Over the years, my favorite events in track have evolved.
I was always a distance guy with my high school reporting days at old Menomonee Falls North with coach Bob Rymer and the Stintzi and Hacker brothers in the 1970s (yes, I am old)!
But in the early years of working at CNI Newspapers (late 1980s-early 1990s), the weights pulled me in, as state champions like Kevin Loken, Joel Rolefson and Steve Schwengel from Sussex Hamilton and Jim Bourne and Peter Leach of Whitefish Bay made it easy for me to find my way to the shot disc rings.
Then later, it became the hurdles as Randy Drew of Nicolet, Adam Schleis and Brad Holcomb from Nicolet, Paul Check of Homestead and the unmatchable Matt Widule of Menomonee Falls (he of 13.96 fame) all won high hurdle titles.
But once the WIAA started expanding the number of relays, bringing in the 4 x 800 in 1994 and bringing back the 4 x 200 in 2001 I was hooked. Coaches saw these events as ways to pull more borderline kids into the sport. Get them thinking that they didn’t have to be a superstar in order to get on the state podium.
The plan worked and the coaches ramped up their training techniques too to make sure their well thought out plans would pay off.
The event that benefitted most on the boys side was the 4 x 200. The best time listed in the sadly now passed Mark Rongstad‘s 2007 Wisconsin Track and Field yearbook (his final one) had Milwaukee Marshall with the best listed time ever in the event, a 1:28.0 clocking posted in 1980, which was ironically the last year the WIAA sponsored the event until 2001.
The time remained the gold standard until Milwaukee Vincent turned in a 1:27.29 clocking in 2008. I remember the Vikings third man handing off to the anchor and raising his arms in triumph, as if to signal he knew something special was happening.
It was and it turned out to be the start of an enormous, thrilling transformation in the event. It took only two more years in 2010 when Menomonee Falls took the Vincent mark down to 1:27.03 and then after that, if you wanted to win the D1 4 x 200 you had better be prepared to run in the low 1:27s if not better.
Falls’ record lasted until 2015 when the Racine Park crew of Jamias James, Vince Cosey, and Justin and Jeremy Steward became the first to break the 1:27 barrier with a new standard of 1:26.84.
People were thinking that mark would stand for some time, but instead, just a year later in 2016, it was under siege from the likes of Falls, Plymouth and Brookfield East, the latter of which was anchored by a future West Point cadet named Andrew Bullen, who ran one of the greatest final relays legs in state history in the D1 4 x 200 final.
And oh yes, just for good measure, after that race, Bullen would have a major hand in the Spartans taking down one of the most hallowed records in state history in front of a sprint legend who held the mark and who just happened to be in La Crosse that weekend.
It was that kind of state meet in 2016.
Former East coach Mike Steiner, who had led the Spartans to D1 team titles from 2011-13, said “special” was probably too small a word to describe Bullen.
“Drew was a rare talent and he was extremely versatile for us,” said Steiner. “He could do it all and was an exceptional leader and just a great kid. One of my all-time favorites.”
Bullen had nursed a hamstring injury for much of the season (which probably in the end cost him state athlete of the year honors), but made it back to the team by mid-May, just in time for the championship meets.
“We were fortunate to have him at the end,” said Steiner.
A massive understatement because the level of competition in the relays was starting to reach ridiculous heights in the middle of the 2010s.
Menomonee Falls has been running great 4 x 200s since 2003 when the Phoenix burst onto the scene taking second behind the Antonio Freeman-anchored Wauwatosa West squad.
They have two times in the all-time top 10, three in the top 20 and four in the time top 50, and they likely could have had more if circumstance and strange luck hadn’t gotten in their way.
They came into the 2016 state meet seeded fourth in the event behind East, Nicolet and Plymouth, but then the team of Amari Hackett (son of all-time Milwaukee King great Robert Hackett), Bryce McMurtry, Mason Jansen and Patrick Doyle stunned everyone with a second best all-time effort of 1:26.89 in the trials to top the field and headline what would prove to be a truly stunning final on Saturday.
Of note, Falls’ time was faster than the then state record the Phoenix ran in 2010 to win the D1 championship (1:27.03).
