easton photo 11-8

Caleb Easton finished eighth at the WIAA Division 1 state meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids, leading Middleton to a record margin of victory in the boys race. 

MURRAY SCHUKAR, FOR THE STATE JOURNAL

What made Middleton junior Caleb Easton part of WIAA state cross country history last month wasn’t a “me” thing.

It was an “us” thing.

With Easton leading the way, the Cardinals earned the largest margin of victory that the state meet has ever seen. Middleton scored 76 points to win the Division 1 boys title, and runner-up Stevens Point totaled 177.

In winning the school’s second state title and first in 25 years, the Cardinals placed three runners among the top 11 individual finishers. Easton led the way with an eighth-place finish, covering the 5,000-meter course at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids in 16 minutes, 2.01 seconds.

As a result, Easton — who also won the Big Eight Conference individual title — has been named the 2017 Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone All-Area Athlete of the Year in cross country.

“This was a good, team-oriented race,” Easton said after Middleton won the DeForest sectional. “We are into the team thing. We go out with intentions of really making each other better. It has definitely helped us.”

Easton had strong role models to follow, as in his first two years, the Cardinals were led by Perrin Hagge (now at Princeton) and Gus Newcomb (now at Colorado).

“I was ready to take a step after losing Perrin two years ago and Gus from last year,” Easton said. “I thought to myself, ‘It’s my turn to step it up for the team and help us get as many points as possible.’ It’s awesome.”

Teammates Michael Madoch (a junior) and Sam Jaeger (a senior) joined Easton on the seven-member first team. Also making the cut were Monona Grove junior James Giftos, Watertown senior William Kitzhaber, Madison La Follette senior Josh Freitag and Beaver Dam junior Cade Ferron.

Coach of the Year: Brian Finnel’s Middleton team trailed just behind Madison West in the coaches’ state rankings for much of the season, but leapfrogged the Regents in the conference meet and kept the pedal to the metal throughout the postseason.

As a result of that big finish, Finnel has been named the All-Area Coach of the Year.

“It’s been 25 years (since the last title); this is a big accomplishment for the whole program,” Finnel said after the state meet.

“It’s been in the works for the last couple years. This team has been getting better and better. … They came out and tore it up today. To win by 101 points, that is insane.”

First team

Athlete of the Year: Caleb Easton, jr., Middleton. Easton finished eighth in the WIAA Division 1 state meet in 16 minutes, 3 seconds (5,000 meters) after winning the Big Eight Conference title in 15:59.

Cade Ferron, jr., Beaver Dam: The Badger North Conference individual champion (16:46) ran to a 17th-place finish at Division 1 state (16:22).

Josh Freitag, sr., Madison La Follette: Finished 16th at Division 1 state (16:22) after earning a third-place finish in the Big Eight meet (16:10).

James Giftos, jr., Monona Grove: Led the Silver Eagles to a fourth-place finish at state, taking 13th individually in 16:10. Ran to third place in the Badger South Conference meet (16:38).

Sam Jaeger, sr., Middleton: Gave Middleton a third runner in the top 11 at the state meet, finishing 11th in 16:08. Also took fourth in the Big Eight meet (16:13).

William Kitzhaber, sr., Watertown: Won the Badger South individual title (16:25) and finished 15th in the Division 1 state race (16:19).

Michael Madoch, jr., Middleton: Earned a 10th-place finish at Division 1 state (16:07) after finishing second behind Easton in the Big Eight race (16:08).

Second team

Spencer Currie, sr., Deerfield/Cambridge; Charlie Ellenbecker, sr., Monona Grove; Ash Francis, jr., Sun Prairie; Drake Ingold, sr., Monroe; Max Loetscher, jr., Madison East; Tanner Maier, sr., Lodi; Andrew Pahnke, jr., McFarland.

Honorable mention

Reed Anderson, jr., Monona Grove; Gerrit Baker, sr., Dodgeville/Mineral Point; Bryan Bloomquist, fr., Janesville Craig; Colin Green, jr., Madison Country Day/Abundant Life; Tyler Jones, jr., Portage; Joseph Kehoe, sr., Sun Prairie; Henry Keith, so., Dodgeville/Mineral Point; Aaron Letcher, sr., Madison West; Eli Kemna, jr., McFarland; Ryan Nelson, jr., Jefferson; Erik Neunninghoff, jr., Madison West; Tyler Punzel, sr., Lakeside Lutheran; Jack Rader, sr., Middleton; Elias Ritzke, so., Poynette.

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Wisconsin State Journal prep sports editor Art Kabelowsky has traversed the state to cover sports while working for daily papers in Fort Atkinson, Racine, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Baraboo.