Boys’ Cross Country Brings Home State Title

Neenah championship team first learns of its victory.

Neenah championship team first learns of its victory.

Jami Fofana, Student of Journalism

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The Neenah boys’ cross country team captured the first state championship title in 17 years on Oct. 27 at The Ridges Golf Course.

Pride beams throughout the city as news of the win spreads locally as well as 6,000 miles away where Head Coach John Morgen serves in the army.

“It is still sinking in,” varsity athlete Matthew Meinke said.

Kicking off in the heat of August, the 2018 season was off to an interesting start for the Neenah boys. Head coach, John Morgen, was deployed to Jordan fulfilling his duty as a colonel in the Army National Guard.

While his deployment shocked many athletes and coaches, the team did not let this obstacle deter them from dreaming big. In fact, the athletes and coaches rallied around the motto, “Dare to Dream” throughout the season.

Things were not looking promising by the time the athletes hit the pavement. Neenah’s top two performers, Griffin Congdon and Matthew Meinke both faced struggles going into their senior year.

Congdon endured an IT band injury as well as a painful sinus infection leading up to the state meet. At the same time, Meinke fought his own battles. Early August, he found out he had achilles tendinitis.

“That was a hard pill to take. It wasn’t exactly how I planned my senior year going,” Meinke said.

Still, the teams strong chemistry allowed them to be propelled into a season of success. Like a small family, the dynamic group of guys helped push each other to work hard every day. With an ideal blend of senior leadership and enthusiastic freshman, the group became close friends and were able to stick together well during races.

The heartened coaching staff was also a crucial part of the teams season of success. Coach Morgen, Jovanovich, Bosetti, and Drake brought their personal running experience to the table and impacted every runner. Congdon describes that all of the coaches are positive no matter what, and that they truly care about everyone on the team.

Meinke believes Neenah’s coaching staff is one of the best. “To me they are the best in the world,” Meinke said.

The varsity team — with Congdon and Meinke back on track — were starting to get into shape. The team’s dedication proved worthwhile. The boys powered through conference and sectional wins and established themselves as a force on the cross country scene.

Heading into state,  the whole team was naturally nervous.

“It was the biggest race of the year and the last time I would run in my Neenah uniform,” Congdon said.

Meinke knew how overwhelming state can be and stressed the importance of not letting the expectations and hype overwhelm.

The greens, blues, whites and blacks of the opposing teams tents fill the team camp area. The environment remains hectic as runners and spectators bustle about the rolling hills of The Ridges Golf Course. Getting their minds in the right place with a routine warm up, the seven Neenah varsity runners were ready to get out and race.

The gun goes off. Hundreds of division one athletes charge out through the first 400 meters, amped with the adrenaline that comes with the territory. As the 5,000 meters wear on, Meinke emphasized that he had to remain positive.

“I wanted to give everything I had and leave nothing to chance. I didn’t look back once,” Meinke said.

Congdon was motivated and surging through the hills, knowing that the team could do something big. It would take every runner to win the race and upset Middleton. One by one, with four runners in the top 30, the Neenah seven flew across the finish line.

As reported by PT timing, first for Neenah was Matt Meinke (3rd, 15:33.9), followed by Griffin Congdon (12th, 16:19.2), Trenton Bauer (14th, 16:20.5), Austin Henderson (17th, 16:22.8) and Joey Murray (78th, 17:11)

Now, it was a waiting game.

Seven across, the boys lined up anxiously studying the results board. Germantown scrolls across the screen in third. Moments later Middleton pops up. Finally, Neenah takes its place on the board — first.  

“We freaked out. We all couldn’t believe it,” Meinke said.

Athletes and supporters alike jump and scream, overcome with joy and pride for Neenah. The boys reign proud winners of the 2018 state title. An emotional medley surrounded the boys team in the following minutes. There was not a dry eye around as spectators, parents and coaches savor the victory.

Coach Mike Jovanovich found himself on an emotional video call with Coach Morgen as he served abroad. He explains how the team could not have done this without Morgen’s support.

Following a welcome home parade, the athletes and coaches reflect on the season as a whole.

Coach Morgen was able to wrap up the season perfectly, even from 6,000 miles away. Morgen, through an iPad, expressed his heartfelt feelings for each member of the team and discussed his relationship with the coaching staff. It is clear he had complete faith in the athletes and the coaches from the beginning.

As the season comes to a close, the memory of that historic day lingers. The legacy left by this team is not only the state title, but the sense of community pride and unity brought home by every athlete and coach.

(For more media about the team, see an article featured in The Post-Crescent.)

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1 Comment

One Response to “Boys’ Cross Country Brings Home State Title”

  1. Gage Ramos on November 19th, 2018 12:59 PM

    Good season boys.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.

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