’s track success began to get some small notice nationally, Streit wrote a combination history of the program/testimonial for BFS touting how its training techniques helped sustain the team’s excellence.
He added that the small school atmosphere at Edgar and the tight-knit community that surrounded the track team was also a big aid to its success.
Streit wrote that kids don’t get lost in the system like they could at bigger schools and to reinforce that, he said: “We also have a ‘big buddy’ program here in which the high school students help out the younger kids, taking them out for pizza, challenging them with activities if they are gifted and serving as role models.”
That culture of reinforcement would help the Wildcats in the years following the run’s end, but in the here and now, Bielmeier and Streit had to change tactics a bit if the Wildcats were going to win one last state title in 2013.
Because graduation put a dent in their armor in 2012 with the leave-taking of Thurs, Wirkus, Kelsey Steinke and Heidmann. No longer could Edgar roll out one unstoppable relay after another (they had won the 4 x 100, 4 x 200 and 4 x 400 titles for three years straight heading into 2013).
They would have to adapt and they did as the Wildcats relied on the individual firepower of Pospyhalla and Denfeld as well as Kira Dittman to get the job done one last time.
Make no mistake, the Wildcats were once again heavy favorites to win state going into 2013. They would simply have to work a little harder at it this time.
Not that that was a problem to Pospyhalla and Denfeld.
Pospyhalla had won three 800 meter titles in as many tries going into 2013, but decided to try the sprint route her final year and proved to be wildly adept at it, winning both the 200 (25.75) and then defending her 400 (57.84) title. She got runner-up help in the 200 from Dittman.
Meanwhile, Denfeld, a relay ace, bounced into the hurdles and won her first individual state crown in the 100 high hurdles and was also fourth in the 300 low hurdles.
But just to maintain tradition, the Wildcats closed the meet by winning the event that had become their trademark the past four years. Dittman, Jesse Krause, Denfeld and Pospyhalla cruised to a six-second win in the 4 x 400 relay, the fifth straight year Edgar had won the event.
That victory was also great closure too as this was the fourth straight year that Pospyhalla and Denfeld had been on the winning 4 x 400 crew (joining the just graduated Thurs in that elite status).
That event title allowed the Wildcats to cruise into the finish line with a 70-point total, well behind their record-setting 100-plus point totals they had turned in at state in 2010-2012, but still well ahead of runner-up Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Spring (36.5).
And with their legacy secure.
Streit is still coaching at Edgar. After reaching those great heights, the Wildcats finished eighth at state 2014, fell off a bit in 2015 and 2016, but have been back in contention ever since, having finished second in the D3 team standings in both 2017 and 2019.
In that seven-year old piece for BFS, he mentioned that the program could not have thrived without support from the community. “Our fans are unbelievably supportive,” he said. “Anyone who has any connection to the program will come down to watch us.”
And though he knew the Wildcats’ powerful run was coming to an end, he was looking forward, not back.
“I see some real potential coming up in the middle school,” he wrote, “and we find that every year the freshmen coming into the program have bought into the (BFS) program and want to do what it takes to become even better than our current group of athletes.”
What better way to cement a legacy than with that kind of attitude?
ROHDE PULLS OFF THE TRIPLE
Hannah Rohde of Waukesha West was second in the 100 and third in the 200 in the 2012 D1 state meet being one of the many caught in the tailwinds caused by multi-time state champion Elexis Fuller-Stewart of Bradley Tech. No doubt, Rohde sent the multi-time state champion and record-holder many happy graduation wishes that year.
And then Rohde got very busy, as she filled the vacuum left by the Tech superstar in a big way as she swept the D1 100, 200 and 400-meter dash titles. Her real highlight came in the 400 when she took down Chidera Obasih of Brookfield Central’s 2010 state record of 55.18 with a 54.92 effort.
But it wasn’t quite enough for a team title.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT TAKE TO WIN A STATE TITLE?
If you were Kenosha Tremper in D1, exactly three and that was enough for the Trojans to edge Rohde and West, 48-46, for the D1 team crown.
Talented junior hurdlers and sprinters Danielle Riggins and ToNaya Gulley each earned three top three places each, with Riggins edging Gulley, 14.23-14.43, to go one-two in the 100 high hurdles. Gulley and Riggins were also two-three, respectively, in the 300 low hurdles.
