When the best cross-country runners in Wisconsin took off from the starting line at the state championship meet Nov. 2 in Wisconsin Rapids, sophomore Logan Wade was in the pack representing Badger.
For Wade, while making the state meet was an exciting culmination of a season’s worth of hard work, it started off a bit of a bummer. Wade learned he qualified as an individual at about the same time he learned the Badger team fell short of earning a berth during the sectional meet in Kenosha on Oct. 26. That conflicting news made the experience bittersweet.
“One of my teammates came up to me and was like, ‘Dude, I think you made it individually.’ I kind of looked at him, and I was like, ‘Yeah, but I won’t be able to go up with you guys,’” Wade said.
His individual qualification was a return to the state meet for the Badger program, which did not have any runners qualify last season after Gustavo Gordillo made it to Wisconsin Rapids in both 2016 and 2017.
While the Nov. 2 meet was Wade’s first trip to the state championship, head coach Mike Butscher has coached runners through the experience before, and had some advice for the first-timer.
“We basically talked about how guys go out the first 400 meters at world-record pace, and they’re not going to hold that,” Butscher said. “There’s no world-record runners there, so we just said to stay patient. That race really starts at about a mile and a half.”
Before the race began, Wade walked the five-kilometer course to get a lay of the land, and just as Butscher warned, he noted that the back half of the course was more hilly than many in the state.
To an outside observer, it may seem like cross-country is a sport in which a runner just runs straight ahead as fast as possible. But there is strategy involved in knowing when to pace one’s self and when to most efficiently pass other nearby runners in a pack. With his coach’s words of wisdom and his experience in the walk-through, Wade gave himself a bit of a mental leg up.
“I had those tips in my mind just when we were walking the course, too, so I kind of was planning how I was going to execute it,” Wade said. “And in the race, too, I thought about it, and it helped me run a lot smarter.”
Butscher, Wade and four other members of the Badger cross-country team stayed at a hotel in Stevens Point the night before the race, to avoid a lengthy early morning drive the day of the race. Wade made sure he got plenty of sleep prior to the competition, but he also made sure to set aside some time to have fun with his friends, which helped keep his mind from focusing too much on the upcoming race.
While Wade had plenty of teammates cheering him on, once the race began, he was the only Badger on the course, and he could sense something was off.
“I could definitely tell there was a difference in my running when I was running by myself in this race,” Wade said. “I could feel the difference between running with them in our pack and running without them.”
Even without his team pack to drive him along, Wade thought he ran well on the difficult course, finishing with a time of 18:01 in 163rd place out of 190 runners.
Only a sophomore, Wade hopes this trip was just the first state meet of many. Now that he has gotten a taste, he knows what it takes. And he wants to be sure his teammates do, too.
“I really want to go up with the team, and now I know exactly what to work on, and I think we can get a really good placement next year if we make it as a team,” he said.
Wade was not the only youngster on the Badger varsity squad, as the team featured six sophomores on its seven-man roster, as well as three juniors and three sophomores who led the junior varsity squad. With so much young talent, it is not out of the question to believe that Wade will not be alone up at Wisconsin Rapids next year.
“Our guys are relatively new to it,” Butscher said. “They’re making leaps and bounds right now, docking off serious time from one year to the next. And we anticipate that continuing next year, because they’re a very dedicated group.”