AMHERST — They all want to win. And for three local athletes and competitors headed to the state tournament in cross country, it’s clear that racing next to some of their fiercest competition all year helped each one push herself to be the best.
Amherst senior Alissa Niggemann finished in the top spot at sectionals with the fastest qualifying time in Division 3 at 19 minutes, 11.7 seconds. Following closely behind was the defending state champion, Marion junior Delaney Greene-Gretzinger, who had a time of 19:12.7, the second best in Division 3.
Iola-Scandinavia sophomore Erika Kisting placed third with a time of 19:21.2 and junior Leighten Fischer placed fourth coming in at 20:10.5.
Niggemann, Kisting and Fischer have raced against each other in six of 12 meets this season, finishing virtually neck and neck each time.
“Running with Leighten makes me run harder because that is what you do when you are a team, you push each other to do your very best,” Kisting said. “Running against Delaney and Alissa throughout the year has helped me a lot with my time and running knowledge because they are well experienced runners.”
All three will be front and center for the WIAA Division 3 state meet Saturday at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. Their final race against each other could very well determine who they will be calling a state champion later that day.
“We have all improved tremendously this past year which just makes each of us work harder to race against each other,” Niggemann said. “We have all become better competitors because of this, and as the saying goes, ‘You’re only as good as your competition’.”
Niggemann, who is making her fourth trip to state, is running the best times of her career. Her improvement has not only been from season to season, but this year from meet to meet. Starting out the season barely breaking 21 minutes, the Falcons’ top runner achieved a personal record of 19:02.5 at the Central Wisconsin Conference meet this year.
“Alissa set out to win state this year, and since day one of practice she has done nothing but work hard to achieve that goal,” Amherst coach Don Rosene said.
One of the things the first year coach has changed in Niggemann’s routine is having her practice with the boys team, which he says has been more appropriate and beneficial for her training and success.
“It has pushed me to another level and the boys team to another level. Running with the boys has taught me to run more aggressively,” Niggemann said. “To be honest, I wouldn’t be as good as I am right now without them.”
Kisting has shown a promising beginning to her career, making back to back trips to state in her sophomore year. Fischer also improved by jumping 10 spots from her freshman year showing at state to her sophomore year, which means if her trend continues, she could be in the top 10 finishers on Saturday.
Diving right into the role of getting the Falcons runners to state again this year was another first year coach, Tom Anderson.
“Of course my first thought was ‘don’t screw this up!’ when I became coach about five days before our first practice,” Anderson said. “I did a lot of reading, but most importantly I talked to former Iola-Scandinavia cross country coaches John Turba and Jon Novak. The goal has been focused on getting their best efforts at conference, sectionals and state.”
Both coaches say their girls are race ready and they are crossing their fingers for the best outcome.
As they prepare for Saturday, the trio says their workouts will change a bit to get them ready, but their race day routines will stay the same.
“I do have one ritual that I do, and that would be ‘playing trainer’ and taping Erika’s toes before every race,” Fischer said.
As for Kisting, being surrounded by her team is where she finds comfort before the competitiveness sinks in.
“The high school girls and guys team usually walks the course with Coach Opperman, which helps us show where we need that extra motivation and push. Being surrounded by a team that feels like family is what makes this sport so unique.”
Nina N. Salazar can be reached at 715-345-2253, or on email at [email protected] Find her on Twitter as @Ninansalazar