The Cougars have qualified seven straight years, but the best finish at state was ninth in 2009 and 2010.
The fortunes could improve in 2011.
Craig High is ranked second in the state and has not finished below first or second in any meet this season.
Defending Division 1 state champ Hartland Arrowhead is ranked No. 1 and returns its top five runners from a year ago, but Craig can make a run for a silver trophy, according to co-head coach Brian Lawton.
“We’ve raced against them (the Warhawks) three times this season, and they’ve beaten us all three times,” Lawton said. “They’re just a better team than anybody else in the state. They’ve proven that all season.
“But we’re coming into state with the school’s highest ranking ever. The guys have put the work in get to this point. It’s not about just getting there (state) for these guys.”
Leading the pack for the Cougars will be Tommy Meister. The senior was second at state a year ago and won the 800 meters at last spring’s state track and field meet. Meister has the fastest 5,000-meter time in city history at 15:21 and is a definite threat to bring home a state title in his final high school race.
“Tommy is arguably the best runner the city has ever seen,” Lawton said. “He’s a two-time all-state selection, and even more impressive, is that he is soon to be a four-time all-state academic selection.
“There are five boys in Division 1 that are probably above everyone else, and Tommy is certainly in that conversation. We’ll see if he has saved his best for last.”
Craig will also be represented at state by juniors Spencer Hrycay and Hunter Salmon, sophomores Evan Lalor and Alec McCann, along with seniors Joe Sarow and Peter Carlson. Hrycay, Sarow and Salmon will be running at state for the third time, Lalor for the second time, and Carlson and McCann for the first time. Meister is making his fourth straight trip to state.
Lawton said race strategy will be pivotal for the Cougars in their bid to make a run at a possible state title.
“The strategy starts with the course itself,” Lawton said of the Bridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. “It’s an unrelenting course, especially the last mile or so.
“To not only compete at state, but to finish near the top, you have to be as healthy and as rested as you can be. And I can say we’re as healthy and rested as we’ve been all year.”
Janesville Parker’s Dane Tyler will also run at state. The junior earned a spot as an extra qualifier at the Oregon Sectional.
Also at the Oregon Sectional, Parker’s Mandy Slaback finished 17th in the girls 4,000-meter race with a time of 16:07. Slaback was misidentified in Sunday’s paper.
Suzy Favor (Hamilton) is the only girl in WIAA history to win four state cross country titles.
The Stevens Point High School graduate accomplished the feat from 1982-85.
Molly Seidel is about to join Favor.
The University Lake School senior has won the last three Division 3 titles and enters Saturday’s state meet as a prohibitive favorite. Seidel ran the fastest-time in state history earlier this season with a time of 13:13 for 4,000 meters.
“People ask me what it would be like if she was running against girls from Division 1 schools,” Janesville Craig coach Brian Lawton said. “And I tell them all the same thing. It wouldn’t matter. Molly is in a league of her own.
“Records that are set in cross country races are usually a couple of seconds, at best. Molly has beaten all the state records by 30 to 45 seconds. That’s is truly impressive. She goes out from the gun to dominate, and that’s what she does.”
Girls—Alexandria Fons, Franklin (returns), Division 1; Allie Woodward, Green Bay Notre Dame (graduated), Divison 2; Molly Seidel, Milwaukee University School (returns), Division 3.
Divison 2 girls—Madison Edgewood team; Brielle Greenleaf, Evansville, fr.; Julia Kaster, Clinton, fr.; Jessica Drout, Easst Troy, jr.; Liz Smits, McFarland, sr.; Jamie Shannon, McFarland, jr.’
Division 3 girls—Bailey Hlavachek, Albany, soph.
Division 1 boys—Janesville Craig, Madison La Follette, Madison West teams; Dane Tyler, Janesville Parker, jr.; Jonah Weisse, Madison Memorial, jr.; R.J. Leiferman, Middleton, sr.; Matthew Wolf, Verona, sr.
Division 2 boys—Lakeside Lutheran, Monroe teams; Brett Harms, Whitewater, soph.; Clayton Morrison, Jefferson, jr.; Tate Harnack, Brodhead-Juda, sr.; Joe McKenna, Madison Edgewood, sr.
Division 3 boys—Reece Whitehead, Albany, sr.; Jose Ramirez, Albany, jr.