By Troy Sparks
Sports Correspondent

Last year’s performances from the Wilmot Union High School boys’ cross-country team doesn’t count from one person’s point of view.

Entering the 2018 campaign, the runners start with a clean slate to prove they can contend in the Southern Lakes Conference and in the post-season.

For Bill Dinegan, in his 13th year as head coach, talent alone won’t accomplish the two main goals of placing in the top five in conference and qualifying for state as one of two teams in sectionals.

“For the boys, it is the best team coming into the season that I have had,” Dinegan said. “On paper, we have the fastest times of returning runners in the conference. I remind the boys that last year doesn’t count for this year. If each runner fulfills his potential, there is no reason that we couldn’t win conference and compete for a top spot at sectionals. This has not been done in this century, but it will take a lot of work to make those dreams a reality.”

The Panthers return all-conference runners in sophomore Kody Molitor, senior Jordan Paulsen and junior Blake Zager. Junior Joe Banish and seniors Kyle Diedrich and Alex Wank have improved, according to Dinegan and will be expected to make strong contributions to the team.

Molitor finished 16th in sectionals last year with a time of 17 minutes, 13.7 seconds.

If Wank can stay healthy in his senior year, it will be a bonus for Wilmot.

“Alex Wank has been our most consistent performer in practice and at meets last year,” Dinegan said. “He had some nagging injuries that limited his performance at the end of the year. If he can stay healthy, he could be an impact runner as a senior.”

Wank placed 44th in sectionals last year (17:59.3). Dinegan said that Zager should have a breakout season. He was the top finisher for Wilmot at their first meet.

“Our other all-conference runners will need to repeat (last year’s performances) in order for us to compete,” Dinegan said. “Junior Joe Banish has shown tremendous improvement and could be a big surprise by the end of the season. Kyle Diedrich has recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him during track season and is running better than ever.”

Junior Tara Nopenz is the returning top runner for the girls. She finished 10th at last year’s sectionals (21:43.9).

Nopenz will lead a Panthers team consisting of sophomores Abby Strother, Isabelle Stypla and Rylee Thiel. Juniors Barbara Cooper and Presley Hangos and senior Katie Strother are also in the varsity lineup. “Tara remains the fastest girl but will need to improve her times in order to place at conference,” Dinegan said. “She has tremendous potential but will need to consistently work hard to realize it.”

Waterford and Badger are the two teams to beat in the conference, according to Dinegan.

“Waterford graduated their best runners but will have talented newcomers to replace them,” he said. “Badger edged us out for second place last year and graduated the most dominant runner in the conference for the past several years (Gustavo Gordillo). They seem to have an endless supply, so I’m sure they will be there at the end. Westosha boys’ team had a down year last season, so I look for them to return strong.

“Badger should be the team to beat on the girls’ side. Westosha and Waterford will be pushing them at the end.”


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