Greenfield - No one knew exactly where members of the Whitnall track teams might pop up on any given day this season.
The Falcons held practices in the gymnasiums, parking lots and tennis courts at the high school, as well as sidewalks in the surrounding neighborhoods and in a parking lot at nearby Schoetz Park.
They also appeared at the Wisconsin Lutheran College track off Watertown Plank Road.
The Falcons' vagabond existence stems from the fact that for the second straight season, they do not have a home track to use for practice.
"Last year, our track was condemned, and for insurance reasons, we weren't allowed to practice on it," head girls coach Mike Thompson said. "This year, the track is gone, as it was torn up in the fall because the area is being prepped for our new athletic facility."
Facility being upgraded
The track, along with the football field, were removed as part of the district's construction project underway on the high school grounds.
In the future, the Falcons will have a brand new track facility, and they are looking forward to that, but for right now, the lack of a home track is literally hurting the teams.
"We're incredibly excited to be getting a top-of-the-line track and field facility, but in the meantime, we're forced to practice on hard, unyielding surfaces, such as concrete, asphalt, gym floors and tennis courts," Thompson said. "Workouts had to be altered, and we certainly scaled back on many of the things we'd normally do on a track, which provides a decent amount of protection in the form of a rubberized surface."
Boys coach Tony Rodiez echoed that thought, saying, "We have not been able to do drills and other needed training due to having no track. Running on the hard sidewalks has caused a lot of shin and leg issues."
Injuries tracking up
For Thompson's team, the practice sessions eventually took their toll with a run of major injuries that has decimated the Falcons' lineup.
Whitnall is now without such stalwarts as seniors Danika Johnson and Carrie Ingish and juniors Leah Windt, Jenny Lawton and Rachel Stave. Ingish was lost in the preseason, while Windt went out in the first week and Johnson, Lawton and Stave were all sidelined at midseason.
All had a huge impact in recent seasons and competed in last season's state meet, with Stave finishing second in the triple jump.
They also combined for over 60 points as the Falcons won the Woodland Outdoor Meet in 2011.
Not surprisingly, without that group, Whitnall struggled at this year's Woodland meet on May 15, scoring 24 points for ninth place.
Meredith Heller claimed second in the long jump with 16 feet even and third in the 300 hurdles at 47.66 seconds. Other top-eight individual finishes came from Jasmine Van Tine, who was sixth in the 3,200 run (12 minutes, 27.03 seconds); Alyssa Woo, seventh in the 3,200 (12:32.38); and Robyn Roberts, eighth in the 300 hurdles (52.64).
The 800 relay team of Heller, Nancy Czerwinski, Roberts and Olivia Fallon came in fifth (1:53.09).
"The few healthy girls we have left did manage to put in some good performances at the conference meet," Thompson said.
The boys team came in eighth in the Woodland meet with 40 points. Greg Stribling earned third in the 400 dash (50.88), while fourths were taken by Brian Beal in the 300 hurdles (41.55) and Alex Richardson in the 3,200 run (9:51.44).
Finishing fifth were Mitch Olson in the 800 run (2:01.82) and Luke Rutowski in the high jump (5-8). Richardson was sixth in the 1,600 run (4:34.69) and Austin Hurst took seventh in the high jump (5-8).
The Falcons were second in the 1,600 relay (3:30.99) and sixth in the 800 relay (1:37.69) as well.
"I am very proud of how our athletes have come together and finished the season on a strong note," Rodiez said.
Season started with hope
The season began with promise for both teams, but all those early practices on the unforgiving surfaces changed things.
"Practicing jumps was difficult, because we didn't have sand pits for the first month of the season," Thompson explained. "Throwers could practice shot put indoors but weren't able to practice the discus until we got to a facility that had it."
Once April arrived, the Falcons were able to use the track at Wisconsin Lutheran College two or three times per week, which solved some problems but led to others.
"We only had a short window of time, so our practices had to be cut short," Thompson said. "Our numbers suffered, because kids didn't want to be sitting on a bus to go to and from practice. Getting there was never really an issue, but coming home always took much longer.
"Thanks to rush-hour traffic and construction, it wasn't unusual to have a 45-minute bus ride back to the high school. Kids didn't want to deal with that."
Rodiez' squad wasn't happy about the bus rides, either.
"I feel that we were at a huge disadvantage for the second year having to bus to another location," he said. "It's hard to have a true team concept when you are never really together as a team on a daily basis. I believe on the boys side, our numbers have truly suffered due to this."
Thompson summed up the situation when he said, "We're going to have an amazing facility, but in the meantime, our kids are really paying the price for it with their health."
The Whitnall track teams are not the only ones affected by the construction project. The Falcons soccer squads were not able to play a home game all season.
COACH ROBERT ANTHOLINE: "The major issue has been time. Each game is away and that has made for some long nights for the girls, who many times have to wait for the junior varsity to finish games before they play. They seem to have managed their time well to take care of school. It's been a temporary inconvenience, but the rewards will come next year with new athletic facilities. Teams will want to play us next year at home. We've managed, and it hasn't really affected how we practice or play. The district provided adequate practice facilities. Also, the parents have supported us and many have come to our games."
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