The McDonell boys cross country team heads to this Saturday’s WIAA state meet in Wisconsin Rapids with a good amount of experience.
In sharp contrast, the Macks are also sending Julia Verbick, a freshman runner with no experience at the state’s biggest cross country event that wasn’t even planning on running cross country a week before the season started in August.
Both represent what has been another strong year for the McDonell squad and the team is looking to end their season on a high note, just as the boys did last year.
“There’s high expectations all the time,” Kendall Dorn said.
Last fall the Macks took fourth as a team in the Division 3 boys race and returned five of those seven runners for 2013.
This year the McDonell squad of Nick Zander, Grant Pulver, Sam Bleskachek, Dorn, Tyler Baier, Zach Ruf and Ben Ruf carried over the strong finish with many team wins during the regular season and a sectional team title last weekend at Boyceville.
“I feel like with how we did at the end of the year last year, people are expecting us to do well and it puts a little pressure on us to perform well,” Pulver said.
The pressure hasn’t phased the Macks, as they have emerged as one of the favorites to finish highly at Saturday’s meet. McDonell has battled fellow-state qualifer Eau Claire Immanuel Lutheran at meets all season long, trading team wins during the season with the Lancers grabbing a big victory at the Old Abe invitational hosted by Eau Claire Memorial on Oct. 12. McDonell responded by bested Immanuel for the sectional title, a win that was especially sweet for the Macks.
“(It was) especially (big) after losing to them earlier this season at Memorial,” Zach Ruf said.
“Getting beat by them (at Memorial) was tough to handle, so there was a lot of motivation to come back and beat them,” Baier said.
Zander said this year the Macks are more looked at as a top team contender then they have been in years past but despite that, Baier said the team’s overall attitude hasn’t changed.
“Even though last year was a hope (to finish well) and this year is more of an expectation, we still have the same attitude going through the season that we’ve always had,” Baier said.
Those high expectations carry into this weekend’s meet where the team isn’t focused on Immanuel, defending state champion Darlington or anything other team. They are focused on what they can control — themselves.
“As long as we run our (personal best), we can’t really ask for much more,” Bleskachek said.
“We can’t control our competition, so it’s how we run on that day and hope it’s good enough,” Pulver added.
While the boys team has plenty of experience to draw on, Verbick is experiencing the state’s biggest cross country venue for the first time. In fact, Verbick wasn’t even planning on going out for the sport until a few days before the season. She was ready to play volleyball before making the switch just days before the season. Verbick has consistently cut her times throughout the season, putting her in position to make it to state.
“She’s totally raw and this is her first year of competitive distance running with no real offseason training and so we’ve patiently brought her along and she’s just peaking perfectly,” McDonell coach Marty Bushland said.
Verbick ended the regular season strong with a third place finish at the Owen-Withee meet, seventh at the Cloverbelt Conference meet and ninth at sectionals to qualify for state.
Advancing to state was never on Verbick’s mind at the start of the year, but as she improved throughout the season people began to tell her that her times would put in her contention.
Now, Verbick ends her whirlwind first year of cross country looking to finish on a strong note.
“I’m just looking to finish with the best (time) I can,” she said. “I’m really happy with getting to state as a freshman and that was a goal I didn’t even think I had. For this meet I’m just going to try my best and see what happens.”
The Division 3 girls race kicks off competition at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday at The Ridges Golf Course. The Division 3 boys race is scheduled for 1:15 p.m.