That 2010 team had tremendous talent in the two-time state high hurdles champ Widule and a great wildcard in all-purpose sprinter Brad Tietyen, but former Falls head coach and long time track staffer Mike Burling said the 2016 crew was just a great sum of the entire whole, he said.
“It was a special group, just amazing,” he said.
And the reason would become apparent on Saturday.
East posted a video of that sublime and amazing 4 x 200 final on that sunny and warm Saturday and I watched it about five times before writing this installment.
It still gets lots of views, because I and many others still can’t believe that finish.
It’s hard to gauge what’s happening in the 4 x 200 relay until you get to the final handoff, but in observing the video, you watched both Falls’ McMurtry and Plymouth’s Jake Schneider run great third legs (they were side-by-side in lanes five and six, respectively).
The handoffs to the Phoenix’s Doyle and the Panthers’ Samuel Staehling were near perfect as Doyle shot out to a small lead.
Meanwhile, coming up in lane four East’s Will Schmidt got a good pass to Bullen, but he was still well back of Doyle and Staehling.
Doyle and Staehling would not let each other go. They linked up at the top of the homestretch and were shoulder to shoulder almost the entire way.
But with his trademark sunglasses and high-top fade, Bullen was flying as if he had been shot out of the largest cannon in the word and the near sellout crowd let everybody in the world know it with its roars.
He kept pulling and pulling and pulling on Doyle and Staehling until the three crashed the line almost simultaneous, the din from the crowd didn’t let until several seconds after the finish.
Because nobody was clear on who won.
Eventually, the UW-La Crosse scoreboard popped up the standings and it took a few seconds for everyone to realize the electronic timing system was having to work harder than usual to figure things out, because instead of two numbers after the decimal point, there were three.
They were having to measure to the thousandths of a second to determine a winner.
Bullen had done it but by a margin no larger than hand or a shoulder.
East was clocked in 1:26.950, Plymouth in 1:26.953 and Falls in 1:26.960.
A race for the ages, and the fastest 4 x 200 in state history (Nicolet, anchored by eventual 200 state champ David Dunlap, was an excellent fourth in 1:27.62).
Burling for one, was stunned.
“Coming down the final 50-75 meters it was a constant (struggle),” he said. “‘(Is) Patrick going to hold on. Wait, I don’t know.’ It was literally back and forth in my mind and then the finish. It was like everything stopped until the results were posted.
“I was actually surprised on how quickly they posted them. I mean 7 one thousandeths separated the top three. I thought it might be a bit (longer).
“Still would love to see that (finish) photo, not because I questioned the results but because I had never seen a finish like that (before).”
Steiner was amazed at the race and was also looking at the big picture too.
“We had stumbled a bit in the middle of the meet and that certainly got us back on track,” he said. “We had some nice exchanges but when Drew got the stick he had some serious ground to make up.
“He was tremendous. His closing speed and determination made the difference. Going in we weren’t sure where we’d end up, but we all knew if we got the stick around we’d have a fighter’s chance with Drew at the end.”
At the time, Schmidt put it a little more succiently and accurately.
“He (Bullen) just came from out of nowhere,” he said.
It was a pivotal point in the meet for East, which would go on to win its fourth state team title in six years and first since 2013. Bullen was a huge part of that victory as he had anchored the runner-up 4 x 100 race and also taken a strong second in the long jump with the 4 x 400 still to come.
It was also a seminal moment for the 4 x 200 in 2016, as even after Muskego edged out Park’s state record in 2018 with a 1:26.82 effort, those 2016 races of Falls, East and Plymouth still remain third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the all time event list.
The event is still in its golden age, despite changes in training techniques. A remarkable 23 of the top 25 times in state history have been turned in since 2010 (starting with Falls’ then record 1:27.03).
And what of that great 1:28.0 flat of Marshall’s that had stood since 1980 before Vincent took it down in 2008?
Well, it has hit hard times my friends falling to approximately 29th on the top 50 list!
And as for that amazing 2016 4 x 200, all everyone involved could do was just sit back and applaud the effort.
“One of the great races in state meet history all personal biases aside,” said Burling. “That three teams posted sub 1:27 times in the same meet is really a credit to all those kids and the staffs that coached them.”
