Wildcat cross country coach Pat Lorentz had high hopes both the boys' and girls' teams would earn trips to state this season. That's why he described his feelings after Saturday's sectional meet in Tomah as bittersweet.
The Wildcat girls won their third straight sectional title to punch their return ticket to state. But an injury to senior captain Salvador Bastien resulted in the boys coming up one place short of qualifying as a team.
The boys did get two runners through -- co-captains Mitch Lenneman and Shae Taylor -- but their final team total of 85 points left them eight points behind Eau Claire Memorial for a team berth.
The girls, meanwhile, ran away with the team title with a score of 38. Hudson was second with 70 to also advance.
"It was a very bittersweet day for me as a head coach," Lorentz said. "I was delighted with the girls' performance and results, but heartbroken for my men's squad."
Lorentz said he found out the day after the Big Rivers Conference Meet that Bastien had suffered a stress fracture in his foot that put an end to his senior season.
"When I heard the news my heart sank to my feet, one for Salvador, a senior captain who has shown probably more growth as an athlete than anyone I have worked with in my coaching tenure, and for the rest of the men's team, as I knew we would be fighting an uphill battle," Lorentz said. "When we lost Salvador it put a lot of pressure on the remaining athletes."
The coach said sophomore Trent Powell bore the brunt of the pressure by being asked to stay with a very talented senior from Eau Claire Memorial.
"I wanted them to know what it was going to take, but at the same time I knew it was asking things that were completely unfair to ask out of the athletes," Lorentz said. "It should have never come to that, and I still feel incredibly bad for having to put Trent in that spot."
Powell was the third Wildcat across the finish line, behind his two state-qualifying teammates and in 15th place overall, with a time of 17 minutes, 2 seconds. Lenneman finished sixth overall with a time of 16:40 while Taylor finished eighth in 16:46. Tom Ramquist posted a 25th place time of 17:30 and Jacob Putzier placed 31st in 17:34 to account for the Wildcats' team score.
Bastien's younger brother Sterling finished 42nd in 17:58 and Curtis Hanson was 43rd in 17:59 to round out the Wildcat lineup.
"Proud doesn't even come close to summing up how I feel about the men's performance on Saturday and on their season in general," Lorentz said. "This group of men did things that no River Falls men's team has done before, such as winning the Roy Griak Invite and a BRC title. They will always be a very special group of athletes to me."
There wasn't nearly as much drama over on the girls' side, as five Wildcats finished in the top 12 to help River Falls to an easy victory.
Annie Frisbie paced the Cats with a second place time of 15:03 and Paige Skorseth was fifth in 15:24 while Aislinn Pomfret finished ninth in 15:37, Ali Casey was tenth in 15:40 and Natalie Powell finished 12th in 15:43.
"It was pretty clear early on that the women had no intention of letting any team in the section think they were even close to us," Lorentz said. "I was really impressed with Frisbie's race. I would say she has a pretty advanced racing strategy, one more fitting of a senior girl than a freshman. I am looking forward to working with her for another three years."
Lorentz said Pomfret and Casey also looked good.
"I think Aislinn was ready to really throw down the last 600 meters or so, but I told her just to sit back," he said. "If she is feeling good at state on Saturday she will have the green light all the way."
Kylee McLain finished 37th with a time of 16:41 and Hanna Gribble was 59th in 17:30 to round out the Wildcat lineup.
Lorentz said he expects good things from the Wildcat girls, who are ranked 11th in the state in Division 1 going into Saturday's state meet. The Cats finished fourth at state a year ago.
"I honestly feel like our girls have been under ranked all season," he said. "I don't think teams outside of this region realize how good our girls are. If we have a good day at state, we are going to blow away our current ranking."
The coach said he's also excited about the two River Falls' boys representatives.
"I am thrilled with the fact that two of our men will be representing River Falls at the state meet," he said. "Lenneman and Taylor are very fitting representatives in the fact that they are both captains and have led one of the best men's teams in River Falls history."
The girls' Division 1 race is set for 12:20 p.m. at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids while the Division 1 boys' race will start at 2:20 p.m.