Between the pair, Germantown's Liz Wendt and Whitefish Bay's Megan Palmer are senior middle-distance runners who have enough credentials to demand statewide respect just by stepping on the track, and who have enough medals to crowd an overworked trophy case.
So, it was no surprise that at the end of a stellar 1,600 relay race at Homestead's WIAA track sectional on Thursday night, in the last event of the evening, the two took the batons to anchor their respective teams just millimeters apart.
And that's where the pair finished up, with the two-time state runner-up Wendt leading the Warhawks to victory in a school record 4:00.24 with the 2008 state 800 champ Palmer and Bay hardly a step behind her in 4:00.25. The two teams will be the second and third seeds, respectively in the WIAA State Meet next Friday and Saturday in La Crosse.
"I saw Bay coming and then I saw how close they were," said Wendt, who also won the open 800 in a state-best time and anchored the 3,200 relay team to a state berth too. "Then I saw Megan and that caught me a little by surprise."
But for Palmer, who also finished second in the open 1,600, it was no surprise, it was just a matter of finishing a job that fell a little short of completion last season. She remembered that 2009 Bay 1,600 relay anchored by all-time Bay sprint great Becca Schmidt that missed state by mere fractions of a second.
"It was hard last year not going," she said, "and we know it's really fun to be going as part of a relay team. Today, we just went out there with nothing to lose. We all just raced for each other."
Germantown's relay also included Meredith Humiston, Sammie Gassner, and Caitlin Dillon while Palmer got help from Mady Vicker, Ally Spiroff and Kenzie Vicker.
The effort highlighted a stellar day for both teams, as Bay finished fifth in the team standings with 48 points and also advanced Frankie Carroll in the high jump (second, 5-2) and Camille Schwartz in the pole vault (fourth, earned spot as an extra qualifier at 10-6).
Meanwhile, Germantown was third with 64 points and also advanced Dillon in the 1,600 (third 5:07.41), Lexi Keefe in both the shot put (third, 35-0) and the discus (third, 117-4), Abby Croft in the pole vault (third and school record 11-3) and the 3,200 relay team that also included Andrea Sielicki, MacKenzie Erdmann and Dillon (third, 9:27.48).
Nicolet was second in the sectional team standings with 66 points behind a dominant effort in the weights, and advanced shot putters Gaby Bronson (first, 37-4 1/2) and Brianna Achs (second, 35-11) and discus thrower Rachel Morello (second, 117-6).
In addition, the Knights earned state slots from La Crosse veteran Roni Thompson in the triple jump (second, 35-6 1/2) and from the 800 relay team of Surya Chionesu, Thompson, Ashley Green and Ashley Jones (third, 1:44.14).
The Knights 1,600 relay came into the race as one of the slight favorites to advance to state, but the team, which had to swap out Thompson (leg injury) for Ally Maling, missed out on earning a berth despite a fifth place season-best of showing of 4:03.7. Jones, Green and Chionesu were also on the squad.
"I think they (the WIAA) needs to spread these teams out a little more," Knight coach Brian Sommers said Friday. "It's just a very hard sectional with a lot of talent in it."
The Knights weren't the only ones who came out dismayed by the outcome of that race. Menomonee Falls, which had state qualifiers Kelly Koier from the 300 low hurdles (second, 45.67) and Mikayla Robertson from the triple jump (third, 35-1 1/4) at the heart of its team, turned in a modern Falls best, but also came up short, as the unit that included Becca Davis and Katie Smalley, was fourth in 4:01.95.
"We can be sad about the results, but we can also be proud too," said Indian coach Andy Eisenbach on Friday. "Hopefully with that time, the kids can hold their heads high." 4:01.0 was needed to advance to state.
Host Homestead was holding its head high as the North Shore Conference champs saw defending state 100 high hurdle champ Marissa Savitch go well under the official state record of 14.6 at sectional for the second year in a row.
This time, Savitch ran an almost perfect race in churning out an alarming state best of 14.2.
"It felt really good," Savitch said. "The last time it felt that good was at sectional last year (when she ran a 14.44). I think it was because of the competition (race runner-up Sherice Hewett of Vincent was also under the state record at 14.49). It was the best race of the season. I just came out quick and clean."
"I'm excited now. More excited even than last year." Savitch also benefitted from a last-second fall to advance in the 300 low hurdles in third (46.85).
The Highlanders 3,200 relay team of Caity Bobber, Keali Bjork, Sarah Miller and Lauren Holtz also has reason to be excited, as they own the second-best time in the state with a school-record runner-up finish of 9:21.79. Arrowhead beat the Highlanders with a state best and track record of 9:20.94.
In addition, Homestead also picked up tickets for state for Bjork in the 800 (second, 2:17.49) and pole vaulter Katelyn Wright (fifth, claimed extra qualifer berth at 10-6). The Highlanders were fourth in the sectional standings with 63 points.
But the highlight was that final relay, a race in which seven teams came in from the regional all within three seconds of each other. The intensity of the event is mirrored in the state heat sheets, as Germantown and Bay lead a cadre' of seven qualifying quartets all within .76 of a second of each other.
Event leader Bradley Tech has more than two seconds on that group.
Both Germantown and Bay had their heroes in the race. Warhawk freshman Sammie Gassner was the one who fell in the 300 hurdles, allowing Savitch to advance to state. Gassner would have easily made it in third, but had to settle for fifth.
However, instead of crumbling in an emotional heap, Gassner gathered herself, said Warhawk coach Greg Siegert and helped the relay earn its victory just moments later.
"She wasn't upset, mad or crying (for herself)," said Siegert. "She was just upset for the team. She had a sense of the larger picture that you rarely see in a 14-year old."
And the Blue Dukes had Spiroff, whose breathtaking second leg put the Blue Dukes solidly in the hunt for state qualifying.
"I just felt good," she said. "I really wanted to do it for the team."
Because there's a chance that she and the remaining runners on the two relays will called upon to do it again next week in La Crosse. This time with state medals on the line.
"There's always room for improvement," said Wendt. "We can run faster than that."
"We'll get them next week," chuckled Bay coach Ben Van Male.
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