And the really sweet thing about it was, was that Bullen wasn’t done yet.
JONES SEES HIS OWN RECORD FALL
During the two-hour rain delay on Saturday afternoon (a modest pause by La Crosse standards), I looked around to see if there were any more interesting storylines I could pursue and I got extremely lucky.
I came upon my friend, the excellent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel prep reporter Mark Stewart speaking to a middle-aged, still athletic gentlemen in the alcove next to the press office located in Memorial Stadium.
He was kind enough to introduce me to his friend and that’s when the track geek in me became gob-smacked beyond belief. It was Nicolet and Wisconsin 400-meter legend Bryan Jones. He was up visiting from his home in Florida and Stewart found him a great column topic.
Jones still owns the D1 400 meter record that he set in 1990 (Kenny Bednarek of D2 Rice Lake took possession of the overall mark in the event in 2018) and at the time of the discussion, his Nicolet-anchored 4 x 400 still had the record at 3:16.09.
It would not last.
The rain delay came after the 200 dash, but before the 4 x 400 final and Jones was very pleased to see another Nicolet sprinter in Dunlap edge Bryant Brown of Milwaukee Marshall by just .02 of a second for the 200 title. Earlier in the day, Brown had beaten Dunlap for the 100 championship.
Jones told me he liked what he saw in Dunlap.
“He’s a very fluid athlete,” said Jones. “The way he runs the 200 right now is very good, but I see a lot of room for him to grow. I just love the way he attacks the turns and slingshots into the straight.
“…take full advantage of that centrifugal force.”
Dunlap would go on to win the 200 again in 2017 and anchor a winning 4 x 100 for the Knights too that year.
I thanked Jones profusely for spending spending some time with me and still am grateful for Stewart for letting me eavesdrop on their conversation.
I didn’t get to speak to Jones again after the meet was over, but I would have loved to because I’m sure he was amazed at what happened in the D1 4 x 400.
But then again, so was everybody else!
Brookfield East had qualified eighth for the 4 x 400 needing to finish seventh to tie Middleton for the team title and sixth or better to claim its fourth outright state team title in six years.
The Spartans did much better than that, writing a story for the ages and spoiling one very fast and determined young man from Oak Creek’s final opportunity for a state title.
It also burnished Bullen’s state legacy in steel and spikes.
For the 4 x 400 final, the Spartans substituted 300 hurdle ace Mario Carr (who finished third in the event behind Oregon’s Alexander Duff) for Nick Krueger (who had run the preliminaries) in the lead-off with Saxton Williams and Avery Barnes trying to get the stick to Bullen with an opportunity at history.
And history was made. Carr ran a spectacular lead-off leg (around 49 flat) out of lane eight giving East a chance to contend for the lead. Williams did not let down. He was momentarily passed on the backstretch, but took the lead back on the curve and flew down the straight, building on the advantage.
Barnes held the advantage as best he could and got the stick to Bullen with a good-sized lead.
Bullen needed almost all of it, because Oak Creek, which had posted the fastest time in the prelims at 3:19.95, had gotten the stick cleanly to the legendary Caleb Ogden. In a You Tube video posted by East of the event, you see Bullen leading by a wide margin with only the top two contenders on the screen.
Ogden was nowhere in sight at the time, but that would change.
He had gotten the stick in fifth and was making up ground in a hurry and just when the runners hit the third turn, Ogden, who had run a dazzling 47.01 open 400 in a national meet the previous summer, entered the screen. He had passed three fine anchors in short order as if they were running in mud and then he lit off after Bullen.
He got a few meters, but not enough. You can hear the crown roaring as Bullen and then Ogden hit the line. And then you hear the dulcet tones of veteran state meet PA announcer Randy Pickering say calmly: “If that time stands, it would be a new D1 state record.”
And it was as East’s balanced approach had taken down Jones’ and company’s legendary state mark with a 3:15.87 clocking.
And in a similar occurrence to what happened in the marvelous girls D1 4 x 400 race I wrote about in an earlier installment, East pulled everyone else involved along in its jet-stream, as a total of five teams broke 3:20 in the race.
