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Veterans lead Somerset girls to 2009 MBC championship

The 200 meter dash finals was another of the great races at the Middle Border Conference Track Meet. New Richmond's Kat Keller (center) was the race champion, with Somerset's Lauren Westerdahl (right) second and Alicia Potting (left) fourth.

For the opposing teams, it had to seem like Somerset had Gina Hanzlik, Christina Flandrick, Lauren Westerdahl or Alicia Potting in every event.

Those four veterans, along with a host of other outstanding performances, led the Somerset girls track team to the 2009 Middle Border Conference championship last Tuesday.

Somerset's girls finished the meet with 174.5 points, well ahead of the 138.5 points for second place Osceola. New Richmond took third place with 108 points and Ellsworth was fourth with 103 points. This is the Spartans' second MBC title in three years, after their victory in 2007.

There is an expectation with the Spartans that the veteran athletes will step up in the bigger meets. The Spartan coaches have put the team in large, challenging meets all season to have them ready for the tournaments.

Hanzlik and Flandrick have been integral parts of the team's success in all four of their seasons, including helping the team to an MBC championship in 2007. This year's meet may have been their finest moment to date.

Hanzlik was the meet champion in the 100 hurdles and the long jump and was part of the Spartans' winning 400 meter relay team. She broke her own school record in the triple jump, but it still wasn't enough to win the event. Potting also broke the Spartan triple jump record, to finish ahead of Hanzlik.

Flandrick was the MBC champion in the pole vault and was part of the Spartans' 800 meter relay championship team. She placed second in the 100 hurdles behind Hanzlik and she was third in the 300 hurdles.

In addition to Potting's victory in the triple jump, she placed second in the high jump, third in the 100 meters and fourth in the 200 meters.

Westerdahl staked her claim as one of the best sprinters in the area in this meet. She won the championship in the 100 meter dash and was part of the 400 meter relay winning team. She placed second in the 200 meters while taking fourth place in the long jump.

There were many others who contributed to the Spartan victory. Junior Tasha Kandakova and freshman Lizzie Vanasse were part of both championship relays for the Spartans. Vanasse also placed third in the pole vault and fifth in the triple jump.

Senior Britni Weise got the Spartans some needed points by finishing fourth in both throwing events, as well as placing fifth in the 100 hurdles. Freshman Tia Belter knocked 10 seconds off her personal best to place fourth in the 3,200 meters. Freshman Sara Henry took fourth place in the high jump and sixth place in the 400.

"Our conference meet is about maximizing points and winning as a team," said Spartan girls coach Dave Praschak.

Praschak said he thought the Spartans' win in the 800 meter relay was the turning point in the meet. New Richmond had beaten the Spartans the last time they ran against each other. This time the Spartans won handily, with Flandrick's strong finish ensuring the win.

"It spread from there. Each of those kids went to other events and fed off of it," Praschak said.

Spartan boys fourth

At the beginning of the season, there was little regard directed toward the Somerset boys team. The Spartans quietly put in their work during the season, building toward the final meets of the season.

That diligent work paid off when the Spartans placed fourth among the eight boys teams in the Middle Border Conference meet.

Leading the Spartans' performances was senior Cole Cloutier. Cloutier was one of the most successful field event athletes in the meet, winning the high jump and the triple jump events.

Cloutier was one of the leading contenders in the high jump. He stood up to that status, winning the event by clearing the bar at 6 feet, 1 inch. After the competition was over, Cloutier talked the judges into let him try to clear the bar at 6 feet, 4 inches. On his third try, he was able to clear that height.

Cloutier wasn't expected to be a contender in the triple jump. Nine other jumpers came into the meet with better marks than Cloutier had posted this season. While some of them struggled, Cloutier flourished. He beat his personal best by a foot and a half, winning the event with a jump of 38 feet, 6.5 inches.

Spartan boys coach Diane Belter said Cloutier has the composure to perform well in big meets.

"He doesn't waste a lot of energy on being nervous," Belter said.

Somerset's other champion was sophomore Dylan Rivard in the 400 meters. He won with surprising ease, pulling away from the pack to win by nearly a full second over Osceola's Alex Mahler.

Belter said she has been working with Rivard and improving his times between the 200 and 300 meter marks in the race. That helped put him in position where his strong final kick carried him to the front of the pack.

Senior Darrin Emmeck placed second in the shot put, finishing a half-inch beyond the 50-foot mark. Rob Wendt had his best throw of the season to place fourth in the shot put for the Spartans.

Spartan senior Alex Praschak was involved in one of the closest finishes of the day. Praschak and New Richmond's Nate Suo were at the front of a strong group of hurdlers in the 110 highs. Even the runners weren't sure who'd won until it was announced that Suo had edged Praschak by three-hundredths of a second. Suo won in 16.05 seconds and Praschak finished in 16.08 seconds.

Spartan senior Paul Fohrenkamm placed fourth in the 300 hurdles, with Carris Bible placing seventh. Fohrenkamm placed seventh in the 110 hurdles.

Belter said several of the younger Spartans stepped up their efforts in this meet. One event where that netted the Spartans points was in the 100 meters. Freshman Alex Putz was able to place sixth and junior Kevin Gelle placed eighth in the 100.

WIAA tournaments

The Spartans hosted the WIAA Division 2 regional meet on Tuesday. The top placewinners in that meet will advance to the WIAA Division 2 sectional meet, which will be held this Friday at Medford High School. The sectional meet begins at 4 p.m.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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