I know my previous “Up Next” note for the 2016 girls meet featured a lot of interesting stuff about the King girls, thrower Josie Schaefer of Baraboo, Mikaela Grant of Jefferson and the Wittenberg-Birnamwood 4 x 400.
And I will get to that, I promise, but if I put those pieces front and center I would be guilty of burying the lead (something I have been known to do on occasion in the last 35 years).
Because, in reality, 2016 for both the girls and boys, it was the year of the relay, particularly the 4 x 400 and though there was an abundance of talent statewide, one young woman from Wausau West tipped the scales.
Brooke Jaworski, now plying a very healthy running trade at the University of Texas, was just a freshman at Wausau West in 2016, but she succeeded in taking over the state meet the way Roison Willis of Stevens Point would in 2019.
Emphatically, eliciting a lot of gasps along the way.
And let’s just safely say that she and the rest of the state’s sprinters were benefiting fully from the many coaches who were now employing to great effect the 400-meter based Baylor Method of training that I have often mentioned here.
Because the depth in the 400-meter length races for both boys and girls from around 2015-1017 was just sensational and no record was safe.
First of all, she
First, Jaworski took down the one-year D1 400 record of the excellent Gabby Beauvais of Oregon (54.82) with a 54.33 effort that beat runner-up Bianca Stubler of Sussex Hamilton by more than a second (55.38). Jaworski’s time tied the then all-time best set by WISTCA Hall of Famer Tasha Allen of Milwaukee North.
Jaworski later went out and claimed the 200 in a swift 24.77
Then the many thousands from the near record two-day crowd of 20,250 still around who waited through a two-hour rain delay on this particular Saturday, (this being state track in La Crosse, of course) were rewarded handsomely for their patience.
Because the girls 4 x 400 runners put on a sublime display of excellence and depth.
The crowd got an inkling of what was to happen when the all-sophomore Wittenberg-Birnamwood quartet of Paige Norrbom, Kylie Linke, Emily Norrbom and Maddy Pietz took down the D2 record for the second time in two days with a 3:56.66 effort (more on them later).
But the real story here was the depth of the D1 field.
In decades earlier, if one or two girls D1 4 x 400 crews dipped under four minutes at state, it was a big deal. That began to change earlier in the 2010s. People who attended the 2015 Oconomowoc sectional got a taste of what was coming down the pike when four teams qualified for state at 3:54 or better.
Sussex Hamilton came out of that sectional to win the state title that year.
The Chargers at that time were at the apex of their immense sprint relay powers, as they would post three 4 x400 times in the years from 2015-17 that still reside in the state’s all-time top 10, including two state titles (3:53.13 in 2015, 3:52.47 in 2016 and 3:51.66 in 2017).
But they would not win in 2016.
Because in 2016 everyone was fast and everyone was in full flight, as a total of nine of the 10 qualifiers for the D1 4 x 400 final had gone under the four minute barrier in the trials led by Waukesha West’s 3:54.21.
But lurking in the fifth position was the Wausau West 4 x 400 crew of Ana Presa, Caitlin Deaton, Alyssa Faucett and Jaworski with a 3:55.72 that they would better dramatically the next day.
And that was the rule in this race, as eight of the 10 finalists would improve on their prelim times and many of them by substantial margins.
The race itself elicited roars from the huge crowd right from the start as they could see what was happening with the immensely competitive race on the track and then on the scoreboard with the amazing split times.
Jaworski took off in full flight on the anchor for Wausau and by the time she hit the line just in front of determined finishers from Arrowhead and Hamilton, it was clear that Milwaukee Riverside’s 2013 record of 3:52.82 was long gone in the contrails of this amazing field.
Riverside’s still amazing 3:50.23 regional ride in 2013 still stands as the official best time in history, but the 2016 state 4 x 400 final still stands as one of the greatest Wisconsin prep track races of all time, as Wausau West (3:50.74), Arrowhead (3:51.84) and Hamilton (3:52.74) all took down Riverside’s official state mark.
