LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - For many teams, a second chance is nothing more than a pipe dream, but for the Central boys, second chances brought them WIAA hardware 18 years in the making.
"We had probably the worst day of track and field in the last three years, and in my career as a coach the worst day ever yesterday," head coach Niels Anderson told his team.
Yet the Central boys track and field team, with only five entrants in the state meet, raised the runner-up trophy. That's after a Friday on which Anderson witnessed his team devastated by injuries and lost opportunities.
"I called each and every guy last night and said let's believe in second chances," he said. "Let's believe in new life. Let's go out tomorrow and see what we can't do."
They got the message, starting with Sawyer Smith. Battling leg cramps and illness all weekend, Smith pushed his way to third in the 400 meter dash.
"As I started, it was quite painful to start running," Smith said. "I felt like I was going to fall over and collapse. I was actually worried about that--that I was going to run a 200 in the 400 today and just fall over. But, luckily I didn't."
Central didn't fall flat in the 300 hurdles either. Seniors Aron Klos and Cody Michaels finished 3rd and 6th respectively.
Klos said, "I was seeded 5th. I mean, first time being here, it feels great--3rd place."
Klos would then lead off the last, and possibly biggest race of the day, the 4x400 meter relay.
"I gotta set the tone," he said. "I know if I come out running like a banshee, that will set the tone for the next guy and the next guy. That's all I can do."
And all Central could do was second behind Arrowhead.
"I was disappointed in myself as the anchor," said junior Jake Roh. "I didn't pass the kid from arrowhead. I was just sitting down, head down, not really feeling sorry for myself, just wishing I could re run it."
They didn't have to wish. Instead a hand-off problem, attributed to Milwaukee-Riverside, led to that team's disqualification, and a second chance race for Central. This time, Jake Roh gave way as anchor to senior James Saxton who, in his final race as a Red Raider, carried Central to the top step of the podium.
"Something out there just wanted us to win," Saxton said, "That's what it felt like."
Central does lose senior leaders like James Saxton and Cody Michaels, and while they won't guarantee anything, it's a safe bet they won't have to wait another 18 years for a trophy.
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