Gillett grad continues running at UW-Stevens Point

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University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point cross-country and track and field runner Max Zeitler, left, graduated from Gillett in 2015. (Photo by Kylie Bridenhagen)

After two solid seasons on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point cross-country team, Max Zeitler was expected to come in this year and be one of the team’s top performers.

However, his times weren’t as good as last season, and he didn’t qualify for the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship meet.

“I didn’t train as much as I should have over the summer and all that,” Zeitler said.

Zeitler, who graduated from Gillett in 2015, got a job over the summer, and it didn’t give him time to work out and prepare for the fall sport.

Zeitler’s coach, Brett Witt, was hoping he would be one of the top upperclassmen on a young squad. He was a little disappointed Zeitler wasn’t one of his top runners.

“He was honest and had a different job this summer, and it’s a fine line when you’re a college athlete, and I totally understand and agree you’ve got to have a summer job, but you’ve got to make sure you get the right one,” Witt said. “He did not put in the work this summer that he did the year prior. He was a top 12 guy for us last year, ran great, ran at the conference championship. He just came back in very poor shape at the start of the fall and had to play catchup the whole time.”

Zeitler still had some shining moments this season. Witt thought one of Zeitler’s better races came on Oct. 20 when he finished fourth on the team and ninth overall with a time of 28 minutes, 17 seconds at the Oshkosh Open. Zeitler had a shot at earning the final spot on the Pointers team to compete in the conference meet, but he was edged out in the final 400 meters by one of his teammates. That ended up being Zeitler’s final race of the season since he was an alternate for the conference meet.

Zeitler logged a season-best time of 28:09 on Oct. 7 at the Gene Davis Invitational hosted by Lawrence University. He finished fifth on the team and 21st overall.

As a sophomore, Zeitler competed in five races and clocked a career-best time of 26:48.6 at the Oshkosh Open.

Despite the tough junior season, Zeitler feels like his running career at Stevens Point has been successful.

“I think this year has been not as successful as past, but I like it,” Zeitler said.

Coming out of Gillett, Zeitler hoped to be a strong runner at the collegiate level. A couple stress fractures in his right foot slowed him down his junior and senior years in high school and he was never able to advance to the state meet.

Zeitler liked jumping up to the collegiate level because he had teammates he could run alongside. At Gillett, he was one of only three distance runners as a senior. At Stevens Point, Zeitler has plenty of guys who could help him as a runner.

“Here you have 20 some guys who have the same goals as you, so it’s a lot easier to do well when there’s other people pushing you,” Zeitler said.

When Witt started working with Zeitler as a freshman, he was able to teach the young runner and get him to start training properly. Zeitler had to up his mileage even though he didn’t have much experience with long runs. That changed quickly.

Along with his three years on the cross-country team, Zeitler was also on the track and field team for the first two years. He’s been a true distance runner in track, mainly competing in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races. The indoor season will get underway in January.

Zeitler is already setting big goals going into his senior season of cross-country next fall and he knows what it will take to get back to the way he was running as a sophomore.

“Just keep up the miles and make sure track goes well — not train over the top and get hurt again,” Zeitler said. “I know that, in the summer, miles is just what brings you success in the fall, so I’ve just got focus on getting the miles.”

Witt is expecting Zeitler to return to the form he was as an underclassman. The coach knows the struggles Zeitler faced this season should be a learning experience.

“He’s disappointed,” Witt said. “When you’re a top 12 guy as a sophomore and you graduate a bunch of seniors from that team and you’re coming back for your junior year and you lose out your spot to freshmen and sophomores, he’s been pretty disappointed most of the year. If that’s not going to light a fire under him this summer, then I don’t know what will.”