Emma Bertz

After competing as an individual at the WIAA State meet last year, Emma Bertz hopes to lead the Waunakee girls’ cross country team to their first team berth at state since 2016.

If there’s one strength that’s going to propel both the Waunakee girls’ and boys’ cross country teams this season, it’s going to be their depth.

For the girls, that should go without saying. While they did graduate four-time Badger North Conference champ Reagan Hoopes, the team returns four top-10 finishers (senior Emma Bertz, sophomores Jordyn Jarvi and Kelsey King and junior Anna Vanderhoef) from last year’s conference race in addition to six top-10 JV conference finishers (junior McKenna Hughey and Valerie Cisewski and seniors Anne Dotzler, Raina Bogost, Kiley Kearns and Gretchen Johnson). It’s risking stating the obvious, but the girls are the clear favorites in the Badger North to bring home their ninth straight conference title.

“Depth is one of our many team strengths,” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Heather Martens-Raffel, entering her fourth year leading the program. “If I counted correctly, we had 13 girls run varsity for us at some point last season… This group is already posting ahead of last season’s practice times, which would indicate some nice race improvements for them in the future.”

Though they’re once again favored in the Badger North, a return to the WIAA State meet will be a more difficult task for the girls. The Warriors narrowly missed out on a berth at state in 2018, and they’ll surely be setting their sights on returning to state as a team for the first time since 2016.

“Our goal is to get as many runners as we can to go sub-20 minutes by the end of the season,” Raffel added. “If we can get four in the 19s by Sectionals (and I believe we can do this) and be among the top two teams within our Sectional, we have the potential for a top-five finish at state.”

For the boys, their improved depth will go a long way towards improving upon last year’s fourth-place finish in the Badger North. The Warriors return six of their eight varsity runners from last year’s conference meet, led by junior Coleson Lincoln, who finished 16th overall.

Lincoln will likely have a bunch of runners close on his heels; the boys worked on a group-running mentality last year, and that group looks like it’ll be even bigger this year.

“It appears that we have a larger core of guys within our leading group,” said Raffel. “And there are a lot of ‘bubble’ runners – those that are close to varsity times – behind them… We need our top four to five runners posting in the mid-17s. We are really close to doing this with several of our runners right now.”

Members of that leading group include seniors Logan Rynes, Evan Voge and Trenton Niles, along with juniors Alex Korth, Kyle Davis, Paul Busse and Zachary Samson.

If a couple of the boys’ runners dip below the 17-minute mark, there’s a chance they could unseat the defending Badger North Champ Sauk Prairie and make things interesting at their sectional.

“It is entirely possible that we might have a couple boys in the 16s this fall,” Raffel added. “If we can do that, we should be among those top five teams in the sectional.”

For any fans hoping to catch their first glimpse of the Warrior cross country teams, both teams will kick off their season on Sept. 5 in DeForest for the Norski Invite. Start time is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. at Windsor Sports Complex.

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