Jefferson senior Mariah Linse entered the WIAA State Track and Field Championships as the fourth seed in the Division 2 girls 1,600-meter run and matched it with a fourth-place finish in a personal best time of 5 minutes, 7.31 seconds on Friday at Roger Harring Stadium. She followed that up with a fifth-place medal in the 3,200-meter run on Saturday.
The four-time state qualifier in both cross country and track and field didn't have much left to prove as her decorated distance running neared its conclusion. But she felt a sense of redemption nevertheless after a virus hampered her performance on this stage a year ago.
Linse was sitting solidly in third place in the 3,200-meter run a year ago when she uncharacteristically faded late in the race. She held on to win a sixth-place medal but later collapsed and spent the night at the hospital where tests revealed a high white blood cell count which was later attributed to a virus.
She had to miss racing in the 1,600 the following day but rebounded in the fall to win her second top 10 medal at the state cross country meet.
Linse carried that momentum into the track and field season, where she won MVP honors at the Rock Valley Conference meet and swept the sectional titles in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter events.
On Friday, she spent the first three laps in third place before Lakeside junior Ashley Peterson surged into third place and held it. But Linse wasn't complaining after running a four-second PR and feeling more than healthy enough to complete the distance double she sought to undertake a year ago when she ran in the 3,200 the next day.
"I look at last year as just a humbling experience, to bring you back down to Earth and know that I do have to keep working hard," Linse said.
"It doesn't just come naturally. You have to put in the work and sometimes things don't turn out your way, but that's just part of the motivation to get back out there and get back at it."
Linse has always credited her cross country and track distance coach Megan Carstens for helping her along the way, and offered one final testimonial to a coaching legacy that has been momentous in Jefferson over the past decade.
"I will always respect (distance coach Megan Carstens) so much, not just as a coach but just as a mentor in general. I trust her. I learned from day one of freshman year that she earned it. She earned everyone's trust out there and she knows exactly what she's doing in that she has that experience under her belt. She was an All-American (at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater). You just trust her because she knows what she is doing.
"She had (her third) baby this year, little Michael. She had him on Sunday and on Thursday, she was back at practice. Her husband, Chad, is taking over as distance coach right now, but she is just dedicated to the team and even though she has a family of her own that is expanding, she makes her best effort to be with our track family, every second that she can. I just respect and love her for that."
Denmark senior Leah Kralovetz won the race in 4:56.84, followed by G-E-T senior Dana Feyen (5:02.76), Peterson (5:03.50), Linse and Viroqua senior Jillian Weston (5:09.78).
"I have known these girls all the way since freshman year," Linse said. "I have a lot of respect for them. They are just the type of girls you want on your team. They are incredible and humble and show great sportsmanship and they give the glory to God, which is something I completely respect in them."
They brought out the best in Linse, who battled through high heat and fatigue to finish with her best time in her final high school mile event.
"The last lap is always just this terrible combo of adrenalin and lactic acid and they just battle each other the whole time," Linse said. "You just have to keep your head up and stay strong and push through that. You know everyone is going through that, it's just who wants it more."
Linse entered Saturday's two-mile event as the fifth seed and matched it while improving her seed time by 13 seconds.
Kralovetz doubled as the 3,200 champion with a winning time of 10:38.12. Feyen was next in 10:57.97, followed by Two Rivers freshman Anna Gallagher in 11:10.66.
Linse ran in a pack of three in the 4-5-6 spots in the field of 16 runners and they weren't threatened in their bids for medals. Peterson again broke away late to take fourth in 11:15.16. Linse was next in 11:19.49.
"I did (what I wanted to do)," Linse said. "Obviously, the big thing at state is you want to get on that podium. That was my goal today. I was struggling with a chest cold this weekend, but just the desire to be out there and the hard work that pays off. Even if you are struggling a little, which I think can happen. A lot of crazy things can happen at state. Just that hard work in the background that will get you up there."
Before the start of the race, Linse stepped over and hugged sophomore teammate Makenzie Hottinger, who scored a team point with an eighth-place time of 11:38.01 to put the team total for the meet at 14.
