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Lodi hurdler Robby Hatch

Lodi's Robby Hatch competes in the 55-meter hurdles during the 2018 WFTA state indoor track and field championship boys meet at UW-Whitewater's Kachel Fieldhouse in Whitewater in April.

AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

A broken hand in the fall of 2016 forced Robby Hatch to put his promising hockey career on hold.

Instead of competing on the ice, he turned to running in order to get back in shape. He came away with a newfound love for a sport that previously didn’t receive his full attention.

Now, the Lodi senior is a University of Wisconsin-Madison track and field commit with three school records to his name.

“I wouldn’t say I was a track athlete my freshman or sophomore year. I was just a kid who ran track,” Hatch said. “I played hockey year-round for Team Wisconsin, and that was what I saw myself doing.”

Following his injury, Hatch grew enamored with the intricacies of running. Becoming a student of the sport, he worked to fine-tune every aspect of his specialties: the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.

“His habits are that of an elite athlete, which is what he strives to be,” Lodi track and field coach Randy Skellenger said. “The results speak to his dedication and preparation — all the work that he does outside of our meets.

“He’s able to break down and look at video of his hurdles from previous meets and pick apart where his feet are coming down, where he’s taking off in relation to the hurdle, and improve his technique in a way that’s rare from a high school athlete.”

Throughout this entire season, Hatch has been motivated by his fourth-place finish in the 300 hurdles in last year’s WIAA Division 2 state meet.

“Going in, I knew I was winning that race,” Hatch said. “But I didn’t have a good start. I messed up and had my knees in the box when the starter’s gun went off, which screwed up my entire race. And I ended up taking fourth.

“That was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had. I knew I could win that race, but at the same time I didn’t execute well and it cost me. That really left a poor taste in my mouth, and I said, ‘OK, I’m coming back next year, and that won’t happen.’”

Though it’s been quite a challenge to get into a steady groove this spring, because of all the postponements and cancellations of scheduled meets and the disruption of workouts, Hatch is rounding into top form at the perfect time — with the Capitol Conference meet coming up on Tuesday at Lakeside Lutheran, followed by a WIAA regional on Monday, May 21, at Richland Center.

“We don’t necessarily need to be at our sharpest for conference, even though it is a nice accomplishment to have if you win,” Skellenger said. “We really try to look at the big picture down the road.”

Said Hatch: “Above all else, to be successful in these postseason meets, it’s not so much about physical ability but more of your mental strength. Whether it’s a relay or an individual race, we just have to run within ourselves and focus on us.”

A couple of weeks back, Hatch helped Lodi’s 1,600 relay team record the second-best time in the state this season with a 50-second leg during an invitational in Oshkosh. And he’s the owner of the top 100-meter dash time in program history, with a 10.97-second effort set May 1 in Lodi.

Of course, his name stands atop the state honor roll in the 110 hurdles (:14.81) and 300 hurdles (:38.59).

“I’ve definitely gotten better at the mental aspect of the sport, so I’ve been able to hone in on those skills by breaking the race down into different phases,” Hatch said. “I’ve found that that has really taken a lot of stress away during the day of our meets.”

Skellenger agreed. “His ability to craft what he does and focus on each detail has allowed him to grow into the competitor he is today,” the coach said. “Giving up hockey — as an all-conference player in a sport he’s always dreamed about playing — and transitioning to track and field is a testament to that.”

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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.