By Alex Strouf, The Denmark News
Denmark High School will be sending three student-athletes to the WIAA State Track & Field Tournament on June 1st and 2nd, after sophomore Seth Alexander, senior Wyatt Gezella, and junior Leah Kralovetz shined at Thursday’s sectional tournament at Freedom High School.
JUMPING TO STATE
Alexander finished third in the long jump after jumping 20’7.75” in the finals, securing his spot at next weekend’s state tournament.
Alexander was in fifth place after Thursday afternoon’s semifinal round, landing his place in the finals. However, he needed to just a quarter-inch to his semifinal best jump of 20’7” to cement his place within the top four.
“I just had to have the mentality that, “I’m going to jump this,” even if it was only a quarter of an inch like it was, you gotta just tell yourself you have to do it,” said Alexander.
Once Alexander hit his mark, it felt as if a sigh of relief was let out collectively by the athlete, his coaches, and his family, who were all watching eagerly next to the sand pit.
“The first thing I said to myself was, “Woah, I beat Darquise [Winters],” because the
last two times I’ve jumped against him, he’s beat me by an inch every time,” Alexander said. “In prelims he beat me by an inch, so I knew I had him this time.”
The determination of the sophomore is what stands out to first-year head coach Tom Neuman, and that’s what he says got him over the adversity he faced heading into Thursday’s finals.
“What got him there today was his competitiveness,” said Neuman. “[Winters] beat him by a quarter-inch about a week and a half ago, and that stuck with [Seth].”
Alexander broke a record formerly held by his older brother, Sawyer, earlier this month. Sawyer, a 2017 graduate of Denmark High School, jumped 20’7” in 2016, setting the school-best mark. Seth broke that with a 20’10” jump on May 1 at Fox Valley Lutheran’s invitational.
“He was pretty cocky about his record, so it was cool to rub it in his face a little bit,” Seth joked.
“Be nice to your brother,” the Alexander’s father, Jeff, playfully interjected.
“It’s nice to keep it in the family name,” Seth finished.
Alexander will jump against 15 other division two long jumpers from across the state on the morning of Saturday, June 2.
BACK TO THE TRACK
Denmark senior Wyatt Gezella had a run to remember in last year’s state semifinals of the 400-meter dash.
Gezella was paired alongside Rice Lake’s Kenneth Bednarek, who was the state record holder in the 400. Bednarek, who would go onto crush his own record the following day, gave Gezella quite the rush in the preliminary round. The then-junior Viking ran to a school record 49.38-second quarter-mile, to place second in the state semifinal.
Gezella would go onto place fifth statewide in 2017.
This year, he’ll have another crack at it.
Gezella placed second in the 400-meter at Thursday’s sectional, running a season-best 49.87 seconds. Gezella fell behind only Nekoosa’s Marquan Wiesen, who is ranked second (behind Bednarek) in division two heading into next weekend’s tournament.
“It’s what I wanted to do for my senior year, get to state one last time,” said Gezella.
Neuman knows what it takes for Gezella to get ahead of the pack.
“We’ve worked on eliminating extra movement from his running style. When he does that, he does great things,” said Neuman. “That showed in today’s 400, he raced against a tough kid he’s never raced against (Wiesen) and he ran his best time of the season.”
Going forward, the Denmark senior has the experience and what it takes to get to a high spot on the podium. Though odds are against the top, he’s confident he can get toward the top.
I really want to break my spot record. Top three at least,” said Gezella. “To say I want to beat Kenny, that’s impossible, but I do want to get down there and have a good time.”
Of runners statewide in sectionals this year, Gezella’s time ranks third, behind only Wiesen and Bednarek.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS, BIG STATEMENTS
Leah Kralovetz was always a staple on the volleyball court and soccer field growing up.
In 2017, Kralovetz was an honorable mention All-Conference defender for the Lady Vikes soccer team as a sophomore.
However, that was the last time she’d lace up the cleats.
Kralovetz became a dedicated runner after seeing success as a sophomore in her first year as a cross country runner under then-head coach Terry Wetzel. This fall, Kralovetz placed fourth at the WIAA Cross Country State Tournament.
This spring, Kralovetz forwent her junior season on the field and decided to take her talents to the track.
Her talents were already incredible, but they were tapped into even more by Wetzel, who agreed to become the team’s long-distance coach this spring.
“It seems like Leah and I really connect and she appreciates my coaching style like I appreciate her running style,” said Wetzel. “She’s the one out there running it and I’m just encouraging her, but she’s very special to me.”
While Wetzel was luckily Kralovetz’s coach for track and field, it took work to get her out for cross country for her sophomore year.
“Mr. Wetzel saw me run track my freshman year and stopped me in the hallway and said, “You should run cross country,” and I was playing volleyball so I said, “No, thanks,” Kralovetz joked. “Every day he kept egging me on, saying, “Hey are you going to do cross country?” and I would always say, “I don’t know!”
“The day before our practices started I finally said, “Fine, I’ll do cross country,”” Kralovetz recalled. “After the first day, I came home and told my mom I hated it. I decided I’d give it another week before I quit, and I’m glad I did.”
That’s when the domination began.
Kralovetz has lost one race all season long, and that was at the beginning of the season, before comfortability and poise became everything.
Kralovetz finished first in both the 1600- and 3200-meter races on Thursday, blowing the competition out of the water. With a 5:14.07 finish in the 1600 and a 3200 finish of 11:14.55, the Denmark junior beat the second place finisher in each race by over 10 seconds and over 34 seconds, respectively.
Kralovetz was ranked second in division two in both the 1600 and 3200 prior to Thursday’s sectional, trailing Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau’s Dana Feyen in both. However, Kralovetz’s 3200-meter time was seven seconds better than Feyen’s on Thursday, while Feyen squeaked past Kralovetz in the 1600 by roughly three seconds.
Kralovetz heads into the state tournament with a target on her back, but she’s felt that all season.
It’s nothing new.
“I’m really excited, I’m nervous, there’s a lot of emotions,” said Kralovetz. “It’ll be nice to have some really close competition.”
The WIAA State Tournament kicks off next Friday, June 1st. The opening ceremony for division two is scheduled for 2:55 p.m. from Memorial Stadium at UW-La Crosse.