To put it in context what East did, poor hard luck Oak Creek’s runner-up 3:17.8 (sixth on the all-time list) would have been good enough to win EVERY state 4 x 400 final ever contested, except for 1990 (Nicolet’s long-standing 3:16.09 record), 2013 (East again with a 3:17.26) and Germantown in 2006 (3:17.37).
I watched East’s video of the 4 x 400 of that year several times, and estimate that Ogden had to run close to a 47 flat anchor leg. It would have been more than enough in the vast majority of state meets to get the job done, just not this one.
Others in that 4 x 400 had the same lament.
Because close behind East and Oak Creek, Oregon (3:18.28, ninth all-time); Ashwaubenon (3:18.91) and Stevens Point (3:19.7) turned in efforts that would have won many, many state meets themselves. Even poor Fond du Lac in 10th turned in a time (3:22.64) that in the vast majority of years at state medals consistently and at times (see 2019) would have contended for a state title!
Oh yes, almost lost in the shuffle that the spectacular East relay run did secure the Spartans their fourth state team title in six years, by a 49-41 count over Middleton.
Bullen was hard-pressed to pick which was more amazing, the record or the state team title.
“It was absolutely unreal, it was like watching a miracle happen,” he told me at the time.
Barnes said at the time, Carr’s amazing lead-off leg out of lane eight was almost as amazing as Bullen’s anchor.
“Talk about two seniors peaking at the right time,” Barnes said. “Talk about building a legacy.”
And the image of that legacy, built off the East state tri-championships from 2011-13, was not lost on other respected observers this weekend.
“They get all the best athletes out of that school,” said then Homestead and former Germantown coach Todd Brawner, “and then they get those kids to buy into it all. They’re all on the same page.”
And Brawner knows what he’s talking about, he coached personally coached three 4 x 400s to state titles, two at Germantown (2006 and 2007) and one at Homestead (2010).
Five years removed from that title, Steiner is still amazed at that whole Saturday and what Bullen accomplished.
“That 4 x 200 was incredibly fast,” he said. “…We had some nice exchanges but when drew got the stick he had some serious ground to make up. Drew was tremendous, his closing speed and determination made the difference.
“…(And) the 4 x 4 was obviously pretty special for us. …We never thought about the record because the meet at that point was still in the balance. The kids were so dialed in.”
Then in a bit of understatement, he spoke for just about everyone at Memorial Stadium that day when he added:
“It was fun to watch.”
THE LEGEND OF CALEB OGDEN
I’ll go out on a limb here, and say Oak Creek’s Ogden is the greatest 400 runner in Wisconsin never to have won a state title.
He burst onto the scene in 2015 with his trademark white headband and glasses and quickly took the state by storm. He would post ferociously fast times in the 200 and 400. He would be the top qualifier in the 400, but would lose an epic and fast battle to Jack Wellenstein of Madison West, 47.82-48.05, in the final.
That following summer, he ran his 47.01 at nationals and seemed poised to climb to the top of the state podium in 2016, but the fates and bad timing got in his way. Prior to the amazing 4 x 400 race, he was turned back in the 400 again, this time in an even faster race by talented Ashwaubenon sophomore Jose Guzman, who edged Ogden, 47.53-47.81, in arguably the greatest 400 final since that amazing Charles Lezine of Racine Case and Michael Themar of Muskego race of 1984.
I remember many terrific pictures being taken of those two down the stretch shoulder to shoulder in that 1984 race!!
Guzman and Ogden’s race was similar.
I remember walking onto the infield after the 4 x 400 trying to get a few comments before the awards’ ceremony. I saw Ogden sitting on the infield with his parents nearby, frustration on his face, but composure soon coming.
Veteran Oak creek coach Rick Stack tried to sum up the amazing career Ogden had.
“For four years, he has just been amazing for this team,” he said, “and he has grown so much in terms of his leadership. You’ll miss a kid like this. I feel sorry that he didn’t meet the goals that he had, that it wasn’t what he was anticipating.
“But it is nothing to hang his head about. He should be very proud of everything.”
Especially for the legacy he left. The Knights were building a powerhouse of their own largely behind deep sprint and jump crews. Behind Ogden’s efforts, they would finish eighth in the D1 team standings in 2016.
