Luka DiMaggio continued his strong start to the season with a fifth-place finish on his home course Saturday, Sept. 7, in the 43rd Annual Verona Invitational.

The talented Verona senior traversed the 5,000-meter course in a time of 16 minutes, 43.8 seconds. DiMaggio sensed midway through the race that he needed to keep up his fast pace to stay with the top competitors.

“I definitely felt the pace at the end of the first lap and going into the second lap going up the hill,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a really tough last lap, but that’s the way it should be. This is one of the toughest courses in the state.”

DiMaggio kicked hard in the race’s final straightaway, as he beat Madison West’s Ryan Reed (sixth, 16:44.4) and Eli Gore (seventh, 16:45.3) to the finish line.

“Honestly, I thought it’d be a rough day for a kick,” DiMaggio said. “I wasn’t feeling it through the forest, and had a couple of West guys pass me. But I just felt something take over me and I was able to pass them with the kick. I felt great at the end.”

Verona finished sixth out of 23 teams with 196 points, and fourth out of six Division 1 teams, despite having only five competitors. The Wildcats’ No. 2 and No. 6 runners showed up Saturday morning with colds.

Sophomore Aidan Manning finished 13th with a time of 16:58.9. Three freshmen – Blake Oleson (37th, 17:36.3), Max Metcalf (49th, 17:51.9) and Ryan Cassidy (18:42) rounded out the Wildcats’ lineup.

Verona coach Randy Marks said the absences were “better to occur now rather than later.” The Wildcats dealt with the flu for the majority of last season.

“I think the five carried the ball really well for us,” Marks said. “I think if Nathan (Neitzel) had run with Luka, we would’ve had 100 less points.”

Madison La Follette won the team title with 61 points, thanks in large part to senior Chris Wolfe’s individual victory in 16 minutes, 20.1 seconds. The Lancers also had two other runners in the top 10, and their fourth and fifth runners took 23rd and 24th, respectively.

Verona and 15 other teams will compete at the West Invitational on Saturday at Madison’s Lake Farm County Park.

Sports editor Adam Feiner can be contacted at ungsportseditor@wcinet.com.