Cross-country: Oconto Falls, Gillett go through early season test

Gillett’s Hansen takes second in girls race
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Gillett’s Sylvia Hansen took second overall in the girls varsity race at the Irish Cross Country Invitational on Friday, Aug. 31. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

The early portion of the cross-country season is a time when coaches learn about their teams and when runners try different things in an effort to trim down their times.

Oconto Falls and Gillett each got an early idea of what they could expect this season after taking part in the 11th annual Irish Cross Country Invitational at Irish Water Golf Club in Freedom on Friday. A total of 36 teams participated at the invitational, with varsity runners competing against each other and then being placed amongst a division based on enrollment size.

Gillett sophomore Sylvia Hansen finished second overall in the girls varsity race and earned the top time of the small school runners. Hansen finished the course in 19 minutes, 39.58 seconds, just behind Kaukauna’s Anna Fauske (19:36.80).

Most runners would be thrilled with a second place finish, but the finish left Hansen desiring more.

“I’m definitely going to remember this race and wanting to pass that girl in front of me. It boosts my confidence for the next races,” Hansen said.

Hansen, who took third at state as a freshman, is using the early races as opportunities to find that perfect pace to complete a cross country course.

“I’m trying to get my endurance up, I have a rough time trying to keep my pace I have in that first mile,” she said. “I’m trying to learn how to hold that pace for a longer time.”

Amber Brehmer (27:03.39), Itty Ciancio (32:59.53) and Angela Mosconi (33:36.06) also competed for the Tigers.

Oconto Falls, which was one of the smallest schools competing in the larger division, saw its girls team earn 305 points to place 13th.

Autumn Canavera and Breanna Sadowski led the Panthers with times of 21:53.51 and 22:42.61, respectively. Canavera placed 23rd while Sadowski took 35th.

The duo enjoyed the competition and hoped the team could find even more success in the coming races.

“Competing with a lot of good runners helped me to experience that amount of competition so I can prepare for the bigger meets coming up,” Canavera said. “I think we are off to a good start in the season, but what I think we could improve upon is running together more often. Sticking together and running side by side could help us motivate each other in the practices and meets.”

“Competing in a large meet with lots of good runners, they are able to push me through the run. Being in a large group and them pushing me, I’m able to go towards my goal time and run faster than I would with a smaller group,” Sadowski said. “As a team, I would like to have the girls come in a little closer together and everyone to just have fun and enjoy the great moments like Friday’s big meet. Seeing everyone there and everyone cheering you on while your finishing is probably the best feeling.”

The Panthers next runner to finish was Grace Williams with a time of 24:56.57. The duos of Morgan Van Haren (26:47.73) and Alyson Fabry (26.49.31) and Aspen Canavera (29.27.28) and Katie Kurth (29:59.59) each finished with similar times.

On the boys side, Oconto Falls took 10th with 237 points. Senior Brody Schindel led the way for the Panthers with a time of 18:18.45 to take 25th while Joe Adams (18:39.56) placed 35th.

Brendan Konitzer (19:24.61), Brent Wolf (19:35.86) and Dylan Nelson (19:50.22) all placed in the top 70 while Isaac Raddatz (20:38.31) and Bodee Woods (22:21.22) also competed.

Despite leading the team, Schindel was not pleased with his performance.

“The race did not go well for me personally, but the rest of the team did well,” he said. “We can only get better from here and the team just needs to run harder in practice and put in more miles.”

Gillett had just three boys competing, but all three placed in the top 55 of the smaller division.

Derek Hanson led the way after crossing the finish line in 17:50.11. Riley Engebretson took 50th in 19:58.19 while Conner Hanson finished 55th with a time of 20:27.48.

“Me and the team hope to get a better feeling of pacing based off the effort racing a 5K, and overall just slim down our times,” Derek Hanson said. “Although we don’t have a full team, I know the guys on our team care about their times and will be willing to put in the extra work needed to be on top of their game. Also, we’re working on running a lot more confident in races.”

The coaches for both local teams left the invitational with plenty of confidence and something to build off.

“Because our team is so young, with a couple of them racing at 5K for the first time, getting over the mental hurdle of believing they can handle that distance is crucial,” Gillett coach Bill DeJung said. “They’ve all done that now and can race with more confidence going forward. With no seniors or juniors, our sophomores have done a great job of taking responsibility of leadership and its been impressive. That, in turn, has them racing with more confidence.”

“We use it as a confidence builder, the Irish Invite will be the largest invite we attend this year and it is good from a coaches standpoint to do a large invite like this early in the season,” Oconto Falls coach Lon Ludemann said. “Both teams finished roughly in the top half of the field and I was pleased with that for being this early in the season. They will need to continue to concentrate on improving their practice sessions, because moving forward the competition will remain tough.”