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Track athletes gearing up for state

High seeds Several Badger track athletes have an above average shot at winning state this weekend in La Crosse. Here are the top-seeded athletes: n Justin Bowers, first, long jump, 23-1 n 400 relay team (Bowers, Jarek Kunz, Wes Aranda, Connor Kotula), second, 42.82 n Kunz, third, triple jump, 45-8
June 02, 2010 | 08:14 AM
On a picturesque sunny day May 27, the Badger track squads took full advantage of their home turf.

When the dust settled, the boys and girls each qualified four individual events and two relay teams for next weekend's state meet at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The guys headed west will include Justin Bowers in the long jump (23-1), 200 dash (22.50) and 400 relay team (with Wes Aranda, Jarek Kunz and Connor Kotula), Kunz in the triple jump (45-8), Aranda in the 100 dash (11.15), Joe Cychner in the shot put (49-5.25) and the 3200 relay team of C.J. Morris, Dan Sepe, Jordan Skates and Corey Nevin (8:12.04).

Both the 400 and 3200 teams broke the school record.

State qualifiers on the female side will include Megan Mulligan in the 100 (12.98), 200 (26.59) and 400 dashes (1:00.29), Tristan Sproul in the 800 run (2:24.07), 3200 relay team of Sproul, Aaryn Edge, Karina Reeves and Courtney Frederick (9:45.52) and the 800 relay team of Carly Beil, Britt Granholm, Alicia Hasse and Alyssa Humphrey (1:47.35).

Title or bust for Bowers

Bowers, 18, Lake Geneva, has competed in track since the sixth grade. He currently holds the furthest jump in the state (23-10) in the long jump and is seeded first at state thanks to a solid 23-1 at sectionals.

"Back in sixth grade, we just had to do track for school," he said. "But I became good at it and kept going with it. By my sophomore year, I got in the weight room a lot and started growing more potential."

The three-sport star has a clear goal for Friday — a state title in the long jump.

"I want to win state with a jump in the 23s," Bowers said. "That will be hard for others to beat."

The long jump involves a fast sprint combined with an enormous jump, and Bowers has perfected the craft.

"You must work on your squats and have explosiveness in your legs," he said. "The last two steps are the most important. You have to jump high, not just far. You're supposed to run as fast as you can, but I don't reach my top speed. The more momentum you have from running carries you further."

Bowers is just happy to have qualified in the 200, but he believes the 400 relay team of Kunz, Aranda, Kotula and himself have a good chance to win state.

"We are seeded second in the 400 relay," he said. "If we pull off a time in the mid-42s, we could win it. Our handoffs must be perfect."

In the long jump, Bowers has a good chance to become Badger's first state-title winner since Jeremy Novotny, who tossed an amazing 171-3 in the discus to take state in 2004.

Bowers listens to smooth sounds of easy listening artist Trevor Hall before each meet. He said it gets him "jacked." He also credits head coach Dave Jaeger and older brother Sean with his success.

"Jaeger is real hard at times, but he makes me want to push myself," Bowers said. "He makes me become a leader at practice. And Sean thinks it's cool how I've become so much better. I like to make him proud, and he makes me work harder."

Fighting through adversity

Kunz, 18, Lake Geneva, has battled a nagging deep heel bruise ever since April, but he has still managed to earn the third seed in this weekend's state tournament.

"I landed wrong, and it's gotten worse ever since," he said. "I'm fighting through it. It's just something you must deal with."

Kunz set a school record in the triple jump earlier this year with a 46-1, and he is ready to compete at state, with a title the ultimate goal.

Kunz was first introduced to track at Faith Christian School his freshman year. But after transferring to Badger midway through his freshman year, Anthony Haase opened his eyes to the triple jump and Kunz stuck with it ever since.

Perhaps the most unorthodox event in track, a triple jumper must jump off one foot, then jump off the same foot and finally jump off the opposite foot before lunging into the sand pit. Kunz is a right-right-left leaper.

"It took awhile to get down, but I tried it and was a natural at it," he said.

Kunz finished eighth at last year's state meet. He believes the 400 relay team has a good shot at a title as well.

"We've really been pushing each other in the relay," he said. "Our handoffs keep getting better."

Kunz enjoys listening to rap artists such as Lil Wayne and Chamillionaire to hype up before a meet. He also visualizes himself competing.

He credits strength coach Ben Tennison, assistant Sarah Eiserman and Jaeger for pushing him toward success.

It's a sprint, not a marathon

Mulligan qualified in the 100, 200 and 400 dashes. The 17-year-old junior attended St. Francis before Badger and always knew she was fast.

"I'd always beat the boys in races," she said. "We didn't have a team, so I wanted to know how I'd do in track. I tried hurdling and fell a bunch of times."

Thanks to weight training in the winter and fall, Mulligan has improved both her 200 and 400 times by two seconds. The 400 is a gift and a curse for her.

"It's the hardest race," she said. "It's the longest sprint and it kills me. I fall to the ground when I hit the finish line. But luckily (senior) Britt Granholm is always there to support me. Even though it kills me, I want to improve at it."

Mulligan is hoping to medal in the 200. She is within tenths of a second of breaking the school mark in the event, and that is another huge goal. Mulligan's journey in track once again proves the all-around positive effects of sport.

"I used to be really shy," she said. "But track has broken me out of my shell. I'm always goofy with my teammates."

Unlike Bowers and Kunz, Mulligan takes superstition to another level.

"I must eat rice cakes and peanut butter before an event," she said. "Also, I have to unlace and relace my shoes twice before competing. It has to be perfect. I tie my shoes in three knots so they're tight enough. I get paranoid if they're not."

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