Sippy runs to state title

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Tom Miller
Saturday, October 28, 2017

Peyton Sippy put in all the hours, grinding out mile after mile, to get to Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state cross country meet.

Even after a second-place finish at sectionals last week, Sippy was confident as she lined up at high noon with 188 other runners at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids under a cloudy sky.

“I go in with the attitude that if you don’t believe you can do it, it’s not going to happen,” she said.

It happened.

Sippy led the pack from the opening gun to the last eventful yards, which included worrying not only whether someone would catch her, but—of all things—whether her shoe was going to stay on.

Sippy conquered all, finishing in a personal-best 18 minutes, 1.6 seconds over the 5,000-meter course. She was four seconds ahead of the runner-up, freshman Kate Sperka of Muskego.

The senior is only Craig's second WIAA girls individual champion, joining Jody Rittenhouse, who won the title in 1977.

Sippy never let anything to chance. She took the lead from the start, even breaking away a bit at the one-mile mark. Her body said “go” although her mind wasn’t sure if that was the correct strategy.

“I just felt too good to stay with the pack,” she said of her decision to take charge. “I didn’t know if that was the right thing to do or the wrong thing. I just took charge.”

Coach Brian Lawton watched Sippy open up distance from the pack, and he also wondered if the excitement of the state meet had given his runner too much of a boost.

Lawton had stressed “covering” any early moves by other runners and staying with the leaders.

The other mantra Lawton stressed was simple—“you only lead the race once.”

In other words, you don’t take the race lead, give it up and then retake it. When you grab the lead, you’d better keep it.

So when Sippy opened up daylight on the field with two-thirds of the race left, it was “catch me if you can.”

“She wasn’t sure if it was too early,” Lawton said, “but it sure wasn’t.”

She stayed in charge past the two-mile mark and as she approached the three-mile mark and the finish line, she wouldn’t look back to see where her closest pursuers were.

Lawton saw Sperka cutting into Sippy’s lead. With 1,000 meters to go, Sperka appeared in prime shape to get past Sippy.

“That’s hard when you break from the field and get caught later in the race,” Lawton said. “Most of the time, people back down and fall back to second or whatever. But Peyton fought through that. She wasn’t going to be beat in the last 400 meters.”

While Sippy did not look back to see where Sperka was, she did look down. And she didn’t like what she saw. The laces on her right shoe were like a pair of streamers with every long stride she took.

“That’s the first time my spikes have ever come untied during a race, whether it was track or cross country,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m either going to win a state title without a shoe, or I’m about to lose my shoe and something bad is going to happen.’”

The shoe stayed on. And she won a state title.

“My mind was on one thing, and one thing only,” Sippy said. “I felt really good at the finish. I had no doubts in my body that, ‘Man, I don’t know if I can make it to the finish. I felt super strong.”

The finish erased any lingering memories of finishing second at the sectional meet, which came after a few college visits during the week. Sippy refused to make excuses, because she knew her time would come in Wisconsin Rapids.

“The week that matters most is state,” she said.

And she delivered. Lawton said the finish was well-deserved.

Most people don’t realize how much work goes into it,” Lawton said. “When it’s dark whether it’s late or it’s early. Just so many years of that. She has a lot to be proud of.”

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