Furthermore, the depth of this field was beyond brilliant, as Germantown in fourth (3:53.31), Waukesha West in fifth (3:53.82), and Appleton North in sixth (3:54.69) all turned in efforts that rank in the top 20 all time (10th, 13th and 20th, respectively).
And to put a real fine edge on the depth of this astonishing race, I’ll tell the story of the De Pere squad.
The Redbirds had talent to burn and put on the performance of their lives, but their timing in having peaked in 2016 in this particular race was cosmically unfortunate to say the least.
The finished seventh, out of the top six medals, with a 3:55.26 time that ranks 27th all time and would have, ahem, won EVERY state 4 x 400 final, no matter the class from 1975 (when they were still running the mile relay) all the way through 2011!
That’s 36 years worth of races, but this was not their day.
I checked carefully on this detail, and I’m right. I even used the meters to yards conversion table on it and even with that, Madison Memorial’s astounding for its time 3:55.7 race of 1977 comes up short of De Pere.
To be blunt, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the impact of how good the training was and how talented the young women who ran the 4 x 400 in 2016 were.
It hasn’t been close to being duplicated since.
Then Germantown coach Greg Siegert tried to put in context:
“We try to tell them (the kids) that there’s just not much you can do when other teams run those kinds of times,” he said. “Sometimes its hard for them to understand.
“Sometimes you just have to gauge your success on what you do and not one what other people do.
“The competition right now is just better.”
And just for giggles, Bay Port was eighth after turning in a 3:56.4 in prelims that is still 43rd on the top 50 list and poor Green Bay Notre Dame turned in a 3:57.06 in the finals, only good for ninth, but at sectionals had posted an eye-popping 3:55.62, still good for 30th all-time.
An abundance of riches, spoiling all of us in attendance who witnessed it, and not surprisingly, just a few minutes later, the guys would do their level best to match the girls’ efforts in the 4 x 400 and almost succeed (see next post).
WITTENBERG BIRNAMWOOD SOPHS MAKE A STATEMENT
While the D1 4 x 400 displayed a remarkable depth of talent, four sophomores from Wittenberg Birnamwood, two communities along the Shawano and Marathon County borders simply took over the D2 4 x 400. Birnamwood was named for Birnam Wood, a town in Scotland referenced in Shakespeare’s MacBeth.
And like Shakespeare, the talented WB relay quarter of the Norrbom sisters, Linke and Pietz had a flair for the dramatic.
As freshmen, Norrboms and Pietz, along with senior Mikayla King had made a splash in 2015, taking second in the 4 x 400 behind Dodgeville-Mineral Point.
A year later, with fellow sophomore Link in tow, they would take their game up substantially and never look back.
Thery had served notice with a 3:59.95 time at sectional and then once they got to La Crosse, they immediately laid siege to the 12-year old D2 record of 3:58.13 of Columbus, breaking it not once but twice.
They flipped the record over in Friday’s trials with a 3:57.64 effort and then after the rain delay on Saturday, took that mark out again with a 3:56.66 clocking. Poor Big Foot turned in a merely excellent 3:59.17 and had to settle for a distant second.
Coincidentally and in an impressive double, that same Big Foot crew of Gloria Esarco, Alexandria Demco, Grace Gillingham and Brooke Wellhausen had won the D2 4 x 800 relay on Friday.
The Wittenberg Birnamwood crew’s startling efforts this weekend started a three-year run of D2 4 x 400 titles for the Chargers and before they were done, they would rewrite their own record again, making history and setting a daunting standard for any challenger to take down.
The victory in Saturday’s finals was also a special day for veteran WB coach Mike Balliett, as he told Tim Johnson of the Wausau Daily Herald.
“I’ve been coaching the girls for 15 years now and they’re the first state champs I’ve head,” Balliett said. “I’ve had some other girls down there who have medaled (at state), but nobody has done what they have done. Then, besides that, to set a state record? It’s something that hasn’t really even sunk in yet.”
Balliett also had a sense of humor, being from the same general region as Wausau West and so knew the Warriors’ coaches well. He celebrated his team’s spectacular title for a few moments, and then like everyone else at Memorial Stadium had his jaw drop at the sublime and overwhelming efforts of the D1 4 x 400 crews, especially of Jaworski and company.
