Stoughton Girls Cross Country - Grace Jenny

Stoughton senior Grace Jenny leads a pack of runners to the finish line at the Division 1 state meet Saturday, Nov. 2, at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. She finished 81st in 20:04.6.

Grace Jenny’s journey to the Division 1 state meet began with a phone call to Stoughton girls cross country coach Susan Zaemisch in April.

Jenny was in the midst of fighting her way through her an injury-plagued junior track and field season.

“I was just really honest with her,” Zaemisch said. “I told her, ‘If you want to have a senior year of cross country, you’re going to have to stop track.’ It was a hard conversation because she’s a competitor through and through.”

“To be 17 years old and see the big picture is amazing. I knew in my heart that if she stopped, she could get to state. But if she didn’t, she would have never gotten here.”

Jenny heeded her coach’s advice. She stopped running until July, then followed a strict training regimen throughout the season.

Ultimately, the senior captain proved her coach prophetic, as she finished 81st out of 189 runners with a time of 20:04.6 at the state meet Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.

“I think she ran a really smart race,” Zaemisch said. “She went out and ran within herself, and for her to get here running only three times a week all season is something no other girl in the state can say. It shows her true character.”

Jenny tapered in the week leading up to the meet, and also cut back on her cross training. She ended up with the 19th-best time among all seniors, as she averaged 7:16.9 per mile.

Jenny was 91st after the first mile (6:09.2), but relied on her experience to quickly make up ground. She qualified for state as an individual as a freshman, and was a part of Stoughton’s state-qualifying team as a sophomore.

“I didn’t really want to go out too fast because miles two and three are really hilly,” Jenny said. “If you go out too fast, you crumble at the end.”

She passed 12 runners in the second mile (12:47.8), and maintained a consistent pace in her final mile as a Viking.

“Running on this course freshman year made me fall in love with the sport,” Jenny said. “It pushed me to get better and grind through the last couple years. To run one last race here is truly special to me.”

Muskego won the Division 1 team title with 72 points, as all seven of its runners finished in the top 38. Onalaska junior Kora Malecek crossed the finish line first with a time of 17:44.6, almost 30 seconds better than runner-up Lauren Pansegrau of Middleton.