Riggins was also third in the 200 dash and Gulley the same in the 100 sprint.
Valerie Thames of Milwaukee Riverside’s would set a new state record of 43.04 in that 300 hurdles race, taking out the 16-year old mark of Angie Bruecker of Seymour (43.46). Her effort would start a decade-long rewriting of the standards of the event. More on Riverside later.
Still, Riggins and Gulley couldn’t earn the title all on their own for Tremper. Enter senior distance runner Brittney Feivor who earned a very important fifth in the 3,200, earning the Trojans four valuable points.
Tremper was ahead of West, 48-44, going into the 4 x 400 relay where the Wolverines had an entry and the Trojans did not. The youthful West relay, all sophomores or freshmen, were seeded sixth in a tight field. A fifth place finish would have tied West for the team title and a fourth would have won it outright.
The West crew went about 1.4 seconds faster than they ran in their sixth place seeding out of the preliminaries but only got seventh, leaving them two points short of the team championship. Just .78 of a second separated them from fifth and .93 from fourth.
Remarkably, Tremper would use essentially the same formula next year to win another team title with even fewer people.
Riggins would also make more hurdle history in the process as the Milwaukee area dominance of D1 girls competition cemented by the trifecta of Bradley Tech (2009-11) would roll on unabated. The streak of a greater Milwaukee area school winning the D1 title is now 12 years (2008-2019) and shows no signs of abating.
WERE YOU AT THE CEDARBURG REGIONAL?
Also in 2013, the Milwaukee Riverside 4 x 400 team of Angel Malone, Helen Thames, Valerie Thames and Crystal Malone broke Bradley Tech’s three-year old D1 state record by close to a second with a swift 3:52.82 time that lapped an otherwise good field by close to six seconds.
But for the 18,000-plus who attended the two-day state meet, that time the Tigers turned in had to be a bit of a disappointment, because they had come to La Crosse with the anticipation that Riverside could do something really crazy like maybe go below 3:50, which no girls team in Wisconsin has ever done.
The Tigers had built up that anticipation about 10 days earlier when everyone checking the Cedarburg regional qualifying results thought they were staring at a misprint when they saw Riverside’s name attached to a eye-popping, impossibly fast 3:50.23 time (I know I did a double-take)!
But it was not a misprint, all it was and remains is the fastest time in Wisconsin girls 4 x 400 history. Not even the mighty Brooke Jaworski and Wausau West could get that far that fast when they set the official state record of 3:50.75 in 2016.
No doubt, much like it was in the years that followed Wilt Chamberlain‘s historic 100-point NBA game in the 1960s when hundreds of thousands of people claimed they saw it (the actual attendance was only around 4,000), many, many, many Wisconsin track fans will claim they were at Cedarburg that day to see Riverside chase down time itself, even tough they were not.
Let them believe they were, it’s stories like that that make track fun!
Oh, and FYI, while at Overbrook High in Philadelphia, Chamberlain was a bonafide track man, having high jumped 6-6, run the 400 in 49.0 and the 800 in 1:58.3, all while standing about 6-11.
You can’t make stuff like that up!
4 x 800 RECORDS CONTINUE TO FALL
In 2012, both the D1 and D3 girls 4 x 800 relay records were taken down by Neenah and Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs, respectively. And in 2013, the assault on the 4 x 800 was renewed in earnest.
The Neenah team of Claire Knaus, Jennifer, Jessica and Alison Parker didn’t threaten their 2012 record of 9:00.42, but they still won their third title in a row comfortably with a 9:23.63 time.
But they were eclipsed this for the all classes best that year by the East Troy quartet of Carly Atchison, Katie Hodges, Frankie Morris and Rachel Atchison which took down Pewaukee’s nine-year old D2 record of 9:21.67 with a swift 9:19.0 effort that remains the class mark to this day.
It was just the tip of the iceberg for the quartet, as it also capped a state team championship (this time with Morris on the anchor) with a win in the 4 x 400 (3:58.45). Rachel Atchison was arguably the D2 athlete of the year as she also claimed a win in the 800.
