Simply put, the 2012-2015 boys state track meets were the age of the super-charged and bold distance runner.
Incredible times, incredible feats, astonishing stamina. None of them were of the caliber of national champions like Tim Hacker, Gabe Jennings or Chris Solinsky, but numerous records were set, marvelously fast and competitve races were run and lifetime memories were created for many who witnessed these achievements.
Carl Hirsch of Brookfield Central won the 1,600 and 3,200 in 2012 and 2013 and also anchored a record-setting 4 x 800 relay in 2012. The primary reason he didn’t complete the distance triple crown in 2013 (800, 1,600 and 3,200) is because sophomore Eric Brown II of Wisconsin Lutheran went out and set a state record in the 800 in one of the most amazing finishes in WIAA history.
Quickly on Hirsch’s heels was Ethan Moehn of Monroe
Moehn was a major part of three straight D2 4 x 800 relay championships for the Cheesemakers from 2011-13, including a state record in 2012.
Teammate Alex Barenklau, who graduated in 2013 was also part of those three titles.
So good was this era for distance running that Moehn set a D2 record in the 800 in 2012 as a sophomore, then came back in 2013 and ran even faster in the event, only to lose in an epic finish to Freedom’s Joe Hinz (who still has the record at 1:52.0).
That defeat motivated him for what proved to be an epic senior year.
After a pair of 21st place finishes in state cross country in 2011 and 2012, Moehn went on to win the 2013 D2 title by nine seconds over Shorewood’s Charlie Stahl as the Cheesemakers took second to Eric Brown and Wisconsin Lutheran in the team standings.
But then he thought even bigger in the spring of 2014 as like Hirsch in D1 the previous year, he took aim at the D2 state distance triple crown. With Moehn and fellow Cheesemaker distance ace Jake Hirsbrunner in the lead, Monroe dominated D2 regional and sectional competition and set out to claim a team title.
They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Moehn grabbed his second title in the 800 (1:52.16), and also won the 1,600 (4;09.56) and the 3,200 (9:15.02). He ran both the 800 and 1600 on Friday. The 1,600 was his first race on Friday, and his time made history as it broke by over two seconds the 33-year old record of state distance running legend John Easker of Wittenberg-Birnamwood (4:11.93).
Hirsbrunner more than did his part too as he finished third in the 800, second in the 1,600 (with an excellent 4:13.82 clocking),and helped that ever-present Cheesemaker 4 x 800 take second. For good measure, he even finished fourth in the high jump as the distance runners scored 52 of Monroe’s 63 points.
That total was more than enough to overwhelm runner-up Seymour (37).
This was the first state track title for Monroe since 1966 and the point total was the most by a D2 champion since Grafton won in 2000 with 71.
It was a long weekend (because of the six hour weather delay on Saturday, as the D2 3,200 was not run until somewhere around 9:30 p.m.) and the magnitude of Moehn’s accomplishment was just sinking in for him when he spoke to Dennis Semrau of the Wisconsin State Journal.
‘”It was kind of all heart,” Moehn told Semarau. “I wanted the triple obviously. I (also) wanted our team to do well too. …I talked to my coaches before the race (the 3,200) and got a little emotional when I came down here (to the starting line). It was my last race of my high school career.
“I wanted to leave it all out there.”
Others did too.
LAU, ZANDER AND MIEHE REWRITE D3 DISTANCE STANDARDS
Tyson Miehe of Darlington won three state individual D3 cross country titles in a row from 2011-13, leading the Redbirds to a thrilling two-point state team championship over Chequamegon in his senior season of 2013. He would have a solid career at the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a degree in physical education as a two-time Big 10 Distinguished Scholar and earning Academic All-American status for track in 2018. He also earned a Big 10 sportsmanship award in his senior year of cross country.
He also continued running and in 2019 earned his Olympic Trials Qualifying time in the marathon with an impressive 2:16.16 effort in the California International Marathon.
But he was hardly the only exceptional D3 distance runner of the time. In fact, for all his CC excellence, he could not win a state track title, because Nick Zander of Chippewa Falls McDonnell and Darin Lau of Eau Claire Lutheran were running right beside him
Zander won the 800 and 1,600 D3 track titles in both 2013 and 2014 while Lau claimed the 3,200 both times out. Miehe did not go down without a fight however, as 2013-2014 turned into a truly special year for D3 distance runners.
Miehe beat Lau by over 14 seconds in the fall of 2013 for his third and final state CC title (he was the first since Solinsky in 2000-2002 to achieve the feat). And the trio obviously had a good winter of training despite some brutal weather as they came into La Crosse in June 2014 ready to establish a clean slate of D3 distance marks.
