Panther track to rely on state qualifiers
Martin, Poco lead list of returners
By Jason Arndt
While Wilmot Union High School’s track program boasts several state qualifiers, the rest of the squad is a mystery, according to coach Norm Preo.
“We have many athletes new to the team, so the unknown factor is high at this point, early in the season, we don’t know yet who will emerge and shine,” said Preo. “We also have several returning state qualifiers.”
Leading the list of returning state qualifiers are senior Maddie Martin, the 2016 Southern Lakes Conference Athlete of the Year, junior Anthony Poco along with seniors Matt Cieslak and Zac Schrader.
Sophomore Gretta Cieslak and junior Robert Brent served as alternates at the WIAA Division 1 state meet.
However, the Panthers’ program faces the task of replacing three state qualifiers gone to graduation, sprinter and relay race contributors Jayden Jesse and Rebecca Alter, and pole vaulter Wyatt Heckel.
With newcomers filling Alter’s spot on relays, Preo has plans for boys relay races, which include juniors Robert Brent and Jayden’s brother, Jordan.
“Jordan Jesse is filling the relay spot,” said Preo, who has also put Brent in the rotation.
Noting a strong core of returners, Preo believes the girls and boys teams can succeed this season.
“All the coaches have high expectations for both our girls and boys teams this season,” he said.
Boys look to stay in upper half
In last year’s SLC meet, the Panthers finished third behind perennial champion Lake Geneva Badger and second place Westosha Central, and seeks to improve this season.
Among the boys’ leaders are Poco, a sprinter who ran in relays and contributed in the long jump.
Poco, who qualified on two relay teams, the 400-meter and 1,600-meter, reached the podium with a sixth place finish in the 1,600 relay at last year’s state meet.
The 1,600 relay team included Cieslak, who competed in the 400 meter dash last year, and Schrader. But, the Panthers look to Jordan Jesse to offset the loss of Jayden Jesse.
Poco and his relay team established school records in some relay events last season.
In the long jump, Poco compiled six top five finishes in eight meets, including first place at the SLC relays. He also produced a personal best 19-feet-10 inches in a sixth place effort at the Z-Invite.
While Cieslak contributed on nine first place relay squads as a junior, he excelled in sprints, where he placed first at three of six meets in the 400-meter dash.
Aside from his top placements, he had a personal best 50.91 seconds in the 400 dash to start his junior season at the Tom Burger Team Invite, where he finished second.
Offering stability in distance races are senior Ryan Ott, who had seven top 10 finishes in both the 1,600 and 3,200 run, and sophomore Jordan Paulsen, an honorable mention cross country runner.
“We have many strong runners on the boys team this year,” said Preo.
For field events, the Panthers look to seniors Gunnar Johnson and Jake Raiman,
Johnson, a triple jumper who finished fifth in last year’s SLC meet, started his season with a personal best 40-feet-6 1/2 inches at the Kenosha County Indoor Championships.
Also, Johnson had a personal best in the long jump, leaping to 18-10 at the same meet.
Meanwhile, Raiman placed among the top five in seven meets in the pole vault, where he notched a personal best 12-feet to finish third in regionals, qualifying him for sectionals.
In addition to Raiman and the team’s state qualifiers, senior returner Jason Tucknott reached sectionals in the pole vault.
Martin anchors Lady Panthers
Martin, a school record-holder in four events, including two relay teams, returns for her senior season.
The senior, who qualified for state in the 400 dash and 1,600 relay, started her season with first place finishes in both the 200 and 400 dash at the Kenosha County Indoor Championships.
Martin’s 1,600 relay teammates, Rachel Kostrova and Julia Shurtleff are also back for another season.
Kostrova, a sprinter, qualified for sectionals in the 200 dash after she placed third at regionals as a junior.
Entering her senior season, Kostrova added a distance event, placing second in the 800 run at the Kenosha County Indoor Championships.
Joining the three relay teammates, in place of Alter, are Gretta Cieslak, freshman Tara Nopenz and sophomore Alana Bell.
Meanwhile, in field events, juniors Sam Serak and Julissa Scott offer a one-two punch in the high jump, where both finished among the top five in last year’s SLC meet.
Serak, whose personal best 5-2 came at the SLC meet, finished in the top five at six of seven meets, including first place at the Janesville Parker Invite.
For Scott, she placed among the top five in six of her 10 meets, and like Serak, she also produced a personal best 5-2 in the SLC meet.
Scott qualified for sectionals after she placed fourth in the WIAA Division 1 regional.
Another returner is senior Kristen Carlson, a sectional qualifier in the triple jump, where she finished first in two of seven meets last year.
Carlson recorded a personal best 34-4.5 at the SLC meet, where she placed second.