Morris was also second in the 400 behind now three-time champ Bonnie Draxler of Wrightstown, who also completed her third straight 400/pole vault double with a winning height of 12-6 and for good measure added a title in the 100 dash (12.57).
The three wins helped East Troy cruise to a 57-point total, well ahead of runner-up Dodgeville-Mineral Point (36).
*In 2012, the young Fondy Springs quartet of Grace Meurer, Abby Busse, Elaina Meurer and Liz Bohn had taken down the D3 4 x 800 record impressively with a 9:37.64 time and then in 2013, a somewhat modified Springs grouping of Busse, Melanie Schneider, Alannah Schmitz and Bohn buried that mark for the foreseeable future with an intense 9:31.47 effort that was close to 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Oshkosh Lourdes.
The Ledgers would win two more 4 x 800 titles in succession but would not quite reach the speeds they attained in 2013.
In short summary, it was a marvelous year for the distance relay, as along with the two records, a breathtaking 20 teams broke 10 minutes in D1 including nine squads that broke 9:40 and 15 that broke 9:50. In D2, 14 broke 10, with seven under 9:40 and D3, five broke 10 minutes, with three under 9:50.
ROBERTSON’S FOCUS TAKES DOWN THE TRIPLE JUMP
For years in her prep track career, Mikayla Robertson of Menomonee Falls had pulled off the unusual double of triple jump and 400 with occasional forays in the 4 x 400. She had qualified for state in the 400, but had more success in the triple jump medaling all three years leading into the 2013 meet, including a third in 2012.
She had been expected to qualify in both events again in 2013 as part of a loaded, senior-laden 400 field at the Sussex Hamilton sectional, but she faltered and only took fifth in the race, failing to advance. She still easily won the triple jump by close to two feet.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” she said of the 400 failure as she took aim at making history in La Crosse.
Indded it was, as she wasted no time in carving her name in the recordbooks.
Going into 2013, the D1 triple jump record of 39-5 3/4 by Le Ann Majerle of DC Everest had been on the books since 1987, just the fifth year it had been an official event. On Friday, June 1, 2013, it lasted as long as Robertson’s first attempt of the afternoon.
But no one knew it was a record at first, or if it was a legal attempt.
“It took about two seconds, but it seemed like forever,” Falls’ jumps’ coach John Katz told back then. He was referring to the amount of time that the event judge spent staring at the take-off board and making a decision to judge the effort fair or foul.
“He stared at the board,” added Katz, “because Mikayla had used the whole board (and was therefore very close to a foul).”
But then the judge yelled “Mark” and then called out the distance, which was a new state record of 40 feet-4 inches.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I heard it correctly,” Robertson told me. “I had been watching flights one and two and I had a hard time hearing the judge (call out the distances because of blustery winds), but then I heard my coaches and my family screaming and then I thought I had gone really, really far.”
And just to emphasize what kind of day Robertson was having, her second attempt was also better than the old record at 39-7 3/4.
In setting the new standard, Robertson fulfilled the promise that Katz had seen in her four years earlier.
“In practice, every time I let myself believe that she could be the one (to break the record), I would have to tell myself that I am just one of how many coaches in the last 26 years who have had the same idea,” said Katz.
“What makes me actually believe that she could be the special one? I could justify in my head the idea of her winning (a state title) but there was just one question in my head. ‘Could she be that special person?'”
Robertson, who was also a two-time NOW Newspapers All-Suburban selection in basketball, earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy and competed on the track team. She is fourth on the school’s all-time list in the triple jump and ran on the school’s second fastest 4 x 100 relay of all-time.
Now an Air Force First Lieutenant, she is a mission analyst for the 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado as part of the first all-female space operations crew, monitoring and controlling satellites. In late July, they acquired operational control of a newly launched satellite that will enhance GPS navigation and timing signals for more than 5 billion people.
BLAHNIK GETS EVEN BETTER
Kennedy Blahnik had already won the D3 shot put and discus titles her freshmen and sophomore years, setting new records in 2012. In 2013, she did even better, as she broke her own mark in the discus by close to four feet with an effort of 154-3, clearing the field by close to 39 feet.
