The Wilmot Union High School girls 1,600-meter relay team stamped its ticket to the WIAA Division 1 state meet May 31-June 1 at Veterans Memorial Stadium at UW-La Crosse (from left) Teresse Nunez, Caylee Pearson, Coach Trey Bell, Gretta Cieslak and Katlin Kovacek.

By Jason Arndt
Staff Writer

The Wilmot Union High School track and field program has developed a strong reputation for sending relay teams to the WIAA Division 1 state meet at Veterans Memorial Stadium on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus.

Since 2015, the program has qualified 10 relay teams, including four on the girls side.

On May 23 at the Lake Geneva Badger Sectional, the Panthers added their 11th after the girls 1,600-meter relay team finished third to qualify for the state meet, which is scheduled Friday and Saturday.

Sun Prairie accounted for 134 points to win as a team while Wilmot placed 14th at 18 points.

The 1,600 relay consisting of senior Gretta Cieslak and juniors Teresse Nunez, Katlin Kovacek and Caylee Pearson registered in at 4 minutes, 8:51 seconds to move forward.

Panthers co-coach Trey Bell, who has played witness to the recent success, said the finish is a testament to the program.

“These kids have been willing to put forth the work and effort to go through the progressive training as needed and to peak at the right time,” he said. “We were fortunate to have a good group of kids over the last four years that were really committed to taking that extra step.”

The four girls join alternates Tara Nopenz, a junior, and sophomore Veda Gross. Making a state appearance is nothing new for most of them.

A year ago, Nunez, Cieslak, Pearson and Nopenz advanced in the same event, which marked the fourth straight year Wilmot has sent a 1,600 relay team.

“Teresse, Caylee and Gretta, those three have been to state since their freshman year, whether it be as an alternate or actually running,” Bell said.

Cieslak, according to Bell, has shown leadership as the relay team’s lone senior.

Since Cieslak’s freshman season, she has worked alongside Southern Lakes Conference Athlete of the Year Maddie Martin, who runs at Division 1 UW-Milwaukee, Rebecca Alter and Rachel Kostrova. Alter, who competes in relays at UW-Stevens Point, recently helped a Pointers squad win a WIAC championship.

“(Gretta) has been an amazing leader. I cannot say enough about what she does,” Bell said. “The four-year span that she has had, she had the experience of running with Maddie Martin, Becca Alter, Rachel Kostrova,” he said.

“She took those experiences and she is turning that into her own leadership style, and the kids are really grabbing onto that.”

Kovacek joined the fray this season after spending most of her career in hurdles, but she has transitioned into individual sprint and relay events as a junior.

“I thought her best opportunity to grow and progress is as a sprinter, so we made that transition,” Bell said. “This year, she has been more than exceptional.”

Senior boys runner Alex Wank will join the four to six girls at the state meet.

Mukwonago won the boys team title with 150.5 points. Wilmot, which produced 17 points, notched 14th.

Wank makes mark
Wank makes his first career state appearance and qualified in the 800 run, where he finished third, recording a career best 1:59.05.

Bell noted Wank, who ran for Wilmot’s conference- winning cross country team last fall, spent the start of the season running in the 1,600 and 3,200 before making the move.

Working with cross country and track distance coach Bill Dinegan, Bell said the plan was to start Wank in distance events to get him more endurance.

“I think Bill did a great job on the things that were needed early on, and then coach (Mark) Busko and myself, we really tried to gear in on some of the other trainings with Alex and he has been receptive to that,” Bell said.

In the 800, Wank has won three of six meets, including a regional championship in Elkhorn on May 20.

“He is the epitome of someone you want to work with,” Bell said.

However, the Panthers will be without senior Cullen Ketterhagen.

Ketterhagen, who reached state in back-to-back seasons in the hurdles, injured his hamstring while competing in the long jump at the May 14 conference meet in Union Grove.

“It was one of the most painful things that I had to watch for a young man,” Bell said. “Cullen Ketterhagen did everything anyone could ask him to do over the last four years.

Since the injury, Ketterhagen spent several days in the training room in hopes of building strength for regionals, but it was not enough to move forward.

 
 

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