“I was talking to one of the West coaches,” Balliett said to Johnson, “(and I told them) ‘Thanks for giving us the spotlight for at least five minutes (laughs).’ They came in and ran just a great time.”
SIMMONS ALSO MAKES A STATEMENT
The WB women weren’t totally unbeatable, however, as Pietz had to settle for second in both the 100 and 200 dashes, as Milwaukee Lutheran freshman Ja’Cey Simmons won both races and in Friday’s prelims, parsed a sliver of .01 of a second off of Deysha Smith-Jenkins five-year old D2 200 mark with a 24.63 effort.
Simmons would repeat as champion in the D2 100 and 200 in 2017.
DAVRE WORKS HARD TO REPEAT
Whitefish Bay junior distance star Camille Davre made it seven state titles for her career when she won her third straight D1 800 and 1,600 crowns in 2016.
And in the 1,600, she had competition worthy of a champion.
Aubrey Roberts of Eau Claire Memorial had won the D1 3,200 in 2015 and then she came back the following fall and beat Davre by 39 seconds to claim the D1 state cross country title with an imposing 17:49.98 time for 5,000 meters.
Then come the 2016 state track meet where she shot a very loud marker across Davre’s brow on Friday’s first day when she obliterated a very fine field in the 3,200, beating Brookfield East’s Rachel Werking by 45 seconds and setting a new D1 record of 10:13.68.
They felt the shudder of that record all the way down to Sauk Prairie as Roberts moved the legendary Lori Wolter of said town off her pedestal. Wolter’s D1 standard of 10:15.4 had stood unchallenged for 31 years before Roberts took it down.
I had seen Wolter’s record upclose and personal on the old Mansfield Track in Madison and thought that thing would never be taken down.
I was wrong.
Meanwhile, Davre had off on Friday, as both the 1,600 and 800 were to be contested on Saturday, but just because she was fresh coming into the 1,600, didn’t mean she was going to have an easy time of it.
Not at all, as Davre, Roberts and Middleton’s Samantha Valentine would turn in arguably the greatest girls WIAA state 1,600 race of all time, worthy of the great Dan Cautley (Madison Memorial) and Glen Herold (Watertown) boys’ of the late 1960s.
Davre’s distance track and CC coach Mike Miller had watched Roberts’ 3,200 closely and knew that the 1,600 would be a grinder.
“That showed us she (Roberts) really had the goods,” he told me then.
And it turned out all three leading competitors had them on that early Saturday afternoon.
Roberts took out the early pace in the 1,600 hard, trying to burn out Davre’s fabled kick with Valentine hanging tough.
“I think Cami was thinking ‘I know she can’t keep up this pace, I know she can’t keep it up,” said Miller.
Roberts hung on through three-plus laps but in the end, Davre still had her kick, passing Roberts and taking control on the final stretch. Valentine made a late surge for second in a terrific finish.
The trio finished with three of the fastest times in history, as Davre, who had turned in an almost equal time at the Nike New Balance Nationals two months earlier, won in 4:46.4 as Valentine was second in 4:46.87 and Roberts was third in 4:47.66.
No one was within 13 seconds of the trio, almost preposterous for a race of this caliber.
“It was definitely a tactical race,” Davre said. “I knew that they were going to try and gap me, that Aubrey was going to try and run away. I just needed to work hard and focus on her back (staying close) because she was pushing me very hard.”
Davre had no time to celebrate as she only had a couple hours at best to rest up for the 800 where Valentine would again be heading up a fierce field that included the anchor of Waukesha West’s championship 4 x 800 relay, Emma Langer.
Again the pace was pushed right from the start as a group of five or more went through the first lap quickly, and the race wasn’t decided until the final 50 meters, when Davre finally burst to the front and pulled away for a 2:11.13 clocking and another title.
The field again was one of the quickest in history as five runners were 2:12 or better. Valentine was second (2:12.15), Emma Langer (2:12.24), her sister Becca Langer fourth (2:12.79) and Brehna Evans of West De Pere fifth (2:12.82).
Davre said it was a challenging but satisfying day.
