LA CROSSE — Casey Ponyicsanyi’s name is challenging enough to type, much less attempt to pronounce when reading it for the first time off a sheet.
The announcers at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships read off hundreds of names over the two-day event, and it’s expected they are going to butcher a few along the way.
Ponyicsanyi (pronounced POE-NI-SHAN-KNEE) offered them a special challenge.
Pah-knee-Sconnie? That had a “Go Badgers” feel to it.
Pona-Shesky? He’s Hungarian, not Polish, guys.
The Lakeside Lutheran senior forced the announcers to attempt it several times on Friday and Saturday as he closed out an exceptional athletic career by medaling in three events to help the Warriors finish tenth among Division 2 boys teams with 21 points.
In his final trip to state, Ponyicsanyi earned his first-ever medals, placing fourth in the 200 meter dash in 22.27 seconds, fifth in the 400 in 50.08 and fifth in the 400 meter relay with seniors Caleb Bilitz and Brevin Jegerlehner and sophomore Tersony Vater in 43.59 on Saturday.
Those efforts accounted for 13 teams points. Junior Collin Schulz’s second place finish in the boys high jump on Friday accounted for the other eight.
Lakeside’s girls competed in two relay events on Friday, but did not make the finals. The 800 relay team of junior Annika Bilitz, senior Kaitlyn Shadoski and juniors Lauren Thiele and Janae Jensen finished 11th in 1:47.68 to miss the finals by .18 of a second. The same foursome finished 13th in the 400 relay in 50.85. That time missed the cut by .33 of a second.
“We as coaches were very proud of how our kids competed over the course of the two days,” Lakeside Lutheran track and field coach Nate Sievert said. “The girls, while disappointed they didn’t make finals, ran PR’s in both races and are excited about next year and the possibility of making it back to state next year.
“The boys had one of the school’s best finishes at state finishing in the top ten. School records were broken by our boys in the 4x100 and PR’s were set as well. Collin finished very well with his second place while battling injury all year. Casey had a challenging meet schedule with the number of races he ran being so close together and ended up with podium finishes in all races.”
On Friday, Ponyicsanyi finished third in the 200 trials in 22.44 seconds and sixth in the 400 trials in 50 seconds flat. The 400 meter relay ran the eighth best time of 43.63 in the trials.
On Saturday, Ponyicsanyi began with his 400 meter race. He entered the state meet with the fastest sectional time of 49.45, so he was disappointed not to run a sub-50 in either race, but still found positives.
“I think the heat got to me a little bit, but I feel like I put out a good time, obviously winning a medal at state,” Ponyicsanyi said.
After the 400, he had short recovery time before running in the 400 relay, but that went well as he put down a strong anchor leg to lock up the team’s trip to the awards podium.
“It’s been really fun (running on that relay),” Ponyicsanyi said. “They have always been really supportive. I think coming off the 400 to the 4-by-1, they just bring me energy to get through the race.”
Bilitz led off, just as he has all season. The Warriors finished fourth in this event at the East Troy sectional and made the cut by three-tenths of a second. Yet they finished fifth at state.
“We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the year, but I feel like we left off on a really high note,” Bilitz said. “Coach told us if we keep working hard, we could get on the podium. I ran on it last year and this year. Winning a medal feels really good. All Glory to God.”
Jegerlehner ran the second leg.
He and Ponyicsanyi were backfield mates on a Level 4 football team rich in running back talent in a veer offense. Several of those football athletes competed in track and field in the spring.
He was part of the 800 relay team that finished tenth at state a year ago.
“First of all, it was really nice because we had been here before, so we all knew what to expect, so it just kind of helped with the nerves a little bit,” Jegerlehner said. “But we knew after last year that we had everybody returning and we wanted to get on the podium this year and we were able to do that.”
Lakeside has a tradition of fielding successful relay teams.
“It really helps when you’ve got an athlete like Ponyicsanyi over here,” Jegerlehner said. “We’ve got a lot of really fast runners and God has blessed us in many different ways. When you add that to the hard work we put in practice, the handoffs that we do day in and day out, things come together pretty nicely. I’ve been running track three years. It’s been a blast. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I really enjoyed it.”
Vater ran the third leg. He also competed in the 800 relay at state last year and knew what to expect. He’s seen the relays improve a lot in a year’s time.
“Just the chemistry with these guys (is that much better),” Vater said. “We run at practice. We’ve worked our tails off. We’ve run in the snow, the rain ... we don’t want to do it, but we do it, anyway. I like running in the heat.
“I feel like we did good. (The atmosphere at state) is amazing, everyone cheering for you. It feels amazing (to medal). It’s something I’ve worked so hard for since my freshman year to this year. “(I like) hanging out with these guys, just making bonds like I have never had before.”
Ponyicsanyi smiled more easily on the awards podium with his teammates than he did by himself after the 400 meter dash.
“It feels really good and obviously it wasn’t done just by myself,” Ponyicsanyi said. “I had my team with me the whole time.”
He closed out his day in the 200 against elite sprinters who all finished within .64 of a second of each other.
Racine St. Catherine’s junior Evan Schuster won the race in 22 seconds flat. He also won the 400 in 48.82.
“(The race felt) kind of slow,” Ponyicsanyi said. “I really wanted to break 22, but I still medaled. It was just really impressive (going against those guys). I’ve never really had to chase anybody, but at this meet, there’s a lot of chasing to be done. I thought I handled it OK. Any time that you get on the podium, that’s pretty good. It’s not exactly how I would liked to have ended it, but I would say it’s a pretty good ending.”