For the record, the winter of 2013-14 was one of the worst in state history as Madison had 35 days of below zero temps and Milwaukee recorded 24 of them. Green Bay’s average temperature in that time was a very brisk 15 degrees!
But obviously Lau, Zander and Miehe put on the thermal underwear and got to their training in spite of all of the cold!
The 1,600 on Friday set the template for the rest of the weekend as both Zander (4:11.65) and Lau (4:14.79) simply obliterated the 31-year old D3 record set by another state legend Sean Currie of Cambridge in 1983 (4:19.04). Even Miehe turned in a strong effort of 4:20.71 for third.
Later in the day on Friday, Zander came back and took a ferocious swipe at Cory Peterson of Manawa’s 20-year state record of 1:54.63 in the 800, but came up just a little short (1:54.93).
On Saturday morning, in the first race of the day before the weather delay set in Zander anchored McDonell’s winning 4 x 800 relay and that helped clinch the Macks 40-38 victory over Marathon for its first WIAA state track title.
And much later on Saturday and just before Moehn made history with his distance triple crown in D2, Lau and Miehe staged a 3,200 race for the ages (yes, I know its a tired cliche but it fits here, trust me).
The pair went out and took to the ground Al Severude of Chetek’s 30-year old record of 9:18.17 as Lau (9:07.62) held off Miehe (9:08.87) for his second D3 crown.
A truly spectacular series of races indeed. In the end, it gave Lau a clue, that all he needed to really succeed was to run longer and longer distances.
LAU MAKES A GREAT DECISION
Lau had offers from across the spectrum including Wisconsin and other D1 schools, but decided to stay home and go to DIII UW-Eau Claire. It turned out to be a spectacular fit as Lau had a career for the ages.
He became an eight-time NCAA DIII All-American in track, primarily in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, and he had big hand in the Blugolds claiming their first-ever NCAA DIII outdoor national track title in May 2019 when he finished third in the 10,000 and fourth in the 5,000.
Prior to that, in the fall of 2017, Lau made history again by winning the NCAA DIII national cross country title at the meet at Elsah, Ill., beating a runner from team champion North Central by nine seconds.
A power runner, Lau just took out the pace hard and dared anyone to challenge him, which they couldn’t.
And for good measure, in his sophomore season of 2015, he helped the Blugolds’ cross country team win its first DIII national team title.
At the time of his graduation a year or so ago, Lau was only the 15th runner in DIII cross country history to earn All-American four consecutive years. In 2017, the math and education major was also DIII cross country scholar athlete of the year. He graduated Eau Claire holding school records for 8,000 meters in cross country and 10,000 meters in track.
In the fall of 2014, in an article in the UW-Eau Claire student newspaper The Spectator Meghan Hosely wrote a story about Lau headlined “Fast and Fearless Freshman.”
In it, she spoke of Lau’s decision to stay home and go to school in Eau Claire.
“The scenery here was better,” Lau told her. “The smaller community was better for me also. It just seemed like a better social fit.”
A great decision indeed.
Hosely also spoke to Blugolds coach Dan Schwamberger about Lau’s potential and it seemed even then that Schwamberger knew what he what he had on his hands with the “hometown kid done good” Lau.
“His future is bright,” Schwamberger said to Hosely. “He’s someone who will be very decorated and has talent to do amazing things.”
A prescient observation indeed.
LUECK JOINS WITH BROWN II TO MAKE HISTORY
With Lau on that 2019 UW-Eau Claire national championship track team was one Kyler Lueck out of Wisconsin Lutheran. Earlier in the decade, Lueck was the teammate of the 800 ace Brown II in both cross country and track.
The pair were at the heart of Lutheran D2 cross country teams that dominated state competition from 2011-2016. In that time, the Vikings won three state championships, took second once and were third twice. It could also be argued that the Vikings 2014 team was one of the greatest CC squads of all time as their miserly 33 point total completely lapped the D2 field (Shorewood was second with 123). The duo were also the top pair on Lutheran’s 2013 state CC champions.
As for track, in Brown II’s breakout track year of 2013, he and Lueck were on an all underclassmen 4 x 800 team that earned a solid eighth in D1 state competition in a time of 7:58.93.
Making one change on that relay going into 2014, the Vikings would then set a new standard of excellence in the deepest boys 4 x 800 relay field in history. Joel Janik took over at the leadoff spot, while Lueck took the breakout number two spot with Brad Meyer in three and Brown II on the anchor.
