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Somerset's Joppru, Praschak win state track championships

Somerset senior Aaron Joppru inspects his pole before making an attempt in the state pole vault competition. The event was moved indoors because of the rain in La Crosse over the weekend. 1 / 5
Somerset’s Max Praschak (center) drives over a hurdle onto his way to the Division 2 state championship in the 110 meter hurdle race at UW-La Crosse on Saturday. 2 / 5
Somerset senior Dallas Johnson came up with one of his best long jump distances, but just missed advancing to the finals at the WIAA state championships.3 / 5
Somerset sophomore Samantha Flandrick is shown competing in the Division 2 100 meter preliminaries at the WIAA State Track Championships in La Crosse on Friday. 4 / 5
Somerset senior Bailey White takes off after receiving the baton from teammate Max Praschak in the 800 meter relay at the WIAA State Track Championships.5 / 5

Most track teams think it’s an incredible year when they can have one athlete win a state championship at the WIAA State Track Championships.

So, you can imagine the elation among the Somerset Spartans, who had two athletes bring home gold medals for state championship efforts from the 2014 state meet at Veterans Stadium at UW-La Crosse on Friday and Saturday.

The success started on Friday, when Somerset senior Aaron Joppru cleared the bar at 14 feet, 9 inches, to win the Division 2 pole vault state championship.

The Spartans’ success continued on Saturday, when junior Max Praschak won the Division 2 state championship in the 110 meter high hurdles. Praschak’s win came in a photo finish. Praschak won by two-hundredths of a second over Matthew Peter of St. Thomas More High School. Nobody was sure who won until Praschak’s name flashed at the top of the message board at the finish line, seconds after the race was completed.

“We were speechless,” said Somerset coach Terry Otradovec. “Getting two state champions in the same season is unreal.”

The success started with Joppru. The Division 2 pole vault was held Friday. Moments after the vaulters completed their warmups, rain swept across the La Crosse area. After a two-hour wait, the event was started indoors, at the indoor track complex in Mitchell Hall. While many of the competitors looked nervous, Joppru’s composure may have been what set him apart. He coolly chatted with his competitors, projecting a sense of calm control.

“That was probably the most relaxed I’ve seen him all year,” Otradovec said. “He had the goal (of winning a state title) in place since last year when he was knocked out in sectionals.”

The Spartans thought it would take a vault of 14-6 to win, but Cason Cleveland of Edgerton also cleared that height. Just as calmly, Joppru then cleared 14-9, while Cleveland wasn’t able to, giving Joppru the state title.

Otradovec said the state championship is a result of Joppru’s dedication and focus.

“He’s probably one of our hardest working kids. That leadership and work ethic will be missed,” Otradovec said.

The same comments can be said of Praschak’s effort level, which turned him into one of the most physically imposing competitors in the hurdles. Praschak’s race in the hurdles was extremely close the entire way, with several runners moving up the track almost simultaneously.

“We thought, if he ran a clean race, he had a shot,” Otradovec said. “We knew he had it in him, but he had some really great competition.”

Praschak’s victory officially makes the Division 2 hurdle race a family tradition. His older brother, Luke, won the 110 hurdle state championship in 2013. Ironically, they had the exact same winning time in their state championship races. Both Praschak brothers earned their state gold medal by winning their race in 14.71 seconds.

The two state championships earned the Spartans 20 team points, which placed them ninth in the Division 2 team competition.

The Spartans had five other events competing at state. Senior Dallas Johnson had one of his best distances in the long jump, 21 feet, 1.5 inches, but he missed qualifying for the Division 2 finals by 1.25 inches.

“He did well, there were just some really good long jumpers this year,” Otradovec said.

Praschak wasn’t the only hurdler Somerset took to state. Sophomore Sam Flandrick qualified in the girls 100 meter hurdles. Flandrick placed 14th in 16.7 seconds, which is an improvement on her time from the sectional meet.

“For a sophomore, getting her to state was our overall goal,” Otradovec said. “She’s already chomping at the bit to get back next year.”

The coaches also were pleased that junior Heaven Hunt was able to get the experience of competing at state. Hunt nearly had the opening height of 6 feet cleared in the Division 2 high jump, but caught the bar with his heels as he completed his jumps. Otradovec said this experience helped Hunt to better understand how close he is to being a top-level high jumper.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who are really excited to get back down there after this experience,” he said.

Somerset took its 400 and 800 meter relay teams to state. Both ran excellent times, but neither was able to advance to finals. The 400 relay team of Johnson, Praschak, Mitchell Foster and Sam Schoenborn finished 13th in 44.14 seconds. The 800 meter relay team of Praschak, Foster, Schoenborn and Bailey White placed 11th, running their best time by nearly a full second in 1:33.

Otradovec said the relays lose some important pieces in Johnson and White, but there are a number of runners available who should make the relay teams a threat to reach the state meet again in 2015.

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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