Whitewater High boys track and field team has the ingredients
The 1,600 relay is the last event at a high school track and field meet.
For Whitewater High School's Tony Floyd, Tony Bilderback and Jacob Dennis-Oehling, the event comes first.
The three were members of the Whippets' 1,600-relay team that entered last year's WIAA Division 2 state meet as the No. 2 seed. Whitewater finished seventh in the finals, one place short of reaching the podium.
That finish has haunted the three seniors ever since.
"Not getting to the podium last year has motivated us big time this year," Floyd said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Whitewater's 1,600 relay team is part of strong contingent that makes the Whippets a serious contender for the Division 2 boys team title.
Dennis-Oehling is the defending state champion in the 200 and also a threat to win the 100. Bilderback is the state's top-ranked Division 2 triple-jumper with a distancer of 46 feet, 4 inches. Floyd is among the Division 2 state leaders in the 110 high hurdles and the 300 intermediate hurdles.
Whitewater senior Lou Minett is ranked fourth in Division 2 in the discus and fifth in the shot put.
Despite the lofty credentials heading into today's sectional meet at Whitewater, first-year coach John Howers said his team has not talked about a state title. Whitewater last won the boys Division 2 title in 1978.
"I don't even think it has been brought up," Howers said of winning state. "There are so many things that can happen, that to think about it or make it a goal doesn't make a lot of sense.
"If we finish second, third, fifth or 10th, it won't matter to me, as long as each kid gives the best effort he can."
The irony of it all for Floyd, Bilderback and Dennis-Oehling is that winning a state team title may come down to the meet's final event—the 1,600 relay.
Bilderback leads off the 1,600 relay, followed by junior Dawson Miller, Dennis-Oehling and Floyd running anchor.
The three seniors said after last year's disappointing finish that strength training has been the one area worked on the most.
"To be the best in the state means you have to be the best that one race," Bilderback said. "I might have the best triple jump right now, but what matters is what happens at state. The same thing is true in the 1,600 (relay).
"We've done all the training. We just have to come out and run our race."
Dennis-Oehling will enter the state meet with added pressure if he qualifies today in the 100 and 200. As the defending state champion in the 200, he has worn the proverbial bull's-eye on his back all season.
A UW-Eau Claire track and field recruit, Dennis-Oehling said meeting expectations comes with the territory.
"As a senior, I'm probably expected to repeat," Dennis-Oehling said. "All I'm trying to do is lay low and stay focused."
Bilderback, who plans on playing football at UW-La Crosse and possibly continuing his track and field career, was third at state last year in the triple jump. He's jumping nearly three feet farther than he was a year ago.
Floyd, also a UW-Eau Claire track and field recruit, has run a personal-best 15.04 in the 110 high hurdles and a 40.4 in the 300 intermediates. He was fifth in the 110 high hurdles last year, and said although winning a state team title would cap off a great career, the 1,600 relay is the main event.
"Having a chance to win a state title is nice to hear. But honestly, we've kept that in the back of our minds," Floyd said. "The 1,600 has kind of always been our race (in the Whitewater program), so going up there and winning that would be really special."