That group broke Brookfield Central’s two-year old state record of 7:40.09 with a still standing 7:39.39 effort. Poor West Bend West, led by the brilliant twins, Alec and Aric Miller, was second in 7:41.87, a time that would have won every 4 x 800 title contested prior to 2012.
All told in that race, an astonishing 15 teams would break eight minutes while a time of under 7:50 was needed to earn a top six medal.
Brown II also won the second of his three 800 titles in 2014 but did not threaten his record of a year ago. He was also second to Alec Miller in the 1,600 as Lueck took fifth.
With two new teammates in tow, Lueck and Brown II repeated as 4 x 800 champs in 2015 after leading Lutheran to another D2 CC title that previous fall.
Lueck then joined Lau at Eau Claire and helped create a national track champion. He kept improving throughout his collegiate career and blossomed his junior year of 2019. He got DQed in the WIAC conference indoor 800 but made up for it impressively by winning the NCAA DIII indoor title with a 1:49.6 clocking.
Then he was a major factor in the Blugolds’ outdoor national championship team as he bookended his 800 indoor NCAA crown with a winning 1:51.94 effort. He also took second in the 1,500.
He was on pace for an even better senior season in March of 2020 before the COVID pandemic closed down the season a day away from the start of the NCAA Indoor Nationals.
Lueck expressed disappointment to the Eau Claire Leader Telegram thinking that the NCAA could have gone a different direction to ensure safety and still finish out the season, especially considering he was going to be competing with his brother Dylan Lueck for a national title in the distance medley relay.
His comments expressed a great deal of the frustration many athletes on all levels across the world have been working through this spring and summer.
“It’s heartbreaking seeing your brother so excited one day and then the next day absolutely devastated and in tears because we might not ever get a shot at that together again,” he told the Leader Telegram. “It’s something you dream of as brothers growing up. A moment we would have taken with us the rest of our lives but was taken from us by something that was out of our control.”
HACKER MAKES HIS DAD (AS WELL AS NUMEROUS UNCLES AND COUSINS) PROUD
Being an old Menomonee Falls North guy I still have a soft spot for the great cross country programs it had in the 1970s and 80s. At the apex of that program is Tim Hacker, the two-time WIAA state cross country champion from 1979-80 (his older brother Jeff Hacker did the same in 1976-77), who went on to lead the Wisconsin cross country team to two national team titles including winning the national individual crown in his senior year of 1985 on his old home prep course of Dretzka Park in Milwaukee.
He was also a successful track athlete, competing in Olympic track trials (including a fifth place finish in the 1,500 in 1984) and won other major titles including the national 5,000 meter title in 1989 and the national cross country title in 1997. Also on that list was an early 1980s victory in the cancer fundraiser Al’s Run in Milwaukee that featured many thousands of runners.
Hacker married, earned his doctorate and is now director of the cardiovascular physiology core facility at the University of Wisconsin. His older sons Wilson and Sam Hacker were solid runners at Madison West a decade ago. Then came along their little brother Olin Hacker who won the 2013 state D1 cross country title for Madison West as the Regents took second in the team standings to Stevens Point.
He was the second runner in his generation of Hacker and Lacys (Olin’s Aunt Cathy Hacker is married to McFarland and national great Steve Lacy) to have won cross country titles as Steve’s son Andrew Lacy won the D2 crown in both 2004 and 2005.
Olin proved to be really something, because when we old guys from the 1970s and 80s got a look at him, we had to do a double-take, because young Mr. Olin is a spitting image of Tim with his curly hair, sly grin, quick, clipped gait, and great, sense of the moment timing.
Opposing coaches called him “A beast” because he just knew how to win.
West won a team CC title in 2012 when Olin was just a sophomore and then Olin followed his 2013 CC title up with a 2014 D1 track championship in the 3,200 and a strong third place finish in the 1,600 behind winner Alec Miller and Brown II.
Then things got even busier for him in the fall of 2014. Olin dominated the state cross country field for his second title with one of the fastest 5,000-meter times in state history 14:59.1 as West overwhelmed the field for its second team title in three years.
He then won the Foot Locker Regional title and went out to California and finished second in the national championships on Dec. 14 (Dad Tim was “only” fourth at Foot Locker his senior year).
After the 2013 state cross country championships I contacted retired Hall of Fame Falls and Falls North cross country coach Bob Rymer, who had coached Tim as well as Olin’s accomplished uncles Mike, Jeff, Dave and Bill. He had been up at the 2013 CC championships as an official (he is also a fixture at state track too), and was impressed at what Olin was able to accomplish and with the similarities to his Dad.