A year later, behind a balanced effort, paced by the great jumper James Carter, they would take second in the team standings and they would do the same in 2018. And at that 2018 state meet, the legacy of Ogden would be fulfilled, as an Oak Creek 4 x 400 team, anchored by junior Ryan Potter, would finally claim a state title.
Ironically, Potter, then a skinny freshman, had been the one who handed the stick to Ogden for that amazing final 4 x 400 relay leg in 2016.
WISTCA ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: JOSH PILLATH
I don’t always agree on the WISTCA Athlete of the Year choices and 2016 was an unusual year. No clear-cut Jones, Chris Solinsky or BJ Tucker types (Both Solinsky and Tucker won it twice, the only male athletes to do so).
But in my mind, with all his efforts to help Brookfield East win the state D1 team title, including that absurd aforementioned anchor in the 4 x 200 race, I thought Bullen would win it for sure.
But much to my surprise, weeks later WISTCA picked junior Josh Pillath of D3 Coleman and I was confused as hell. I had to look him up because I hadn’t really noticed him that weekend of state.
Turned out, like Bullen was to East, Pillath was the linchpin to the Cougars’ tri-championship in D3 with Wild Rose and Marathon. He won both the 110 high hurdles and the high jump (impressive D3 leap of 6-6, which exactly matches his imposing height), was second in the 300 intermediate hurdles and even more interestingly, was even third in the discus.
OK, the guy was versatile, as he was one of only two athletes to earn four medals in the 2016 state meet.
Nice, but I was not impressed and wrote a hellacious column in NOW Newspapers claiming that Bullen was robbed. In some aspects, I still think so, but these days and after a little research, I’m ready to give Mr. Pillath his props.
Four dissaparate solo events like those he competed in are a challenge to be sure and to medal in the top three in all four of them on any level is impressive and to be able to come home with a state team trophy on top of it, does add mightily to his credentials.
Furthermore, you’ve got to love his family tree. His grandfather Roger Pillath won a Class B title in the discus, played football and wrestled at Wisconsin back in the day when two-sport NCAA DI athletes were commonplace. He also went on to play NFL football for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Rams.
Cool gene pool!
In his senior year, Josh went on to become a tight end and a defensive end for the 11-1 Northwoods Conference champion Coleman football team. And in the spring of 2017, he did not rest on his laurels when he came back to La Crosse for his senior year state track meet.
If anything, things went even better, as he won both the D3 110 highs and 300 intermediates going away and was second in the discus as the Cougars repeated as state D3 team champs, this time outright.
And to further burnish Mr. Pillath’s credentials, he went to North Dakota and majored in kinesiology. As a freshman, he won the heptathlon at the UND Indoor Open with a school record score of 4,778. Then later, in his junior year, he took up the decathlon and and moved up to second on the all-time school list in the event with a score of 6,075.
“He’s a once-in-a-generation track and field athlete,” Coleman coach Keith Long told Andrew Pekarek of the Green Bay Press-Gazette back in 2016
“Josh grew up not only physically, but he grew up mentally so much. … He used to get flustered because he had to be here and here and here. But as the season went on, it was just routine to him.”
So, to make a long story short, my apologies Mr. Josh Pillath, you were state athlete of the year in 2016!
Though I still really like Drew Bullen (lol)!
BEDNAREK RISES TO THE TOP
In his freshman year of 2015, Kenny Bednarek of Rice Lake was a rising star and Colin Hofacker of Freedom was the established senior star who would set a D2 record in both the 200 (beating Bednarek in the process) and 400 and who would go on to have a great career as a relay runner at Iowa (see track post 25B for details).
But that would be about the last time Bednarek saw anyone’s backside in an open race for the rest of his insanely successful high school career!
In 2016, he started to own D2, as came the first of three 400 titles, the first of three 200 titles. Just for fun, he broke Hofacker’s one-year old 400 record even before the ink could dry on it with a sizzling 47.42 in the prelims and then also win the 200 by an eyelash (.005 of a second), beating someone who would become a good friend and rival in 2017, Kyle Thomas of River Valley.
The pair would get faster and have even more fun in 2017.
