Rhinelander High School standout harrier, Alayna Franson closed her high school cross country season on Saturday and finished in 11th place out 150 Division 2 runners. The 2017 WIAA State Meet was held at Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
It marked Franson's best finish at state, in which she ran three times in her four-years of varsity running. As a freshman she charted her fasted state time of 19:39, but ran in Division 1 and finished in 49th. In 2016 in Division 2, Franson finished 14th overall, and improved three positions from last season.
Last year Franson made her goal of earning a top-20 finish, but in her final season, she set her goals high and wanted to medal with a top-10 finish. Going into the race, Franson already had an edge knowing the course and running at state twice before, but she still faced a few challenges.
"My biggest challenge going into Saturday, was not knowing the competition that would be there," said Franson. "I hadn't followed up on the times of the other girls in the other sectionals, so I kind of went into the race not know where I would rank."
Despite the challenges, Franson recorded her best career finish at the WIAA State Meet, and was only know position shy of medaling. She clocked in with the fastest Great Northern Conference runner time of 19 minutes, 47.66 seconds. Which was only 6.75 seconds behind freshman Jordan Koepke of Martin Luther, who earned the final medal in 10th.
In the beginning of the race, Franson got a good jump and stuck with a large pack in the top-20. From that point, she improved to 14th by the one-mile mark and finished her first mile with a time of 6:02. Once again Franson climbed in positions to 11th by the two-mile mark. Her second mile she finished with a time of 6:32.
Franson made her way to the top-10 for a short period of time, but Koepke had the last kick and passed Franson in the final half-mile of the race. Franson finished her final mile with a time of 7:15 to finish 11th.
The Division 2 girls' individual champion went to junior Dana Feven of Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, who set the pace at 18:309.68. Feven was also one of only two D2 harriers to crack the 19-minute mark. The only other was sophomore Laura Beghin of Wisconsin Dells who clocked in at 18:52.95.
On the day, Franson also beat all her sectional rivals but one; sophomore Katelyn Kitzinger of Marinette. Kitzinger finished in ninth (19:39.36). And GNC rival, sophomore Ashley Peterson of Lakeland started strong and was in seventh at the first mile, but couldn't keep the pace and fell behind and dropped to 15th in the second mile. Peterson struggled in the final mile and finished 40th (20:37.84). It was also the first time Franson beat Peterson all season, and her second-place finishes played a key role in her drive.
"Finishing runner-up several times this season really did help," noted Franson. "I was really lucky to have had the competition I did, because it really motivated me during workouts to improve my time and work harder to beat the individuals I lost to."
Freedom won the Division 2 girls' state title with 68 points, after earning the Waupaca Sectional the weekend before. Lakeland who earned second in sectionals, finished ninth as a team on Saturday.
The Lakeland boys' and defending Division 2 state champions, finished eighth with 222 points. Valders earned the boys' title with 60 points. Medford boys' finished eighth as a team. Senior Kav Fitzpatrick of the Thunderbirds earned the individual D2 boys' state title with a winning time of 15:52.88.
When Franson finished the race, she had an emotional greeting with teammates, parents, and Coach MJ Laggis and Coach Brittany Haakenson.
"I'm really happy with how I finished on Saturday," Franson said. "Of course it would have been a bonus to get on the podium but I really can't complain. I ran the best race I could and am proud of how it went."
Franson has yet to commit to a college, but had a few college visits including St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minneapolis when she ran at the Roy Griak Invite. Her four-years of hard work and dedication to the RHS cross country program will not be forgotten, as she finishes her high school career with an impressive mark. Franson earned one individual GNC title and three runner-up finishes in the conference as well as made three WIAA state appearances, where she finished her senior season with her best state finish.
Rhinelander High School senior Alayna Franson has qualified for the WIAA State Cross Country Meet for the third time in her four-year high school career. Franson finished in fifth on Saturday's Division 2 Sectional held in Waupaca. She also will be the only harrier to represent the Hodags' next Saturday in Wisconsin Rapids.
Franson finished the 5K course with a time of 20 minutes, 26.55 seconds which was over 30 seconds better than the cutoff. It also marks her second straight year heading back to the WIAA State tournament.
Lakeland sophomore Ashley Peterson and GNC girls' runner of the year also won the sectional champion title. Peterson was the only harrier to crack the 20-minute mark, finishing at 19:56.89.
Medford freshman Alicia Kawa was the only other GNC girl harrier besides Franson and Peterson to earn a ticket to the WIAA State tournament. Kawa finished in seventh place with a time of 20:39.11.
Marinette sophomore Katelyn Kitzinger finished second at 20:05.29. And Freedom took the third and fourth positions (Jaci Hintz 3rd, 20:18.34 and Lauren Vosters 4th,20:24.99).
The lady Hodags finished toward the back of the pack as a team and finished 10th out of the 15-team division. The top-two sectional teams and the top-five individuals not part of the top-two teams qualified for state.
Freedom girls' won the team sectional title with 43 points. Lakeland Union High School girls' edged Medford by 12 points for the runner-up position and final team qualifying position. Mosinee finished fourth (177 points) and Tomahawk placed fifth (187 points) to round out the top-five teams
RHS had one other girl place in the top-20. Senior Anna Sturzl closed her varsity running career with a 17th place finish with a time of 21:32.38. Sturzl missed the state cutoff by about 47 seconds and eight total positions. It was a strong finish for Sturzl who was the seventh fastest GNC runner in the girls' field on Saturday.
Freshman Abbie Henrichs finished in the middle of the pack in 58th for the third best RHS girls' finish with a time of 24:14.39. Sophomore Jenna Younker (70th, 25:01.10), sophomore Valerie Dalka (76th, 25:40.06), freshman Houston Matthwig (86th, 27:15.7), and junior Claire Bowman (94th, 27:57) rounded out the varsity girls' lineup.
On the boys' side of action, Rhinelander finished last in 14th place with 258 points. The Hodags boys' place three harriers in the top-40.
Lakeland senior Kav FitzPatrick earned the individual boys' sectional title, finishing with the top time of 16:35.53. Fellow senior teammate Darius Diver was runner-up at 16:54.1. Medford senior Trey Ulrich finished third and also cracked 17-minutes at 16:59.66.
Medford boys' won the team title with 78 points to upset Lakeland and break the Thunderbirds three consecutive sectional champion title. Lakeland earned second with 89 points. Octono Falls (138 points), Tomahawk (141 points), and New London (145 points) rounded out the top-five boys' teams.
Dual fall athlete, sophomore Daniel Ritchie led the RHS boys' and finished in 25th place with a time of 18:40.09. Not only did Ritchie have the top Hodag boys' time at sectionals, he also played in the RHS boys' soccer regional final match just a few hours later. Ritchie missed qualifying for state by about 55 seconds.
Senior Markus Johnson was the second best Hodag time, cracking 19 minutes with a time of 18:59.39 in his final high school career run finishing 37th. Junior Bridger Flory, in his second race back this season placed 39th at 19:01.88.
Freshmen JC Adams and Jacob Weddle were the final two RHS harrier times which counted toward the team standings. Adams finished 73rd at 20:10.26 and Weddle placed 85th at 21:23.55. Sophomore Konnor Kennedy (86th, 21:54.72) and senior Matt Herman (87th, 22:08.89) rounded out the RHS varsity lineup.
Franson will be the lone Hodag harrier to battle at the 2017 WIAA State Tournament on Saturday. In 2017, Franson finished 14th in D2 at state, and will look to earn a top-10 finish in her final high school cross country race. The D2 girls' race is set to start at 1:20PM at The Ridges golf course in Wisconsin Rapids.
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