10/20/2017 7:29:00 AM The road to state begins for Lakeland harriers
Jeremy Mayo/River News
Darius Diver, pictured at the Hatchet Invite on Oct. 7, placed 12th at sectionals last season, but the Lakeland senior is running a full minute faster this season.
Bob Mainhardt for the River News
Freshman Mia Case is one of a handful of Lakeland runners who needs to have a big race on Saturday, Oct. 21, at the WIAA Division 2 Waupaca sectional for Lakeland to advance to the state meet for the second straight year.
Lakeland Union High School has exerted its cross country dominance in the Northwoods during the last decade, fresh off the boys' team winning a ninth consecutive Great Northern Conference championship.
Now the Thunderbirds are looking for another accolade. Tomorrow, the boys' team is looking to win be the first Lakeland team in any sport to win four straight sectional championships, while the girls' team is looking to win the meet and reach the state meet for the second consecutive season.
Both teams have something to prove and both will once again square off with Medford, which beat the girls' team last week and gave the defending Division 2 state champions on the boys' side.
For the girls' team, Medford beating them last week means the T-Birds must bring their best to Waupaca. With the top-ranked team in the Division 2 in the state - Freedom - in the sectional, it means Medford and Lakeland are likely dueling for the last spot at state.
"Not that they need motivation, I just think they are in a position now where that trip to state is in the balance," LUSH head coach Kevin FitzPatrick said. "Ashley (Peterson) should make it to state no matter what happens, but it's a matter of if we want to take a team to state. I think we have the talent to take a team to state.
"It's interesting because both teams are very similar in nature," FitzPatrick said. "Both teams have two sophomores, two juniors and three freshmen. So this will be a battle for the next few years."
Sophomore sensation Ashley Peterson is in the midst of a breakout season. She is not only the reining GNC champion, but she has already recorded the second-best time in school history.
Last season the winning time in the Waupaca sectional was 18:59.61, by Clintonville's Kara Pyatskowit, who has since graduated.
Peterson recorded her best time of the season at the Smiley Invitational earlier this season, 18:59.96, and it will likely take a better performance to win the race. Regardless, Peterson is a virtual lock to reach the state meet.
"Right now she's seeded No. 1 in the sectional," FitzPatrick said. "She's been solid all season so I'm hopeful that she puts together the race she needs to get to win sectionals."
At the moment, she is the only Lakeland lock to advance past this weekend. Sophomore Aubrey Anderson is on the cusp, and Maddie Nelson, Kate Melms, Katie Tharman and Mia Case will have to turn in strong efforts.
"It's going to take a team effort on Saturday at sectionals," FitzPatrick said.
For the boys' team, the road to defending the Division 2 state title begins on Saturday.
Kav FitzPatrick is the defending sectional champion and is a large favorite to repeat this season.
Last year Lakeland dominated the race, winning by 66 points and placing four runners in the top 12 individually.
Noah Bodewes finished fourth in the race, but his transfer has been well-documented. Jack Garcia and Darius Diver do return, however, and both should finish high.
Garcia turned in an outstanding meet last year, placing fifth, while Diver was No. 12.
Both seniors have run more than a minute faster than those times this year and should place in the top 10.
"We know they can get to state as individuals," Kevin FitzPatrick said. "But it's a matter of putting together a race that can get their teammates to state as well."
Jim Drewry was the seventh runner in that race last season, placing 44th, but he is also vastly improved.
Lakeland is still ranked No. 1 in the sectional, but the T-Birds are still looking for that crucial fifth runner. Grant Gibson was that runner at the GNC meet, while freshman Alec Steinberger actually ran the program's fifth-best time, he just did it in the JV race.
"We still need to run a solid race," coach FitzPatrick said. "We're not going to just walk through sectionals. One of my goals is - we've won sectionals three years in a row and I would love to see our boys' win four years in a row. I don't think a Lakeland team has won a sectional four years in a row."
Lakeland competes in its WIAA Division 2 sectional tomorrow at Waupaca, starting at 11 a.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.