How can two events that took place nearly five months apart combine to be The Gazette’s high school sports story of the year?

Well, for one, there are no formal rules for this competition.

But also, when a pair of Janesville Craig High runners add to the school’s long history of successful distance runners, we feel like they won’t mind sharing.

During the first weekend of June, Craig senior Nate Farrell celebrated his high school graduation by winning gold in the 800-meter run at the WIAA Division 1 track and field meet in La Crosse.

During the last weekend of October, Craig senior Peyton Sippy closed out an impressive cross country career by winning the WIAA Division 1 girls meet in Wisconsin Rapids.

The championships were fitting for a pair of runners who have spent four years putting in countless hours of training and racking up accolades.

Sippy competed at state cross country for the fourth time, and she had finished a career-best fourth in the D1 meet as a junior. But she had never competed on the state stage with her teammates by her side, until 2017 when the group qualified by finishing second at sectionals.

Armed with more confidence than ever, Sippy took the lead from the very beginning of the five-kilometer race and turned in a personal-best time of 18:01.6 to win wire-to-wire.

“I felt really good at the finish,” Sippy said in a post-race interview Oct. 28. “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.”

Sippy is training now to close out her track and field career in similar fashion this spring.

That’s exactly what Farrell did June 3.

A highly accomplished distance runner in his own right, he actually went out on top by focusing on a shorter distance. A fixture at state cross country and at state track and field in the one- and two-mile races, Farrell shifted to the 800 for his senior year.

It paid off.

Farrell hung with the leaders for the first 400-meter lap around the track. During the second, he pulled away from everyone and won in 1:53.02.

It was the perfect ending for Farrell, who passed out during his final run at state cross country but came full circle to win gold.

“You can’t get much better than that,” Farrell said. “From things not ending how you wanted to (in cross country) to ending better, almost, than what you thought they could.”

Best of the rest in 2017

Gazette sports writer John Barry: My favorite game I covered was easily the WIAA Division 2 state softball championship game between Beloit Turner and Rice Lake. Rice Lake won the game 13-9 in eight innings, but only after Turner had rallied from 5-0, 8-2 and 9-5 deficits to force extra innings—including scoring four runs in the bottom of the seventh. Turner was down to its last out but got an RBI double from Sydney Ortiz and an RBI single from Carson Nitz to tie the game at 9-9.

Other highlights include:

  • Watching the Parker student section storm the court after the boys basketball team snapped a 44-game losing streak with a win over Beloit Memorial.
  • Sippy winning the Midwest Invitational and joining her grandfather, Steve, as the second Sippy to win the prestigious event.
  • Clinton football losing a heartbreaker to Lake Country Lutheran in the Division 5 state quarterfinals thanks to a 41-yard field goal from Matt Reilly in the final seconds. Reilly had not attempted a field goal the entire season.

Gazette sports editor Eric Schmoldt: My favorite event of the year was probably the finals at state wrestling, where a pair of area wrestlers claimed state titles. I don’t think many in the packed Kohl Center had predicted Milton’s Dalton Shea would get to the finals at 113 pounds in Division 1, let alone win it. But that’s what he did with a 5-4 win in the ultimate tiebreaker—an instant classic! At 126 pounds, Elkhorn’s Benji Peak wasn’t as much of a state underdog, but he won a title in dramatic fashion, as well. He earned a takedown early in overtime for a sudden victory. The two matches finished within about 15 minutes of each other and made for an eventful night full of fun stories.

Other highlights include:

  • Milton senior Mia Seeman winning the Division 1 girls golf title this fall at University Ridge. Seeman led for most of the two-day event, and a little hiccup on her 36th hole was the only thing that kept her from winning by a wide margin.
  • Janesville Craig’s sectional semifinal girls soccer match against Madison Memorial. Both teams had sprung upsets to win regional finals, and then they were tied 0-0 after regulation in their match. A storm then hit the east side of Janesville, forcing the teams to come back one day later to play overtime, where Memorial won 5-4 in a penalty shootout. Bizarre.
  • Turner junior pitcher Kailyn Packard did everything to beat Evansville in a sectional final softball game to get to state. She allowed one hit, struck out 15 batters and hit a three-run home run in a 3-0 victory at Delavan-Darien.

Looking ahead to 2018

Barry: 2017 was a memorable year, more for individual accolades than team-oriented ones, including Big Foot junior Jackson Enz winning both WIAA Division 2 boys hurdles events at the state track meet. We had a number of good teams in the area, a couple of great teams (Turner softball, Delavan-Darien in boys soccer, and Craig and Turner in baseball) but no team state champions.

For 2018, I expect the lack of a state team champion to be short-lived. Craig and Turner both have plenty of talent returning in baseball and could contend for state titles in their respective divisions. Milton girls golf will be among the top D1 teams in the state once again, and Craig’s girls cross country team returns a wealth of talent.

I am curious and hopeful that Enz recovers enough from his ACL surgery to defend his state titles in the 110 and 300 intermediate hurdles. He was near state-record times in winning both events last year.

Schmoldt: I’ll echo many of Bare’s sentiments, while adding the Rock County Fury, Janesville Craig girls soccer, Janesville Parker golf (boys or girls), Turner softball and Milton girls soccer as teams that appear in the hunt to make a run to state.

With the shot clock discussion gone and behind us, at least for now, expect conference or divisional realignment to again come up, though maybe not as much locally as in recent years.

As I said in my 2017 look-back, some of the best moments are the ones that often come as the most unexpected. I can’t wait to see what’s in store in 2018.

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