“I just wanted to wait as long as I could (in the 800),” she said, “because that 1,600 took a lot out of me. All of them ran well. You only have one shot at this and its a lot of pressure, but it’s a great feeling when you’re done and you get the result you want.”
And her competition just took it up a notch from there. Roberts initially went to Northwestern becoming the Wildcats’ first women’s cross country All-American in the fall of 2018 after qualifying for nationals three straight seasons. That following spring she became the school’s first women’s indoor track All-American earning the spot in the 5,000. She also set school records in the 5,000, the 3,000 and the mile.
She was not quite done as the academic ace graduated with a degree in neuroscience and science in human culture and was all set to perform this school year for Stanford as a graduate student before the COVID pandemic upset the world.
Meanwhile, Valentine went to the New Balance Outdoor Nationals later that summer in 2016 and earned All-American honors taking fourth in the mile. She went to Brown and became an All-Ivy League performer in both track and cross country, qualifying for the NCAA outdoor track meet in 2019 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Her interests are not slight either as they include plants, disease and global health. Her major at Brown was in geology/biology.
As for Davre, in 2017 she would put pressure on herself to make some more history and she would grandly, closing out one of the great distance running careers ever in Wisconsin in a very impressive way.
CURRIE’S RECORD 800 LEADS IMPOSING D2 DISTANCES
Give it up for Sydney Currie of Cambridge. She is the daughter of and was also coached by her former Bluejays D3 boys’ 1,600 record-holding father Sean Currie. Further, while Cambridge was in D3 in 2015, she was fourth in the 800 and third in the 1,600.
So, of course, when the Bluejays move up to D2 in 2016, what did she do? She got a lot better of course and like in D1, against elite competition too.
In the D2 800, she and Aubrey Janik of Wisconsin Lutheran set the stage for the great D1 race won by Davre, as both went under the 14-year old record of the legendary Marcia Taddy of Two Rivers. Currie edged Janik, 2:11.8-2:11.92 to set a D2 mark that still stands.
That race was part of an impressive domino effect in D2 distances, as the mighty Alicia Monson of Amery, she of several All-American honors at Wisconsin in the future (see post 25A), had defended her D2 3,200 title over freshman future five-time track and cross country state champion Dana Feyen of Gale-Ettrick Trempeleau on Friday, but then fell to Janik Saturday in the 1,600.
Of the D2 800 race, the state 400 runner-up Currie was astounded by her time as she beat her previous best clocking in the event by nearly four seconds, a huge drop in the 800.
She thanked Janik for the push.
“I know she has a kick in her and so do I. I think we raced really well against each other. She was pushing me at the end and I was pushing her,” Currie told Matt Gardner of the Cambridge/Deerfield News Independent. “My coaches told me that I needed to stay in it with 400 to go, because with my 400 time, I could beat anyone, they said.”
GRANT AND JEFFERSON HAVE A VERY GOOD WEEKEND
Jefferson’s Mikaela Grant, who set a D2 state record in the 300 hurdles in 2015 with a clocking of 43.63, did not win her third straight title in the event in 2016, finishing second to Monroe’s Jordan Hirsbrunner, but that did not mean Grant had a poor weekend.
Not at all, in fact.
Grant wound up winning the long jump (18-5 1/2) and the 100 high hurdles (14.69) as well as taking second in the 300 hurdles. She missed the D2 100 hurdles record by just .05 of a second.
But it was her lowest finish of the weekend that was the most important, as in that same D2 4 x 400 race where Wittenberg-Birnamwood ran wild, Grant led off the fifth place Eagles’ quartet and that was enough for them to edge Wisconsin Lutheran, 44-42, for the D2 team title.
And for good measure, it was also enough for her to claim Gatorade Female Athlete of The Year honors for Wisconsin.
The team honors were everything to Grant, who was also named the Wisconsin State Journal All-Area Track Athlete of the Year.
“This is the seventh meet in a row we’ve won; we won conference, regionals, sectionals and state,” Grant said to the State Journal’s Art Kabelowsky. “This is the best team ever. It’s not one person. … We had depth, heart and drive.”
