A rash of leg injuries from running the first race last spring on the streets around Verona Area High School might have compromised the potential of the Wildcats’ 2020-21 season.
Verona finished third in the WIAA Division 1 Middleton sectional in the alternate fall season last May and just missed qualifying for state by 16 points behind Middleton. Verona coach Randy Marks, who is in his 57th year coaching, said the team is in much better shape than the spring so Verona should have a good shot at qualifying for state as a team.
The Wildcats return two individual state qualifiers in seniors Aidan Manning and junior Blake Oleson. Manning finished 12th at state last spring with a time of 16 minutes, 11.9 seconds and Oleson took 20th (16:29.2).
Marks said Manning is one of the most outstanding runners in the state.
“Both Aidan and Blake are looking to get back to state and make more noise there,” Marks said.
The other returning letterwinners for Verona are senior Ryan Ochowski, junior Max Metcalf, sophomore Kaden Ratze and senior Kendall Riddle.
Metcalf finished 19th and Ochowski placed 34th in the sectional last season.
Junior Ryan Casisy was a letterwinner in 2019, but missed last season with an injury.
Marks said COVID-19 has kept the number of runners down for programs across the area.
“We have experienced guys behind them (Manning and Oleson) with some tough-minded sophomores to help out,” he said. “What we lack in numbers we are making up for in enthusiasm.”
Verona should contend for a top-two finish in the Big Eight Conference this season, Marks said, adding that the other top teams contending for a conference title are the usual suspects — Sun Prairie, Middleton, Madison West and Madison Memorial.
Sun Prairie returns four of its top seven runners from a team that finished as the state runner-up last spring.
Middleton, which took fourth at state last spring, is led by senior Griffin Ward, who finished second at the alternate state meet with a time of 15:43.2. Middleton has four of its top six runners back from last season.
“We need to work on our depth and ability to run tighter together than we did in the spring,” Marks said.