Run of success

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Thursday, October 30, 2008
— Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a more successful boys and girls cross country program in Wisconsin than the one Brian and Jessica Lawton have assembled at Janesville Craig High School.

Other than Hartland Arrowhead, no program is more of a fixture at the WIAA state meet than the Cougars.

The Craig girls won the Division 1 sectional at Stoughton and qualified for Saturday’s state meet at Wisconsin Rapids for the eighth straight year. The Cougars are third in the coaches’ state rankings.

The Cougar boys also won the Stoughton Sectional and will be making a fourth straight appearance at state. They are ninth in the ratings, marking the first time both teams have been ranked in the top 10 in the same year.

Jessica Lawton said there is no secret formula to the program’s success.

“We’ve been blessed with great kids who have bought into what we’re trying to do,” said Jessica, who ran in 1991 on Craig’s only state championship team. “And more than anything, the kids have bought into putting in the work. There’s a sense of ownership and history with the program that is important to these two teams.

“First and foremost, these kids are student-athletes. Cross country is just one part of their lives here at Craig. But it’s an important part, and one that they take a lot of pride in.”

The Cougar girls, despite the fact that five of the top eight runners are freshmen, are hoping to post the school’s highest finish since a fourth-place showing in 1992. Craig already has beaten second-ranked Waukesha West and has lost only twice—in the Midwest Invitational, to Lake Park, Ill., and in the Madison West Invitational.

Senior Cassidi Running is the top performer for the Cougar girls and was second in the sectional. Sophomore Rachel Gilmore was third in the sectional and gives the Cougars a solid 1-2 punch at the front of the lineup.

Completing the varsity roster set to compete Saturday are freshmen Stephani Perleberg, Katie Bagley, Jessie Finnane and Danica Reinicke, along with junior Megan Muhs.

Running said the Cougars’ sights are set on a top-three finish.

“Finishing in the top three is our goal, and winning it would definitely be what we’re hoping for,” Running said. “It will take everybody having their good race, not necessarily asking us to do something we’re not capable of, but running a good race.

“I know for me, I probably need to get out right away and stay with the lead pack.”

Ryan Ahrens will lead the Cougar boys. The senior will become the first runner in school history to compete at the state meet four years in a row. He won the prestigious Chocolate City Invitational at Burlington this season and finished second to Fort Atkinson senior Spencer Agnew at the sectional.

Joining Ahrens at state will be Cougar seniors Jason Ruchti, Garrick Jannene and Matt McDonald, junior Matt Bordwell, sophomore Sully Hrycay and freshman Tommy Meister.

Ahrens hopes that he and the team can crack the top 10.

“For me, the podium would be awesome, but that would take the race of a lifetime,” Ahrens said. “It’s my very last race, and that’s what I’m shooting for.

“But it’s still about the team first. We’ve set the bar pretty high this year, and we’re expecting a top-10 finish. We’ve put in the work.”

Thanks to the teachings of Brian and Jessica Lawton, that work again translated into yet another state tournament berth for the Craig boys and girls teams.

Last updated: 10:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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