Grant went on to compete later that summer in Senior All-Star Spotlight Meet where she won the 400 hurdles and also the long jump with a spectacular 19-2 3/4 effort that still is tied for 14th all-time among Wisconsin prep girls.
KEYZERS AND TAYLOR DOMINATE D2 SHOT SPUT
Amanda Nechuta of Mosinee’s D2 shot put record of 45- 1 1/2 had remained unassailed for 15 years until Tess Keyzers of Little Chute and Katie Taylor of Hayward arrived on the scene in 2016.
And just like Currie and Janik did in the D2 800, both Keyzers and Taylor took down Nechuta’s mark with extreme prejuduce.
Keyzers pushed out the iron ball to a D2 state record of 47-3 while Taylor tossed an almost as impressive 46- 3 1/2 for second. A year later, Keyzers would win her third consecutive state title and would better her D2 state standard to its current level of 47-8 1/2 (More impressive, her high school best and school record well exceeds that mark at 49-3 1/4).
The high achieving Keyzers was actually a 12-time state track qualifier including an amazing seven sprint relay slots. She is part of school records in the 4 x 100, 4 x 200 and 4 x 400 relays.
She was also an excellent volleyball and basketball player (17 ppg. her senior year)
Keyzers went to Minnesota, where she earned second team All-American honors in the shot put in the 2019 outdoor season and then earned Academic All-American honors in the indoor 2020 campaign before the track season was shut down because of the COVID pandemic.
In that 2019 season she combined with fellow former WIAA state champion and Slinger graduate Kiley Sabin to form a formidable 1-2 punch for the Golden Gophers in the women’s shot.
Sabin has graduated, but Keyzers still has eligibility remaining, but everything is still quite tenuous in college sports as earlier in September 2020, Minnesota said it was cutting men’s track, gymnastics and tennis in order to try to cut athletic department losses due to the pandemic.
Other schools have enacted similarly depressing measures.
All the more reason for the US government to get its act together and show far more leadership than it has in dealing with the pandemic as cutting sports means cutting scholarships, which means putting young people’s academic lives at risk too!
Get on the stick people!
TAYLOR WORKS TO BE A ROLE MODEL
Taylor’s story is just as interesting as Keyzers’ in 2014, she was one of three field event performers who led Hayward to a narrow victory over Dodgeville/Mineral Point to claim a WIAA state D2 team championship. Taylor finished with seconds in both the shot and the discus that year.
A member of the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Lake Superior Band of Chippewa, Taylor was also a starter on Hayward’s 2016 D3 state championship girls basketball team.
Though team success was in the cards a great deal for Taylor, the individual mountaintop was a little more elusive, as in three WIAA state track meets, she finished second five times and fourth once.
But her attitude remained positive.
A powerfully built young woman, Taylor’s Native American name is Makwagaboikwe which translates into “Bear Stands Like a Woman.” She initially went to D2 Winona State in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) and earned D2 All-American honors in the shot put after taking third in the 2017 NCAA outdoor nationals. Taylor defeated the defending D2 national champ to win the NSIC league title that year.
She transferred to Minnesota State-Mankato her sophomore year and red-shirted her sophomore year. Taylor did that in part to follow her Winona weights’ coach, former UW-La Crosse national champion and multi-time All-American Mike Turgeon, who took the job as head track coach at Mankato.
Taylor was all set to have a great third year but after early indoor season success, she broke two bones in her foot to end her campaign.
And unfortunately, bad luck followed her again this spring, she had earned three NSIC Athlete of the Week honors and was poised to be a major contender for NCAA D2 Indoor national track titles when the COVID pandemic canceled the rest of the season.
But the Information Technology and Mathematics major Taylor took a positive view on it, looking to get some overdue surgery done on her ankle as she seeks to be a strong role model to other young women in her tribe. Her long term goal athletically is to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
She has been the topic of some articles by Dan Ninham of NDNSports (a primary online source for Native American Sports News) and reflected on being a role model in a post Ninham wrote in March 2020:
“Keep looking up and forward even if the rough patch you’re going through doesn’t seem like it will end,” she told Ninham. “It will and once you reach the other side, everything you have been working toward will unfold.”
