Verona sophomore Aidan Manning fell short of his personal goal at the Big Eight Conference Meet on Saturday, Oct. 19, but garnered some recognition as one of the top runners at Rockport Park in Janesville.

Manning finished seventh with a time of 16:37 to earn first-team all-conference honors, and senior Luka DiMaggio shook off an illness to be a second-team honoree with a 13th-place finish (16:51).

“I was going for sub-16 minutes and it was a disappointment I didn’t get that,” Manning said. “It’s a tough course with a lot of big hills and we put in a good team effort.”

Verona finished fifth with 123 points, six points behind Madison Memorial. The Wildcats were ranked ninth in Division 1 in the Week 7 Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Poll, one of five Big Eight teams ranked in the top 10.

“Our mindset coming into the race was to have no regrets at the end and put it all on the course,” Manning said.

DiMaggio said his race plan was to go out hard with the top 15 runners in the first mile.

“I wanted to just hammer it in the second and third miles,” he said. “I wanted to stick with some of the (Madison) West guys. If I was healthy, I think I could have executed better. All things considered — being sick and dealing with the hills — I think I executed alright.”

Freshman Ryan Cassidy stepped up to finish 27th (17:26), and sophomore Ryan Ochowski took 34th (17:35). Senior Nathan Neitzel placed 42nd (17:50.6).

Freshman Blake Olseon fell running up a hill covered in rocks and was injured. He continued running for a moment before dropping out of the race.

“Nathan had a rough day and our No. 4 guy (Olseon) went up and got gouged up on a hill,” Verona coach Randy Marks said. “That kind of hurts. Big O (Ochowski) came up and filled that gap. Otherwise, we would have really been in trouble.”

A hill covered in rocks was not foreign to the Wildcats, but it did slow them down during a stretch of the race.

“Some of them ran this course in the Big Eight Grade Level Challenge,” Marks said. “The surface is too dangerous; it’s not the steepness. There are sharp rocks laying all over the place.”

Middleton had four runners finish in the top 10 to win the team title with 46 points, just ahead of Madison West (50 points). The Regents’ Julian Gary won the individual title with a time of 15:59.7.

Verona will compete in the Division 1 Madison West Sectional on Saturday at Lake Farm Park. The top two teams and the next five individuals not on the top two teams advance to state.

“You always have to have that mindset if you believe there is a chance,” DiMaggio said of earning a state berth with a top-two finish. “I think we have three guys on this team, those being Aidan, Nathan and myself, who all have a chance of going to state individually.”

“They know what they are up against,” Marks added. “They (Middleton and Madison West) both beat us pretty handily (at the conference meet), but of course we didn’t run the way we could have.”