“It was like watching Tim all over again,” Rymer told me. “…It was something else. In some ways, he has a little bit better stride than Tim. His knees don’t come up as high. In many ways, it’s just about perfect. You should have seen him on that last, long uphill (at the Ridges Golf Course layout), when he just put the hammer down.
“He went from being part of the (front) pack to leading it. I wasn’t able to see where he really separated himself, but when I next got to see him, there was no one close to him and he just kept going.
“…He has that same strength, that same great body strength (that Tim had).”
Also, all this success brought nothing but a smile to dad Tim, who is not in the least unhappy to note that Olin’s list of prep accomplishments is a bit longer than his own. He said as much in a short 2018 interview for the Wisconsin athletic department’s “Catching Up With The Champs” series, adding that being a Dad and watching his kids run has been one of the greatest joys in his life.
“It is better than I would have ever imagined,” he said. “Not only do I get to revel in their successes with a full understanding of the underlying work needed to get there, but it brings back such wonderful memories of my own running days.
“As a highly interested, but outside observer, it also gives me a greater appreciation for all those people who helped me along the way.”
TEAM-ORIENTED HUERTAS TAKES DOWN TWO RECORDS
Kevin Kriegel was part of the last great group of distance runners coached by the Menomonee Falls cross country coaching legend and Hall of Famer Rymer in the early 1990s.
To no great surprise, he went into coaching and teaching himself at Grafton, learning and eventually taking over from another legend Gary Pritchard. Kriegel led the Black Hawks to a state D2 track runner-up finish in 2004 behind a series of great relays including the Nate Maschke anchored 4 x 800 championship team that was in the middle of three straight state title run (2003-2005).
A decade later, Kriegel and Grafton would come in with another great relay, anchored by another terrific runner, one who could effectively run anywhere from 200-800 meters and who was always looking out for what was best for the team.
Grafton had competed in D1 in 2013 and Erick Huertas had won the 400 in impressive fashion with a 47.76 effort. He had also taken fifth in the 200 and led an all underclassmen 4 x 400 to a sixth place finish in a very quick time.
The Black Hawks and Huertas slipped into D2 in 2014 and set their sights on more than just winning races, but on taking down records.
To prepare they qualified their 4 x 800 relay for the prestigious Pen Relays and although Huertas was almost exclusively a sprinter, he ran a great 800 leg (estimated 1:55) at the Madison West Relays to qualify the Black Hawks for Penn and then turned in another terrific such leg at Penn itself.
Kriegel said that Huertas’ sacrifice there spoke volumes about his character.
“He was just like that,” Kriegel told me recently. “He would say ‘ Whatever you need coach.’ It was never a case of questioning. It was just doing what was best for the team or just helping out.
“Just an amazing spirit, but those would be the only 800s he ever ran in high school or in his career for that matter (he competed collegiately at Chippewa Falls for former UW-La Crosse coach Mark Guthrie).”
Huertas’ reward for such sacrifice was an opportunity to do what he did best at state in his best events. There, he and the Black Hawks rudely took down two, year-old records from runners who barely had time to have their names etched in the state program.
Under perfect conditions on Friday and in his first race, Huertas chopped a full .4 of a second off of Sam Tiahnybik of Catholic Memorial’s 400 standard from 2013 with a clocking of 47.86.
A short time later, he qualified second in the 200 final just a tiny slice of time behind one of the greatest multi-sport athletes of the 2010s Zack Baun of Brown Deer, who is now going to get an opportunity at linebacker in the NFL this fall after being drafted by the New Orleans Saints.
Then Huertas closed his day perfectly, anchoring the 4 x 400 relay team of Sam Miller, Matt Salm, Patrick Tobianski and himself to a new D2 record of 3:19.04.
It marked the third straight year the D2 4 x 400 record had fallen and in both 2012 and 2013 Shorewood had had the honors.
Huertas then had to wait a long time with the weather delay on Saturday, as all three of his finals were affected. No matter, he cruised to a close to a near full second win in the 400 with a 48.43 time and then in one of the most dramatic races of the day, the automatic timing system had to go to the thousandth of a second before Huertas was declared the winner over Aaron Chier of Cedar Grove/Belguim, 22.085 to 22.087
And then late in the night, not long before midnight, he closed his prep career by anchoring the 4 x 400 to still another victory (3:21.74) as in an ironic gesture, two-time champ Shorewood finished a distant second (3:23.37).
Those efforts lifted Grafton into a third place tie with North Shore Conference rival Milwaukee Lutheran with 35 points.
And Kriegel, who is still coaching the program, was happy to see all that success occur for such a team-oriented individual like Huertas. Huertas’ D2 400 record disappeared a few years later when budding international track superstar Kenny Bednarek of Rice Lake arrived on the scene, but he and his teammates’ 4 x 400 standard still stands.