A wonderful philosophy for everyone to embrace in these very uncertain times.
NOENNIG FINISHES UP AS SCHAEFER RISES
As I noted in a previous post, Sam Noennig of Hartford took her multiple WIAA state D1 discus and shot titles to Arizona State where she won both NCAA D1 indoor and outdoor titles in the shot put in 2019.
A remarkable feat, indeed. Interestingly enough, though, her high school career in 2016 did not end on the best of notes as that powerful Baraboo junior Schaefer prevented Noennig from claiming a third straight D1 discus crown. Then to compound things, Noennig was the defending champ in the shot too, but never landed a throw in the prelims, fouling out.
It was frustrating end for Noenning, who earlier in the year had landed the third best girls discus throw in Wisconsin history, a 169-5 toss at the Washington County Invite.
Safe to say she used the incentive from that unhappy final prep campaign as fuel for her powerful collegiate run. Carry on, Ms. Noennig, carry on indeed!
And as for Schaefer, 2016 would get even better, as three weeks after state at the Junior Nationals in California, she landed the longest discus throw ever by a Wisconsin prep performer with an imposing 176-3 effort.
She would go on to win both the WIAA shot and discus titles in 2017. She went to Wisconsin and steadily got stronger. She holds the second best shot put throw in Wisconsin history and was going to be seeded 10th at the NCAA Indoor Nationals this past March when the championships were canceled due to COVID.
Like other athletes, Schaefer has a mix of emotions when it comes to the situation. She has eligibility remaining and is looking to compete again when COVID is contained, but she feels for this past year’s seniors who lost out on their last chance at collegiate competition.
“It seems silly to mourn a sport and what could have been for the athletes there when there are so many bigger issues,”she told Brock Fritz of the News Republic back in March, “but my heart goes out to all the seniors and juniors who use that NCAA Championship as a platform to ignite their professional careers, which is a huge part of the next few years for a lot of these kids. We’ll see…
“… (because) athletics takes a back seat to all the other issues going on.”
DEPERE VAULTERS DOMINATE
For years, athletes from the Fox River Valley region have been dominating the pole vault and 2016 was no different, as a pair of De Pere athletes left a huge imprint on the event. Senior Kylie Swiekatowski added an inch to the D1 state record with a 12-7 effort breaking a four-year old mark that had been co-held by three athletes.
And right behind her in second was her freshmen teammate Grace Kowalkowski (12-0). Swiekatowski went on to have a solid career at Rice where she was a multi-time Conference USA placewinner for the Owls.
Meanwhile, De Pere would continue to dominate the vault as Kowalkowski would get help from classmate Olivia Fabry and the pair would be fixtures atop the vault podium in La Crosse for the next three years.
KING COMES BACK WITH HELP FROM MOM
After the powerful trio of D1 state titles from Dezerea Bryant and her Bradley Tech teammates from 2009-11, it had been a bit quiet on the Milwaukee City Conference front at the WIAA state meet.
But Rufus King changed that in 2016 and 2017, as the Generals combined sprints and jumps to earn a pair of D1 team titles. In 2016, the Generals earned seven top six medals in racking up 44 points in outdistancing runner-up Brookfield East (30). Makayla Jackson, Siarah Jones and Kiersten Walker all earned two top six spots apiece for King.
Helping out the Generals in that time was assistant coach and former Milwaukee Marshall sprint legend Dana Collins, who was inducted into the WISTCA Hall of Fame in 1999 after a career that included eight state relay and individual sprint titles.
She also happens to be Jackson’s mother.
That underclassmen-based King crew would be even more dominant a year later. On a side note, in 2016, Brookfield East was led to its runner-up spot by long jump champion Alexandria Bullen, whose twin brother Drew would have an enormous impact on the D1 boys meet this same weekend (see next post).
UP NEXT: The greatest race ever? BE’s Bullen makes a comeback for the ages as the boys 4 x 200 continues to amaze. Bullen again as BE takes down an historic record in front of a legend. The incredible stories of Caleb Ogden and Josh Pillath, Bednarek bowls down his first record and a skinny kid named Bosley makes an appearance.