In the shot put, she added more than two feet to her existing mark with a still class record of 49-1 1/2 that was more than 8- 1/2 feet ahead of her nearest competitor. Both efforts were easily all class bests in 2013. At the time, her shot put was the second best of all-time behind only Jessica Maroszek of Seymour’s D1 state mark of 49-4 1/4. Currently, it is still the third best effort.
She would finish out her four-year domination of the D3 weights in 2014 in fine fashion and her divisional marks are not likely to be moved for a long, long time.
NELSON IS A THREE-TIME HURDLE CHAMP
In D2, Tess Nelson of Northwestern completed her successful career by winning her third straight 300 low hurdles title with a time of 46.2. She went on to attend school at UW-Milwaukee and successful became a multi-eventer for the Panthers. Her high point came in the 2017 indoor season where she took second in the Horizon League indoor championships in the pentathlon with a score that is still in the top five of UWM history.
She was named to the Horizon League fall and spring honor roll in her senior year of 2018.
BA GIRLS JOIN GUYS IN 4 x 100 RECORDS
In the 2011 boys D3 meet, the Fred Willis anchored Brookfield Academy 4 x 100 relay team set a brick hard record of 42.51 that still stands. A few years later, having moved up to D2, the Blue Knight girls decided that they too wanted in on the relay action.
And they did it in impressive fashion, as in 2012 Osceola had set a new D2 4 x 100 mark of 49.28. In 2013, they still had Alexa Stokes and Aimee Rice Strand back on he crew and turned in the fastest time in the preliminaries of 49.52.
That didn’t matter to the Academy quartet of Mary Liz Kim, Ugo Aguwa, Luisa Graf and Mackenzie Bonk. They had qualified second behind Osceola out of the prelims (49.87) and then in Saturday’s finals, nicked them for the title, 49.25-49.31, taking down the Chieftains’ year old D2 record in the process.
THREE-PEATS COMPLETED, EBBEN AND WATSON MOVE ON
Wheelchair athletes Dani Ebben of Fort Atkinson in the 400 and Melanie Watson in the 100 completed three-peats in 2013. Ebben, who also won the shot put and the 1,600, set a new girls state record of 1:11.38 in the 400 and the mark still stands, while Watson, who also claimed the 800 in 2013, still holds the 100, 800 and 1,600 marks.
Both were born with spina bifida.
Watson started early competing in a 5-kilometer race when she was eight years. Later, she joined the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) and competed in track and field and wheelchair basketball. Through GLASA she competed in the National Junior Disability Championship in both sports. She had earned Paralympic All-American honors in the 400, 800 and 1,500-meter races in 2012 and was a successful competitor for the GLASA Wave women’s basketball team.
Ebben went on to attend school at and play for the highly successful UW-Whitewater women’s wheelchair basketball team.
In 2017, as she was preparing for her last collegiate tournament, she looked back in a Facebook post written by Craig Schreiner at how much better wheelchair sports had made her life. As a youngster, she had never expressed much interest in wheelchair sports, until she met someone who understand her point of view and had similar mobility issues.
“Growing up, my older brother had a friend, John Boie, who played wheelchair basketball,” she told Schreiner.
“When I was 11 years old he (John) finally convinced me to come watch a game. He said, ‘You don’t have to play, I just want you to watch.’ In the weeks following, it kind of stirred (something) up in me and I was really interested in at least giving it a try.
“One of the biggest differences that I noticed right off the bat wasn’t athletically. It was a really good outlet for me to hang out with other kids in wheelchairs because growing up I was usually surrounded by able–bodied people who weren’t in wheelchairs and didn’t have any sort of disability.
“It gave me a greater sense of belonging to the group, just knowing that I wasn’t the only person. And it also showed me that just because I am in a wheelchair, you can still play sports, you can live a normal life. You just have to do things a different way.”
Anyway you cut it, Ebben and Watson were athletes of the first rank, as against the odds, they found ways to succeed. Congratulations!
UP NEXT: Brookfield East boys complete their three-peat of boys D1 titles with an epic comeback as the 4 x 400 reaches still new heights. Brown and Hinz win 800s for the ages, Rabon finds himself as Shorewood wins D2, and Green Bay Preble makes history in the 4 x 100.