DIFFERENT HOFACKER, SAME RESULT
Hofacker may have taken his considerable talents to Iowa, but that didn’t mean that Freedom was out of luck when it came to defending its D2 title, no, not all, not as long as the Irish had Seth Doxtater and Adam Schommer.
Schommer claimed the D2 pole vault title while was Doxtater won the long jump and took second in the triple jump as Freedom nickel-and-dimed points throughout the meet, including scoring in all four relays and edged Wisconsin Lutheran for the team title, 45-43.
And in true Freedom fashion, it was the final race of the day, the 4 x 400 that clinched the championship for the Irish. Caden Hofacker, Collin’s little brother, ran the third leg of a crew that included Luke Pingel, Brody Bazile, and Isaac Gonnering. They peeled close to a second off their prelim time, and moved up three spots from their seed to earn fifth and made sure the Irish were able to claim that second consecutive title.
DUNKLEBERGER STARTS WINNING
Doxtater lost out on a second jump tiebreaker for the triple jump title to a skinny Lake Mills sophomore named Ben Dunkleberger. And that proved to be a significant development as that would be the first of three consecutive event titles for Dunkleberger, who would go on to set a D2 mark in the event in the triple jump in 2017 and also win the first of two straight long jump crowns.
PRATCHER BORROWS A UNIFORM AND GOES FAR WITH IT
Back in the fun days of Community and NOW Newspapers I covered Germantown in almost everything and I did it for decades. That means, I got so old, I covered two generations of the same family (LOL) and sometimes that meant certain uniforms traveled through time with me too.
Chermond Thomas was a great running back for the 1997 state runner-up and 1998 state D2 champion Warhawk football team and a terrific sprints, relays and long jump man for the Warhawks from 1996-1999. He was part of the Germantown track program that was just ramping up to the full devastating power it would achieve from about 2000-08 under coach Todd Brawner.
To that end, Brawner wanted his athletes to look cool and intimidating and in the late 1990s purchased slick, all black uniforms for the team with a big blue “GT” logo stitched into the chest.
Thomas and his teammates wore those unis proudly and achieved great things in them.
Fast forward to 2016, Thomas is now an assistant with the Warhawks and Greg Siegert was the coach. The Warhawks were not as deep or as intimidating as they once were but individual talents did arrive on the scene from time-to-time.
And they wanted to look cool too. Siegert knew the team wasn’t due for new unifroms for another year and so let them use those slick, cool-looking late 1990s vintage models from Thomas’ era.
Enter junior long jumper Shon Pratcher Jr. He had claimed sixth in the long jump (breaking the school record of Germantown legend Randy Nickel in the process) and was 11th in the triple jump in 2015 and entered 2016 as one of the favorites in both.
He said he came into the meet channeling the track icon Carl Lewis, especially in the long jump.
“I was thinking about Carl,” he told me. “I had looked at some of his Olympic tapes and I was thinking about them when I was jumping. They helped me stay calm.”
And it worked, as Pratcher Jr. had an early scratch on a really big jump and then came back and won it with an impressive effort of 23-1 3/4 over a deep field (eight athletes over 22 feet, including future jump superstars Cordell Tinch of Bay Port and Ty Olejnik of Sussex Hamilton).
Ironically, the man he beat for the title was Bullen, who was second at 22-11 1/2.
So, then came the awards’ ceremonies and up steps Pratcher Jr. on the still sunny early afternoon with that black uniform and fashionable shades.
And that’s when Thomas noticed the uniform for the first time.
“He asked me, ‘ Hey, aren’t those our uniforms?,'” laughed Siegert.
And when Siegert confirmed it, all Thomas could do was laugh.
Ironically, Siegert remembers Pratcher not being overly excited about his state title.
“…He’s so humble,” said Siegert. “He was like ‘I just won’ like it was any other meet. He’ll probably understand the impact of it when he’s older.”
Pratcher went on to have a sensational senior year in 2017, blowing away the North Shore Conference record in the long jump with a wind-aided 24-plus foot efoort.
He went into 2017 state confident but despite an even better state performance than 2016 (23-4 1/4), could do no better than third as Tinch went as amazing 24-2 1/4 for the title in a field that included an astounding six jumpers over 23 feet.
