Capping a strong year in Mercer sports, the track team left the final meet of the year - the WIAA state meet in La Crosse - not with one title but with two in Sydney Thompson's shot put and discus dual.
"I believe it was an outstanding season for our program, probably the best in decades," head coach Bob Schenk said.
Here are five storylines from Mercer's recently completed season:
Defending state champion
Entering her senior season, Sydney Thompson had the pressure of trying to defend her WIAA Division 3 shot put title.
She did that and then some.
"Sydney had the pressure of repeating as the state shot put champion and was on top of the leader boards from the start," Schenk said. "She stayed over 40 feet consistently and I knew that she was going to get a break through very soon. Finally she threw a school record at Hurley in May and we knew that she was on the right track for a big finish."
Another goal of Thompson's in addition to the shot put was the discus, an event she finished second at state in the previous two years.
"The discus was a different story," Schenk said. "We very seldom had the chance to throw in practice because of the weather and Sydney was suffering from tendinitis in her throwing arm that was painful when she threw the discus. One day before we left for a meet we went out and threw and she had a great series with throws in the 140' range and I knew she had a chance to do big things the remainder of the year."
Thompson managed to sneak away with the discus title after a tie, resulting in her second best throw determining her the victor.
"When the defending state champion fouled all of her prelims in the discus, we knew the door was open and she took advantage of it," Schenk said. "There were some issues with form that were worked out and she began throwing mid 130s every meet. The same girl was runnerup in the shot last year and failed to make the finals this year. You have to have the right frame of mind and be good (and lucky) to win two titles."
More state qualifiers
In addition to Thompson, the Tigers had two other state qualifiers - Aubrey Schoeneman and Tyler Bianga - both in the shot put.
"I had coached my son and daughter and both of them made it to state in high school on the throws," Schenk said. "I never would have guessed that I would be coaching my granddaughter (Schoeneman) at state 20 years later. Aubrey worked hard and did a lot of extra work that paid off by earning a state trip as a freshman."
Bianga, in addition to making the state meet, broke the Mercer school record in the shot put.
"Tyler was determined to break the school record in the shot put and finally did it with a 50-7 throw at Hurley and becoming conference champion in the shot and discus," Schenk said. "I never would have guessed that would happen when he came out as freshman. He got nailed in the head with a discus as a freshman but from there, it was all good. The first 50-foot thrower in Mercer history and his mother, Cindy Bianga, was one of our assistant coaches so she got to enjoy her son competing at state, too."
It was a strong season across the board for the team, with each individual improving drastically.
"Despite the bad weather, almost every boy and girl posted career bests in their events," Schenk said. "We made strong showings in the conference meet (second place) and scored very well in regionals and sectionals."
The team traveled all over Wisconsin to compete, due to its lack of facilities.
"We traveled from the top of the state (Port Wing) to the bottom (Kenosha) to compete," Schenk said. "Because we don't have training facilities for anything but the throws, we needed to get in as many meets as possible."
Due to no facilities, several events were short of practice when meets came around, particularly the hurdles.
"Our hurdlers never ran over more than two hurdles all year except in a meet, but Caitlyn Hiller made the sectional finals in both events," Schenk said. "We couldn't practice exchanges because we don't have a track. I had two great assistant coaches, Robyn Schoeneman, my daughter, and Cindy Bianga, a former state qualifier from Mercer."
Small numbers yield strong success
Despite sending three athletes to the state meet, the Mercer track team had around 20 members, which totals about half the school's population.
"We had 21 total participants out of 40 total kids in school," Schenk said. "We have some good throwers coming back with Sydney's sister Bailey returning along with Aubrey and Billie Botes who also broke the 30-foot barrier this year."
Schenk said upcoming athletes will keep Mercer strong for years.
"There are some very good freshmen coming up and the numbers should remain strong for years to come," he said. "Everybody has fun and like one of the boys said, 'I love track, everybody gets along so well.' It was a social as well as an athletic event for every meet we went to. I loved it."
In addition to Mercer natives, foreign exchange students impacted the Tiger's team throughout the season.
"Our foreign exchange students came in and contributed well," Schenk said. "Rebby Spagnuolo won conference and regionals in the high jump, learned how to triple jump and ran relays. Jovan Pavlovic had no idea what the discus was, but placed in conference and regionals."
Schenk's last season
Schenk left the state meet in his last time coaching the Tigers, as this season was his final one.
"I knew my coaching career couldn't last forever," he said. "Forty-three years is a long time. To have it end like this is more than I ever could have hoped for."
But while he won't be leading the Tigers anymore, he's sure he'll be back in some capacity.
"I am sure that I will be helping out the field events in the future because all will go well with my cardiac surgery, but now it is time to turn things over to Robyn and Cindy who will do a great job."
Schenk applauded not only the track team, but Mercer's other accomplishments as well this season.
"Quite a year with a regional championship and sectional final appearance for our girls in volleyball and basketball and the first football wins in history for Mercer," he said. "After coaching over 1,200 volleyball matches and over 500 track meets, it is time to lessen the stress and do little more relaxing."
Ben Gauger may be reached via email at email@example.com.