5/16/2017 7:24:00 AM Lakeland looks to continue dominance at GNC meet
Ben Gauger/Lakeland Times
Robert Burgess, shown competing in the long jump, will be one of the key athletes in Lakelandís quest for a Great Northern Conference championship today at Mosinee High School.
The Lakeland Union High School track and field team has played the long game all season.
During the regular season, Lakeland head coach Kevin FitzPatrick has managed the lineups in an attempt to rest runners, give inexperienced runners an opportunity to compete and to fit pieces into the puzzle.
With the Great Northern Conference Championship outdoor meet today at Mosinee, it's winning time.
The Lakeland boys' team is in search of its eighth consecutive GNC outdoor championship, while the girls' squad is seeking its sixth win in the last seven years.
"We're going to find a way to win a conference championship for both the boys and the girls," FitzPatrick said. "That may mean some kids do something they haven't done before or done on a regular basis. It may mean taking some kids and kind of taking them out of their comfort zone a little bit. It's going to take a total team effort to make this happen. The one thing I've really learned about our kids at Lakeland is they really are great team players and they'll step up and do what the team needs."
The stiffest competition this season is Medford, which has something Lakeland does not this year: sprinters.
The Thunderbirds dominated the sprints last season, but that's the one area Lakeland is not deep this year.
The T-Birds do, however, have a wealth of talent in most of the other events.
Kav FitzPatrick is an early favorite in distance events after placing second in the 1,600 meters last season. Teammate Noah Bodewes placed second in the 3,200 meters, while Darius Diver and Jack Garcia have both shown flashes in those events recently.
Tyler Carroll won the 300 hurdles last season, but it's teammate Brandt Beukema who is the favorite heading into this year's meet.
Beukema placed second in the 110 hurdles last year and sixth in the 300 hurdles.
The 4x800 relay teams for the boys and girls are ranked atop the state, making both teams big favorites this year.
The boys' team won last year, but is going to have to do it with four new members, which has yet to prove to be a problem.
The girls' team has steamrolled the competition, mixing and matching different combinations with unmatched depth. Rhinelander won the event last season, but only two of the members of that team return.
Carley Hintz placed second in the 800 meters last season, while freshman Aubrey Anderson is a favorite to win the 400. Another freshman, Ashley Peterson is a favorite in the 800.
The depth Lakeland has in runners such as Stephanie Balas, Stephanie Mauzer and Riley Mauzer, could be the difference.
Kevin FitzPatrick is quick to point out it's not the top runners who win meets for the team, it's depth.
Max Wohlleber has proven to do that in a variety of events. Zach Hayes should produce points in the pole vault, as well as Josh Irmick in the shot put and discus.
On the girls' team, Holly Jaeger in the throwing events, along with defending shot put champion Lauren Godfrey. Asucena Boyer and Kaitlin Hayes are also going to be leaned on in the hurdles.
"We have people that should be in the top three in the majority of events," FitzPatrick said. "We're definitely not as deep as we were last year. Last year if you couldn't finish in the top four, you couldn't even get in the meet. Obviously that isn't always how things play out. We have a very strong team this year. We have people we know can win conference titles, people that can be all-conference, but it's finding those other players that are going to score that one point that may be the difference maker. That'll be the key for us."
The GNC meet begins at 4 p.m. today.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.