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Motivated Somerset track team sends seven events to state

Dallas Johnson prepares to hand the baton to Mitchell Foster during the 800 meter relay at the Ellsworth Division 2 regional meet at Ellsworth last Tuesday. 1 / 4
Somerset's Heather Hartwick reaches back to accept the baton from Avery Gunther during Somerset's running of the girls 800 meter relay event at the regional meet.2 / 4
Somerset's Max Praschak (left) and Ellsworth's Brett Freier (right) have developed quite a rivalry in the 110 hurdle event.3 / 4
Somerset's Shannon Belisle (center) progressed into a top sprinter for the Spartans this season.4 / 4

The disappointing performance in the Middle Border Conference meet didn’t tear down the Somerset track team.

The Spartans used that disappointment as motivation in last week’s WIAA Division 2 regional and sectional meets. The Spartans put together strong performances in both meets, advancing seven events to this weekend’s WIAA State Track and Field Championships.

The state meet will be held at UW-La Crosse this Friday and Saturday. Somerset is advancing in six boys events and one girls event.

The Spartans performed so well at the sectional meet that the boys team took second place in the team competition. Altoona won the team sectional title with 53 points and the Spartan boys finished with 52 points.

Somerset earned two sectional championships. Senior Aaron Joppru won the pole vault championship, clearing the bar at 14 feet, 6 inches. Joppru was even better at the regional meet, becoming the first Spartan to ever clear 15 feet in the pole vault.

The second sectional title was earned in the 400 meter relay. The team of Mitchell Foster, Sam Schoenborn, Dallas Johnson and Max Praschak won in 44.04 seconds, which was more than a second better than their time at the regional meet.

Foster, Schoenborn, Bailey White and Praschak joined forces in the 800 relay, where they took second place.

Praschak also took second place in the 110 high hurdles, continuing his battle with Ellsworth’s Brett Freier. Praschak beat Freier at the regional meet.

Johnson will also advance to state in the long jump. Like Joppru, Johnson was a Middle Border Conference champion in his field event. He qualified for state by finishing in third place at the sectional with a leap of 21 feet, 3 inches.

The surprise state qualifier for the Spartans is junior Heaven Hunt in the high jump. Hunt hadn’t cleared any height higher than 5-8 in competition this season. At the sectional meet, Hunt cleared 6 feet to take second place.

The only Spartan girl to qualify for state is sophomore Samantha Flandrick in the 100 hurdles. Flandrick took second place in the sectional finals in 16.75 seconds.

Somerset coach Terry Otradovec said he was impressed with how the Spartans responded after they didn’t reach the goals they’d set for themselves at the conference meet.

“They didn’t hang their heads. They continued to work hard,” Otradovec said.

Otradovec said the focus on getting as many athletes to state was shown in the personal sacrifices made by several of the Spartans. Schoenborn qualified for sectionals by placing second in the 200 at the regional meet. He decided to pass on running in the 200 at the sectional meet so he could focus all his energy on helping the relay teams get to state.

Praschak made a similar choice. He would have had an excellent chance to get to state in the 300 hurdles. Instead, he decided to be part of the two relays, so his teammates would have a better chance of getting to compete at state.

The Spartans were able to get seven of their 13 sectional entries into the state meet, which is an exceptional percentage. Otradovec said he’d hoped the girls 400 and 800 relay teams could also qualify, but their handoffs at the sectional meet weren’t perfect, and that was enough to knock their times down.

Another Spartan who just missed qualifying for state was junior Susan Schmitt. She ran a career best time of 1:01.9 in the 400 meters, just missing setting a school record.

“If she can cut two seconds next year, that’ll get her to state,” Otradovec predicted.

The coaches met after the conference meet, and decided that one of the problems was that the athletes were putting too much pressure on themselves. So they changed their tactic leading up to regionals, trying to get the Spartans to relax and enjoy the experience. Otradovec said that was especially evident leading into the sectional meet.

“They didn’t seem tense at all,” he said, saying he hopes the Spartans can continue to carry that attitude, and that level of success, through the state meet.

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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