DEFOREST — Entering the season, expectations were high for the Stoughton girls cross country team.
But all those thoughts became secondary after a two-vehicle crash Sept. 1 left six girls from the program injured — including 14-year-old freshman Emma Sorensen, who died from her injuries on Sept. 7 at UW Health American Family Children’s Hospital.
During Saturday’s DeForest sectional at Windsor Sports Commons, the Vikings — wearing temporary tattoos on their hands with an artistic “E” symbol for Emma — pulled together and earned a berth in the WIAA Division 1 state meet.
In windy conditions, Waunakee junior Reagan Hoopes was the individual winner in 19 minutes, 1.5 seconds (5,000 meters). She finished ahead of Madison West teammates Vivian Hacker and Andi Bowman, whose 2-3 finish boosted the 18th-ranked Regents to the sectional title with 58 points — three points ahead of runner-up Stoughton. Middleton was third with 78.
The top two teams and top five individuals on non-qualifying teams qualify for the state meet, set for Oct. 28 at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
“The girls have a bond that really is unbreakable,” Stoughton coach Susan Zaemisch said. “Everything that we have gone through has pulled us closer together. Everything is so much more valuable when you have gone through an experience like this. We don’t take anything for granted.
“They raced for themselves, they raced for their teammate and they put together a great race today.”
Sophomore Grace Jenny finished fourth, junior Anna Wozniak was fifth and junior Margaret Ross placed seventh for 16th-ranked Stoughton, which earned its first state berth since 2014.
Zaemisch said she told her runners after the crash and Sorensen’s passing that she would support their “dreams and goals” — even if they needed to be altered.
“But the dream never changed: To get this team to state,” Zaemisch said. “We took steps to get there. So, we made sure we took time to grieve together and bond together. … We are blessed to have the bond alive for one more week.”
Hoopes was determined to distance herself from the field about a mile into the race.
“I did a lot of preparation to try to separate myself as early as possible,” Hoopes said.
She earned a comfortable victory over Hacker, a senior who finished in 19:30, and Bowman, a junior who finished in 19:40 on a flat, fast course that Hoopes knows well.
“I know it by heart,” said Hoopes, who came on strong this fall after knee ailments plagued her during track and field season.
Hacker, meanwhile, was delighted to lead the Regents to the state meet.
“It’s really exciting,” Hacker said. “Early in the season I wasn’t sure we could do it, but the last three races really have been amazing. … Everything came together for us.”
The five girls individual state qualifiers were Hoopes, Madison Memorial senior Sydney Peterson, Verona senior Julia Pletta, Middleton sophomore Megan Schwartz and Middleton senior Margaret Patterson.
Spartans coach Paul Chellevold said Peterson became the first Memorial runner since 1984 to qualify for state four times, though she was unable to compete in 2014 due to injuries suffered in a two-vehicle crash.
In the boys race, Middleton junior Caleb Easton led the Cardinals’ sweep of the top three places. Easton finished first in 16:05.09, ahead of Middleton senior Sam Jaeger (16:09.94) and Middleton junior Michael Madoch (16:21.58).
They led the top-ranked Cardinals to the sectional title with 34 points. Second-ranked Madison West had 50 points and claimed the second state berth, well ahead of third-place Verona (116).
Regents seniors Aaron Letcher and Daniel Jacobs took fourth and sixth, respectively, for the defending state champions.
“This was a good team-oriented race,” Easton said. “We are into the team thing. We go out with intentions of really making each other better. It has definitely helped us. I was ready to take a step after losing Perrin (Hagge) two years ago and Gus (Newcomb) from last year. 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.”
The individual state qualifiers were Madison East junior Max Loetscher, Verona senior Peter Barger, DeForest junior Jacob Burgener, Madison Memorial senior Joel Foster and Sauk Prairie sophomore Hudson Haas.
Beloit Memorial sectional
The top-ranked Sun Prairie girls were nearly perfect at Leeson Park in Beloit, as senior Katie Rose Blachowicz won the race in 18:01 and the next four Cardinals finished in third, fourth, fifth and sixth place.
That gave the Cardinals 19 points, well ahead of runner-up and fellow state qualifier Janesville Craig, whose Peyton Sippy took second overall (18:10).
Monona Grove edged Sun Prairie for the boys team title, as the Silver Eagles’ Charlie Ellenbecker won the race in 16 minutes flat. Ash Francis took second for Sun Prairie (16:13).
Beaver Dam won the sectional title with 48 points, with its five top runners finishing among the top 14 — led by senior Paige White, fourth in 19:59.
In the boys race, Beaver Dam’s Cade Ferron (fifth in 16:52) and Gavin Czarnecki (seventh in 17:04) earned individual state berths.
In a Division 2 sectional at Cam-Rock Park in Cambridge, Jefferson won the boys team title and Lodi senior Tanner Maier won the individual race in 16:19.
Lake Mills finished first and Jefferson second in the girls race, with Jefferson junior Mariah Linse (fourth, 19:21) taking fourth and Lake Mills freshman Lauren Winslow taking sixth (19:23).
Dodgeville/Mineral Point topped McFarland for the boys team title, but Spartans junior Andrew Pahnke was the individual winner (16:09).
Monroe’s Drake Ingold was second (16:43) and Dodge-Point’s Peyton Tranel third (16:47).
McFarland’s girls finished second behind Prairie du Chien in the team race, led by eighth-place freshman Lindsey Lonigro (21:10). Madison Edgewood senior Maddie McClimon took second (20:39).
Wisconsin Dells sophomore Laura Beghin took second (18:40) and senior Taylor Campbell was third (19:34), leading the Chiefs to the girls team title.
In Division 3, the New Glarus/Monticello boys finished second behind Darlington in the team chase, with freshman Conor McCoy (sixth, 18:12) leading the way. Madison Country Day junior Colin Green was fourth (18:03).
The Marshall girls took second behind Lancaster in the team scoring, led by sixth-place sophomore Gianna Dugan (21:12). Waterloo sophomore Christi Forman took fourth (20:59).
Lake Country Lutheran sectional
Poynette sophomore Elias Ritzke qualified for the boys state meet as an individual, taking seventh (17:30). Pumas freshman Katelyn Chadwick qualified with a sixth-place finish (20:38).