Beloit Turner High School coach John Turner e-mailed Perez after Saturday’s Albany Invitational and pointed out that his No. 1 runner didn’t have his “A” game.
“I told him, ‘You got away from the pack. At the mile, you were 30 yards behind the pack, and you fell back to 28th. You can’t race that way,’ ” Turner said.
Message sent; message received.
Perez ran a smart race this time on the water-logged course that winds through the UW-Whitewater campus, keeping himself in striking distance of the leaders before using a late kick to repeat as conference champion in 17 minutes, 31 seconds.
Perez trailed the front-runner by about 20 meters as he entered the mid-race second loop behind the athletic facility. As he took his final left-hand turn leading to about 200 meters of homestretch, he overtook McFarland’s Max Kelley, crossed the road and pulled away.
McFarland still ran away with the team title with just 23 points to runner-up Clinton’s 57. Turner placed third with 76, followed Edgerton (152), Whitewater (172), Evansville (191), Orfordville Parkview (214) and Walworth Big Foot (251).
Clinton’s Daniel Banh, behind Kelley and McFarland’s Brant Birrenkott, held off another Spartan to place fourth in 18 minutes flat. However, the surface was anything but flat, and when it was, it was less than predictable.
“The footing was crazy, really slippery,” Banh said. “The corners were really bad. But it’s all mental. You still just gotta look at the guy in front of you and pull him in.”
Even if it was a tough playing field, it was a level one—figuratively.
“We had Lane 6 today, so I stepped over to Lane 5 and over to Lane 7, and guess what,’’ Turner said. “There was no difference in temperature, and the ground was just as wet.’’
Brian Gilbank took eighth at 18:22 for Clinton, one place ahead of Turner’s Joe Pickett (18:26). Tim Laursen took 11th (18:34) for Turner to round out the Trojans’ top-25 finishers.
Two pairs of Cougars, Sean Lavery (12th-18:41) and Jordan DeLong (13th-18:42), and Craig Smith (20th-19:00) and Nate McConnell (21st-19:06), put six Clinton runners in the top 25, although only five contributed to the team scoring.
For Perez, the victory was another extreme in an up-and-down season low-lighted by an ankle injury and illness.
“If you’re gonna have ups and downs, tonight was a good night to have an up,” Turner said.
Turner urged Perez to refrain from pressing on the spongy surface that was broken up by a muddy stretch peppered with potholes and pools of brown standing water.
“If he was leading after a mile, he’d probably end up being tired,” Turner said.
Instead, Perez ran a heady race in the final test before WIAA sectional competition. And his teammates, who include three freshmen, packed well after what Turner said has been a season of inconsistency.
Whitewater used a deep, talented pack to take the girls title with 77 points, just six fewer than East Troy’s 83.
Kelsey Harms led the Whippets, placing third in 16:31. Clinton’s Raquel Newman was right behind Harms, placing fourth with the same official time.
East Troy’s Meghan Valentine ran, comfortably, to an individual Rock Valley title in 16:21. Valentine finished six seconds faster than Lauren Janes’ runner-up finish of 16:27 for Evansville, while ending the two-year championship reign of Brodhead/Juda’s Shannon Klein, who finished 15th.
Geena Romani (11th-16:57), Alyssa O’Donnell (13th-17:05), Kristin Anderson (24th-17:38) and Cristina Ossers (26th-17:40) rounded out Whitewater’s winning lineup.
Parkview placed fifth with 143 points, ahead of Edgerton (6th-153), Clinton (7th-167) and Evansville (9th-179).
Janes steadfastly stuck to her pre-race rituals, including a chant she and Blue Devil teammate Mary Andrew go through 30 seconds before the gun goes off. Oh, and she made sure to eat well.
“I eat a ton of pasta the night before,” Janes said. “If I didn’t get my pasta, I wouldn’t like that much at all. Running is very mental, and you have a lot of rituals you stick to.”
Janes, on her coach’s endorsement, is keeping her sights set on state.
“I have a chance, my coach told me,” Janes said. “That would be a dream come true. I’m gonna work as hard as I possibly can.’’
But she knows at this point it simply comes down to staying the course.
“There isn’t much more training you can do. You’re just staying conditioned.”