Last year, it was all so easy for the Homestead boys track team.
The talent level was huge, the work ethic sound and the depth overwhelming. They made it look easy as they turned in an almost perfect season and won a WIAA state title in the bargain.
This year, the talent is still there and the work ethic is still sound, but the depth isn't quite as great as it was last year, so things are a little harder.
That's why Highlander coach Dan Benson was sounding a bit grateful Wednesday night after his team pulled away to earn the title in the North Shore Conference Relays held at Nicolet.
"This was very encouraging," he said. "A relay meet like this almost automatically lends itself to disaster. Batons wind up on the track and there are always issues in the field events, but we dug deep today."
With the win, the Highlanders are two-thirds of the way towards defending their North Shore Conference triple crown.
Homestead, which led Germantown by only three points midway through the meet, pulled away to a 107-point total as Germantown was second with 86, Whitefish Bay fourth with 53 and Nicolet tied for sixth with 40.
There were two signature events that marked the day. The first was the sizzling 42.58 second victory by the Bay 400-meter relay team of Rashadeem Gray, Davontae Johnson, James Stecker and Brandon Threats.
The time was not only the equivalent of the hand-timed league record set by a legendary Nicolet unit in 1999 but also broke Bay's school record and launched the Blue Dukes to the top of this season's state honor roll by a wide margin.
"This is very cool for us," said Stecker. "Not only a school record but a conference record. We knew that the first great (Bay) sprint group came around in the 1970s but we're hoping to make our own mark too. This is a good time, but there's a lot left in the season and we're hoping to get even better."
The second top effort was the league relays mark shattered by the Homestead 3,200 crew of Mike Cronce, Cody Berger, Doug Mueller and Nate Routhier. Their 8:09.81 time broke by close to seven seconds the two-year old mark set by another Homestead team.
"It was the first time that we felt really good in this race," said Routhier, who also anchored the winning distance medley relay team. "I really didn't really have to expend as much energy (because of a big lead)."
"Getting the record was a major goal of ours. We would have been concerned if we hadn't got it. ...And we feel we can go a lot faster."
Routhier, Cronce and Mueller were all on the Highlanders' state championship 3,200 team last spring.
That victory was one of five for Homestead this day, as that aforementioned distance medley team that included Routhier, Berger, Cronce and Bryce Juedes cruised to victory in 10:43.45.
Other wins went to the 900 intermediate hurdles team of Taylor Ruffin, Chris Mueller and Christian Toth; the 1,600 relay team of Stephen Sheperd, Brett Geschke, Ruffin and Jay Schneider (season best 3:25.56); and the shot put trio of Kyle Schober, Max Vielmetti and Mensah Amuzu (141-10).
Seconds were earned by the 330 high hurdle shuttle of Toth, Wes Wouters, Ruffin and Blake Leeson (48.47); the sprint medley relay crew of Schneider, Matt Stern, Xavier Crumpton and Mueller (1:35.87); the 800 team of Brian Kucharski, Sheperd, Geschke and Schneider (1:31.0); the long jump trio of Zach Enea, Ruffin and Evan Sadowski (60-5 3/4); and the discus group of Amuzu, Mike Rooney and Schober.
"We definitely had some bumps in the road," said Benson, "and our depth took a bit of a hit with a couple of illnesses and other issues, but in the end I felt our long sprinters, including our 200, 400 and 800 guys, really came through. They were people we could really hang our hats on."
"The hurdlers and the weightmen also did a really nice job."
Germantown coach Jared Foerch was proud of his team's effort as the Warhawks grabbed two first places.
The 330 high hurdle shuttle that included Ben Holcomb and Brad Geisthardt earned one of them in 48.07, while the pole vault team of Brian Kuhlenbeck (personal best 13-0), Alex Gasper and Peter Winarski (32-6) earned the other.
Seconds for the Warhawks included the 400 relay team of Alec and J.R. Richmond, Dylan Krivoshein and Chasen Brown (43.56); 900 intermediate hurdle relay of Holcomb, Zack Winkler and Geisthardt; the 1,600 relay (3:37.89); the high jump trio of Dane Collins, Evan Wesenberg and Sam Midlikowski; and the shot put team of Will Sommer, Bobby Stemm and Ryan Lemke.
"We started out pretty strong," said Foerch. "We were pretty inexperienced in some spots and I hope we got it right because in a relay meet, it's hard to get everything correct right away."
For Bay, the sprint crew earned another first as the 800 team of Johnson, Stecker, Justin Holt and Threats cruised to a season-best honor-roll time of 1:29.08.
Nicolet had an encouraging meet, as the Knight sprint medley team of Brandon Kappel, Denzel Allen, Rickie Davis and Jeff Pigg rode good handoffs to a winning time of 1:34.6.
"That was great, we're a young team and we're going to be even better next year," said Kappel. "We have a sophomore and two juniors out there and they did a great job and then we let Jeff (Pigg) just take it home."
The 3,200 relay team that included Randy Grzybowski, Pigg, Zach Shires and Josh Greenberg turned in a season-best of 8:29.58 for second while the 400 team of Davis, Kappel, Rob Washington and Allen, was third in a season-best of 43.86.
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