Kate Melms charges through white-out conditions at the sectional meet in Freedom on Saturday. Melms would finish 7th overall with a time of 21:00.43.
Kate Melms charges through white-out conditions at the sectional meet in Freedom on Saturday. Melms would finish 7th overall with a time of 21:00.43.
With the sloping terrain and tiring distance of a cross country course, runners have enough to deal with in order to get to a finish line, let a alone find it. But a bizarre flash blizzard dropped that challenge on the Lakeland girls’ cross country team during the sectional race Saturday at Irish Waters golf club in Freedom.

Fortunately for the girls, they not only found the finish line but they found it fast enough to finish second as a team and qualify for state.

But it wasn’t easy, especially for Lakeland’s front runner, Ashley Peterson, who was way ahead of the pack as she neared the end of the race, all by herself, and relying on the pace cart to find the final stretch. However the cart veered off before the final chute and almost led the individual champion off the course and into the abyss of the white-out.

“I’m thinking visibility is really bad, he’s going to at least lead me into the gated part. I was like, ‘What the heck,’” Peterson said with a laugh.

But the Lakeland junior made the proper turn in time and finished number one overall with a time of 19:29.04.

Coming in behind her in second was teammate Aubrey Anderson who said extreme conditions are something the team prepares for.

“We train in rough weather, maybe not this rough, but we train to be in weather like this and to be able to mentally push through,” Anderson who finished with a time of 20:17.27, said.

Besides the snow, the girls also had to push through strong wind gusts of 30 mph, and for help with that they used the competitors in front of them.

“The wind does effect us,” Anderson said. “Depending on which side the wind is coming on, we want to change sides of the girl we go on, because we want them to take on all the wind versus us taking on all the wind.”

So the pack stayed together until Peterson decided to break away.

“The first mile the plan was to sit behind the girls that took it out, so we did that, and it went off pretty slow I would say. I know I went at the mile,” she said.

One by one the rest of the team followed. Behind Peterson and Anderson, Kate Melms came in seventh overall with a time 21:00.43 to put three T-Birds in the top 10.   

After that was Katie Tharman in 17th place, Stephanie Mauzer in 19th, Maddie Nelson in 21st, and Kate Vizanko in 24th.

The four through seven runners for Lakeland were key for the team as their times were responsible for supporting the Thunderbirds’ top finishers. Last week at the conference meet, they didn’t respond quick enough to the pursuit behind them.

“Today they did,” head coach Dan Claussen said about the back pack. “That’s a lot of pressure on them and it’s a lot of stress and today I thought they were phenomenal.”

Boys’ team

The boys’ team also impressed the head coach and their third place team performance in the face of those fierce winds left him blown away.

“We thought if they ran the best race of their lives we could be in the top eight and they were 18 points out of qualifying for state,” Claussen said. “I’ve coached 30 years, that was the best boys’ performance I’ve ever seen or been part of. I’m still in shock. It was awesome.”

Leading the charge for the Lakeland boys were Victor Masayesava and Anthony Holmes who finished 10th and 11th respectively with times of 17:32.91 and 17:33.43 and just missed a trip to state.

The girls, however, will travel to the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday for the state championship cross country race at 3:05 p.m.

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.