"It's been an emotional weekend just knowing that it's my last one," Linse said. "It's just such a blessing. I am so excited to have a great team (at UW-Oshkosh) to go to next year, but I will want to hold onto this. It's been such a blessing being an Eagle for all these years. Just the family feeling that I have with my teammates and my coaches is something I'll never forget."
The Linse legacy is extensive to say the least.
Among siblings Brennan, Calli and Mariah Linse for cross country, they collectively have a total of three team state appearances, five team conference championships, seven individual state appearances with three podium finishes and four individual conference championships.
For track and field, there have been one team state championship, five team conference championships, eight individual state appearances with 11 podium finishes and 12 individual conference championships.
Their cousin, Megan, followed in her father, Todd's, footsteps as a 100-meter hurdles state champion in 2013.
But who's counting? Siegert, for one.
"Oh my gosh. I said at the banquet, 10 years of coaching and she is the last Linse we have," Siegert said. "For her to go out in that mile yesterday and just crush it, to run her best time and to get up on the podium and just feel great afterwards knowing that today was going to be the 2-mile. She runs a great 2-mile and ends up on the podium again.
"I told her, I am proud of you. We have seen you grow as an athlete. More importantly, we have seen you grow as a leader and we tell her all the time, you left a legacy here. That's not just being a great athlete. You get it done in every aspect of what you do and it trickles down to Makenzie Hottinger, who makes it up here too and it's great to see not only that our kids can perform and rise up to these challenges that we have put them in, but to hand those things down to the next people. That's how you keep a nice high level and that's what we want. We want kids to perform well and we want kids to enjoy it."
Kloss fifth in discus
Jefferson senior Kayla Kloss looked back on two entirely different experiences competing at the state track and field meet and determined that experience really made a difference.
There's a coffee mug that reads, "ME BOSS. YOU NOT." It's kind of like that.
"Being here this year was so much more relaxing," Kloss said after receiving a fifth-place medal in the Division 2 girls discus competition on Friday.
"I knew what to expect. I wasn't nervous or freaking out. A lot of the girls I competed against today go to throws club with me or I have competed with them earlier this season, so I feel comfortable around them.
"Being an upperclassmen, I feel like underclassmen are more the underdogs. I am a senior, I am top dog this year. It wasn't super scary, it was more fun. Last year, it felt scary and my stomach hurt. Today I had a great time."
Kloss threw a personal best 120 feet, 9 inches at the East Troy sectional and came close to matching that with a 117-7 on her final throw in flight competition.
"It's consistent so I am not unhappy," Kloss said. "Each prelim throw got better, My final throws went kind of downhill. I hit my best throw on the last throw of prelims, so I was seeded fifth going into finals. My goal was to (get on the) podium, so I am happy."
Kloss learned a lot working with former teammate Emily Stendel, a three-time state qualifier who won a state title in the discus her junior year and currently competes at the University of Minnesota.
"Emily Stendel, I miss her so much," Kloss said. "She was not just one of my teammates, she was one of my best friends. Following her footsteps, she has both of our school records. She was a state champion. She was just so humble and now that she has handed the reins to me, as leader of our throws group, I just wanted to be humble, have composure and be able to support my fellow teammates along with me.
"I feel like I did that pretty well this year. It was nice to have those shoes to fill this year, even though those were big shoes to fill."
Throwing coach Nick Skretta had to miss the meet for work reasons but Face-Timed with his athlete while assistant coach and former Eagle thrower Katie Hein coached her on site. Skretta will serve as a volunteer assistant in the future with Hein taking over as the throwing coach.
"I love having her here with us," Kloss said. "I love what I do. I love track and I am doing it in college at UW-Milwaukee. I am not done yet, but I am done with this chapter of it."
Siegert stressed that the program is strong in large part because of his incredible coaching staff. The Eagles have developed a nice tradition in the throwing events.
"Kayla Kloss, able to get on the podium, that's a special moment for us," Siegert said. "We've become rich in that throw event, starting way back with coach Hein, our first thrower ever to make it to state and to keep rolling through. We had Landon (Ellingson) come through and Emily Stendel come through and it's leaving a legacy. It's great how coach Skretta and coach Hein have put in a lot of hard work with these kids and it's paid off. Trust the process."