It’s a fitting tribute to someone that mentally strong, said Kriegel.
“He (Huertas) just believed and trusted in the program,” said Kriegel. “He could have said to me that I want to run the open 400 at Madison West and go after the meet record being that it was his senior year,
“But that was not the kind of person or runner he was or is.”
Huertas would go on to have a sound career at Chippewa Falls and fittingly enough, he probably thought it was great that his last collegiate race was to help the Chippewas 4 x 400 relay earn third at the Mid-American Conference outdoor meet.
FOUNTAIN HURDLES HIS WAY TO HISTORY
Old distance records weren’t the only ones going down in 2014 as Daurice Fountain of Madison Memorial finally moved the D1 110 high hurdles mark from side of town (Madison West) to another.
Fountain had won the high hurdles and the long jump in 2013, but no one knew what the 6-3 all-state wide receiver in football was going to be capable of in La Crosse in 2014.
He had run solid times at sectional qualifying but gave no hint of the breakthrough that was to come at state, though he clearly had his sights set on something special.
Jay Payton of Madison West had set the D1 state high hurdles mark of 14.09 at old Mansfield Stadium in Madison in 1981 and it had withstood many, many challengers, including several hand-held times that appeared to be faster.
The mighty two-time state champ Matt Widule of Menomonee Falls ran the fastest automatically timed high hurdle race of 13.96 in he Greater Metro Conference championships of 2010 but was visibly frustrated when he could not take down Payton at the state meet a few weeks later.
So that left it up to Fountain who came along four years later. He led all qualifiers out of the Friday prelims with a 14.39 effort and then soon after the weather broke and finals resumed on Saturday finally erased Payton’s names from the books with a chaotic, amazingly swift dash down the track of 14.04.
The effort made up for a frustrating Friday where he fell a quarter inch away from repeating as long jump champ as Robert Starnes of Green Bay Preble edged Fountain, 23-5 1/4 to 23-5. Fountain then came back later on Saturday and took second to Milwaukee Riverside’s Castel Housen in the 300 intermediate hurdles.
He went to Northern Iowa and impressively became a strong two-sport athlete for the Panthers. He was a multi-time Missouri Valley Conference placewinner in the high hurdles (best time in the higher 42 inch 110 high hurdles was 14.14) and in 2017 was part of a 440 meter high hurdle shuttle that broke a school record and won the title at the prestigious Drake Relays.
In football, he had a sensational senior year in 2017 with 943 receiving yards and 12 TDs . He was named the offensive MVP in the East-West Shrine Bowl and that helped get him drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Furthermore, this first-time in his family college student graduated in 3 1/2 years from NIU.
And as of this writing (early Sept. 2020) Fountain was still battling to stay on the roster of the Indianapolis Colts as a wide receiver shortly after becoming a first-time father.
He’s someone to be cheering for.
HAROLD HAS INDOOR FUN AT THE OUTDOOR TRACK MEET
So while spectators and grumpy old scribes were complaining about the weather on Saturday afternoon, the D1 boys pole vaulters headed into La Crosse’s trusty old Mitchell Hall and went about their business.
Especially one Glen Harold of Brookfield East, who went about to take care of some unfinished business. In 2013 as a junior Harold broke the state D1 record by an inch with a 15-9 effort.
Trouble was, state athlete of the year Jake Wallenfang of Green Bay Preble broke Harold’s short-lived record a few minutes later by four inches with a skyscraping 16-0 effort.
Harold is a competitor and he greatly respected what Wallenfang had done and so a year later, when Harold slipped over the bar at 16-1 at Mitchell Hall that drippy Saturday afternoon the first person he sought out was Wallenfang who had made the trip to La Crosse to watch.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted a terrific picture of the pair shaking hands just as Harold was bouncing happily out of the pit.
“I had to go over to do it,” Harold told Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel. “He shook my hand last year. I told him, ‘I’m sorry, man, I had to do it.’”
Harold then wished everyone competing in the vault in future years well, sending out good wishes for future state records, stating that he “wants guys to jump high.”
His 16-1 mark still stands as the WIAA record.
Harold then went on to have a solid career at Minnesota where he went higher still, recording a personal best of 17-4 1/2 his junior year.
Out of school now, he is still no doubt loving the idea of people flying high in the sky.
UP NEXT: Davre takes down a legend, Beauvais gets a triple sprint, D1 long jump goes way, way long; Bohn completes the relay four-peat, Lubner hurdles ahead and more three-time relay champs finish up strong.