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PHOTOS: Cats shine on state stage

Junior Sam Krueger clears the bar at 11-feet during the girls' pole vault competition at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships Saturday, June 3, in La Crosse. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 7
Senior Samuel Fritz races down the straightaway during the boys' 200 meter dash preliminaries Friday, June 2, at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Crosse. Fritz finished sixth in his heat and 19th overall with a time of 22.87 seconds. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 7
The Wildcat girls' 4x400 meter relay team of sophomore Sarah Langlois, left, senior Alaina Syverson, senior Tessa Rayne and freshman Emily Banitt are all smiles after setting a new school record in the event at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships Friday, June 2, in La Crosse. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 7
Senior Tessa Rayne crosses the finish line to give the Wildcat girls' 4x400 meter relay team a new school record time of 3 minutes, 56.49 seconds in the preliminaries of the event at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships Friday, June 2, in La Crosse. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 7
Freshman Payton Flood runs the first lap of the opening leg of the boys' 4x800 meter relay Friday, June 3, at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Crosse. Flood, sophomore Jared Syverson, senior Will Bohnert and sophomore Niko Zoller combined for a 21st place time of 8 minutes, 16.73 seconds. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 7
Senior Will Bohnert takes the baton from sophomore Jared Syverson for the third leg of the boys' 4x800 meter relay at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Crosse Friday, June 2. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 7
River Falls senior Alaina Syverson, center, waits for the baton from sophomore Sarah Langlois for the third leg of the girls 4x400 meter relay finals at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships Saturday, June 3, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in La Crosse. Syverson, Langlois, freshman Emily Banitt and senior Tessa Rayne set a new school record in the event in Friday's preliminaries with a time of 3 minutes, 56.49 seconds before placing ninth in Saturday's finals. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 7 / 7

They already earned the reputation as a record-setting relay team, but Friday, June 2, at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Cosse they put an exclamation mark on that title.

Freshman Emily Banitt, sophomore Sarah Langlois, senior Alaina Syverson and senior Tessa Rayne knocked three-quarters of a second off the previous school record in the 4x400 meter dash by posting a time of 3 minutes, 56.94 seconds in their preliminary heat. All four ran lifetime-best splits.

The time put the Wildcats into Saturday's finals where they finished ninth with a still-blistering time of 3:59.4. The team from Hamilton won the state title with a time of 3:51.66.

Earlier this season Banitt, Langlois, Syverson and Rayne set the Big Rivers Conference record with a time of 4:05.39. They qualified for state with a time of 4:02.15 at the sectional meet May 25 in Wausau.

"What an accomplishment for the girls to break an already fast relay record," head coach Colleen Sowa noted. "It was a great way to end another successful season."

Syverson and Rayne helped set the previous school record of 3:57.69, along with Rachel Shew and Annie Wagner, at the 2015 WIAA State Meet. Shew is now an assistant coach with the Wildcats while Wagner is competing at the NCAA Division I level at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Junior Samantha Krueger also made history over the weekend by becoming just the second River Falls athlete to compete at the state level in three different sports in the same academic year.

Krueger was a member of the Wildcat volleyball team that reached the state tournament for the first time in school history last fall before winning her second straight title in the floor exercise at the WIAA State Gymnastics Championships in March. She earned a trip to the state track and field championships in the pole vault and tied her lifetime best by clearing 11-feet to finish 12th.

The only other Wildcat to qualify for state in three sports in the same year was 2005 graduate Katherine (Penton) Robinson, who competed at swimming and diving, gymnastics, and track and field her senior year. She was inducted into the River Falls Wildcat Hall of Fame in 2016.

Banitt also made her state debut in the 100 meter dash over the weekend as well and finished 24th overall with a time of 13.19 seconds after running 13.09 at the sectional meet.

The Wildcat boys were also well-represented last weekend by senior Sam Fritz in the 200 meter dash and the 4x800 meter relay team of freshman Payton Flood, sophomore Jared Syverson, senior Will Bohnert and sophomore Niko Zoller.

Fritz punched his ticket to state with a lifetime-best time of 22.59 seconds at the Wausau Sectional, finished 19th in Friday's preliminaries with a time of 22.87 seconds while Flood, Jared Syverson, Bohnert and Zoller placed 21st in Saturday's 4x800 meter relay final in 8:16.73. They qualified with a season-best time of 8:12.07 at the sectional meet.

"All of our athletes competed to the best of their ability and we are so proud of them all," Sowa said.

This year's WIAA State Track and Field Championships boasted a two-day attendance total of 17,789. Sowa said it was a great way for seniors Alaina Syverson, Rayne, Fritz and Bohnert to end their high school careers and gave a shout-out to all the Wildcat seniors for their hard work this season.

"We had girls and boys who competed at both levels, JV and varsity, and no matter which level, every day they came to track and field with a passion to do well, discipline to get things done and determination to get better," Sowa said. "They were great leaders to have on the team and all the coaches appreciate all the dedication they have brought to the program. Looking back on the season, I remember how much the seniors made me laugh and smile. They all had such fun-loving, joyful spirits."

Sowa said she and the rest of the coaches are already looking forward to next season.

"We have some superstars that will be returning," she noted. "We are very excited about the potential of our underclassman. We are hoping to be in the hunt with some of the top teams in the BRC next season."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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