SMART VAULTERS KEEP GOING HIGHER
Rashid Coulibaly of Oshkosh North, a native of the Ivory Coast, won the D1 pole vault with a fine height of 15-3 after taking second in 2015. He also won three letters in diving, frequently a fine prerequisite for pole vaulters, requiring similar degrees of technical refinement and flexibility.
He went to Wisconsin, where he is majoring in engineering mechanics (he graduated from North with numerous academic honors) and set about going even higher in the vault.
And he succeeded grandly, medaling in the pole vault at several Big 10 conference meets, including a second in the 2019 indoor and a third in the 2019 outdoor meet. He qualified for the NCAA outdoor meet in 2017 after clearing a personal best of 17-6 1/2.
He has since gone on to clear 17 feet several other times for the Badgers.
Taking third behind Coulibaly at state in 2016 was one Zach Jasinski of Sussex Hamilton. He had tied with Coulibaly for second in 2015 behind Dan Becker of Sheboygan North.
Jasinski had a best of 14-6 and being a smart individual himself, he went to DIII UW-Whitewater, decided to major in math and then proceeded to vault much, much higher himself. A five-sport athlete at Hamilton, his focus on one event in college paid off spectacularly.
Jasinski won the WIAC indoor vault title in 2018 and also qualified for the NCAA indoor and outdoor nationals and then in 2019, he took a leap into greatness, winning both the WIAC indoor and outdoor titles, taking second in the NCAA indoor nationals and then winning the NCAA outdoor nationals with a best effort of 17-2 3/4.
He has set and broken Whitewater pole vault records several times over (he also owns the indoor mark at 17-0 3/4). Jasinski also made the WIAC scholastic honor roll three years in a row.
Jasinski was also primed to do even greater things in 2020 when the pandemic shut down sports across the country. His athletic career may be ending, but with a mind like his, Jasinski is likely to fly high in whatever he chooses to pursue.
HOLMAN MAKES IT A THREE-PEAT
It had been two years since the state boys had a three-time champion when Brock Holman of Eau Claire North claimed his third consecutive wheelchair shot put crown. His toss of 20-3 edged Tosa West’s Evan Gerndt by 5-1/2 inches. Holman was also second in the 1,600. In the 2016 boys wheelchair competition, Marquette’s Joe Schubert was the big winner, claiming the 100, 400 and 800 meter events.
PHAM FLIES FAR
Taking third in that same 2016 long jump was one Tri Pham of Franklin. He had qualified for the state meet three years in a row, and this was his first medal. But Pham was ready to achieve more and he did the next day, edging conference rival Kenosha Indian Trail’s Armani Carmickle by three-quarters of an inch with with a winning effort of 46-9 3/4 in the triple jump on his last effort.
Pham credited his success to putting on 15 pounds of muscle between his junior and senior year and streamlining his track schedule, eliminating the taxing hurdles and deciding to focus on just the jumps.
“He (Carmickle) and I just kept going back and forth,” Pham said to me at the time. “It was just too close for comfort. I tried to put some pressure on him. It came down to that last jump. I just couldn’t let him win and it wound up being good enough. …I wasn’t going to settle for second today.
“This is crazy,” he later added. “This hasn’t sunk in yet. Last year, I didn’t do so hot out here, but over the winter, I just got into weightlifting, doing Olympic (style) lifts getting bigger and stronger.”
Pham translated that persistence and commitment into an impressive career at UW-Milwaukee, where he would go on to win the Horizon League triple jump title in 2018 and earn three all-league first team honors both in indoor and competition.
And also being a smart fellow like the aforementioned pole vaulters, Pham is still flying long and far in a different field, now establishing himself in the finance and investment field and giving back to his alma mater Franklin as an assistant track coach.
Pham had learned terrific lessons about simplifying things and earning big dividends for doing so. It would be a game-plan for other athletes heading into the 2017 state test.
NEXT UP: Camille Davre of Whitefish Bay’s state title total reaches double digits as her fantastic career comes to a close, King girls put the foot to the gas, the weightwomen throw very far–again, and Bloomer’s Kyra Arendt reinvents the triple jump.