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Welcoming Shorewood CC team claims eighth state title

Runners step up in critical roles during boys race

Oct. 30, 2012

Shorewood - All are welcome on the Shorewood boys cross country team.

The intellectuals, the gamers, the former football players. Those who can run a five-minute mile, and those who can complete only 10-minute miles. Even those for which completing a mile is a challenge can take part. They, too, contribute and become part of a great running nation, a terrific legacy of success and camaraderie one of which took another bold step on the road toward history Saturday, when someone who wasn't expected to take part stepped up and played his role.

A part that was pivotal in the Greyhounds program winning an amazing eighth WIAA Division 2 boys state championship this century on a hard and fast Ridges Golf Course layout in Wisconsin Rapids.

"It was very interesting," said Dan Vrobel, who on the morning of the race, was an alternate, but because one teammate had issues getting ready to compete that day, coach Dominic Newman made a tough decision and called upon Vrobel to fill in at the last minute.

"I wasn't expecting to run, but I guess when the team needed me to run, I had to run. And they all expected me to do well. I guess it just shows the depth we have in this program.

"I had some nerves going into the race, but then the gun went off I just told myself 'There's a job to do, the team needs me.' "

And he did it well. He finished as the team's critical fifth-runner, taking 27th place in the team standings in an impressive 5,000-meter time of 16:53.53. And at the clogged and chaotic finish, he even gained a critical step on a runner from team runner-up Freedom.

His effort helped the Greyhounds turn in an 80-point total in the 16-team field, as Freedom was second with 91, and the Greyhounds' Milwaukee-area rival Wisconsin Lutheran was third with 104.

How important was Vrobel's effort?

"If we had only decided to go with six runners this day," coach Dominic Newman said, "we would have had to count a 37th place finish and that would have tied us for the title (with) Freedom and then we would have lost the tiebreaker.

"… We gathered around him (Vrobel) before the race and we told him that we have faith in you. Even the person he was replacing said 'You can do this!' "

All contribute, all take part.

Senior Alex MacKowski (third runner, 14th in the team standings in 16:38.06)), wasn't on the team two years ago. He was playing football. His well-accomplished runner of a mother urged him to get into better shape after his sophomore year ("She even signed me up for a half-marathon, she didn't mess around," MacKowski said) and so he ran and got brought into the fold.

He got Newman's phone number from some friends and switched over to cross country last fall. He didn't make varsity then, but remained motivated, running all that winter and coming out for track last spring.

"The cross country team was very inclusive and really made me feel welcome," MacKowski said. "I was like the 13th or 14th runner at the end of last year. I had a well-organized summer and came back in good shape."

Waiting for his chance.

On the surface, there shouldn't have been many chances this year. Newman and the Greyhounds were returning six competitors from a team that finished third in state in 2011, but injuries, illness and some falling back by some opened the door for the likes of MacKowski, who stepped into the breach and earned a varsity spot and helped the Greyhounds win Woodland Conference and WIAA sectional titles.

Questions arose early in the campaign and Newman called a midseason team meeting to clear the air.

"I asked the question 'Are we meeting our goals?' " he said, "and, 'is it OK not to meet some of our goals?' But I just went back to my time at (UW) La Crosse where my old coach (Phil Esten) always said 'Better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.' "

The Greyhounds continued to aim high and to hit.

MacKowski admits that state race, in which Shorewood adopted a new strategy of going out more aggressively was "all a blur," but he collected his thoughts afterward.

"I really learned what it means to give 100 percent," he said. "To be standing up on that state podium (with the gold trophy) is something I won't ever forget. It's very cool."

"Dom (Newman) changed my life. I never imagined myself running. To go from a basketball and football guy to becoming a successful runner, for my teammates and Dom, I will always be grateful."

So was his mother, as she sent Newman an effusive email afterward.

All are welcome, all are part of the success.

Junior Charlie Stahl is the acknowledged intellectual of the group, said Newman, but he's also a competitor. He has served as lead runner for most of the season and did not let down in that role at state, staying hard with the lead pack the whole race and finishing an impressive fourth overall (third in the team standings) in the second-fastest time a Greyhounds runner has ever come up with in 15:59.65.

"I saw Charlie with about 400 meters to go and he was sixth, but he really kicked it in and finished strong," Newman said. "He's only the second person we've had break 16 minutes up there (the great Peter Drews owns the fastest state time ever for Shorewood)."

And as it turns out, this team takes second to none in Shorewood's storied history.

Newman likes to keep meticulous records and keeps an imaginary race sheet of all the times and places Shorewood runners have finished in at state over the years, comparing one team to another.

Like a proud father, he won't pick a favorite group, but he does note this: "This team would have beaten all the other seven (champions)," he said. "Including the first, the standard-bearer (the Tim Kenney-coached 2000 group). That's just amazing."

And it was largely due to the team dynamic.

"Each year is a little different," Newman said. "This is actually the biggest team we've ever had (36 all total) and it's arranged in such a way that it accepts all types of ability levels. The hard-core runners, the 20-mile a week kids. We even have kids with Downs (Syndrome) and autism. It's just an accepting group, a studious group.

"A good group."

And state champions once again

At a glance

Crown the eighth for the program

WIAA STATE DIVISION 2 MEET, WISCONSIN RAPIDS, OCT. 27

TEAM SCORES (top 10): Shorewood 80, Freedom 91, Wisconsin Lutheran 104, Monroe, 147, La Crosse Aquinas 184, Little Chute 202, Dodgeville/Mineral Point 206, Green Bay Notre Dame 234, Valders 274, Northwestern 276

SHOREWOOD SCORESHEET: Stahl, third (fourth overall), 15:59.65; Jacob Goldberg, 13th (18th), 16:37.39; MacKowski, 14th (19th) 16:38.06; Sam Kuhlmann, 23rd (32nd), 16:48.82; Vrobel, 27th (38th), 16:53.53; Jack Mauer, 37th (53rd), 17:15.3; and John Papke, 48th (77th), 17:33.82

SHOREWOOD STATE CHAMPIONS: 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2012 (fourth most in state history)

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