Verona sophomore Aidan Manning and senior Luka DiMaggio punched their tickets to state with top-five finishes at the Division 1 Madison West Sectional on Saturday, Oct. 26, at Madison’s Lake Farm County Park.
Manning finished fourth with a time of 16:21.5 on the 5,000-meter course, and DiMaggio took fifth in 16:33.7. The top five finishers not on the two state-qualifying teams advanced to the state meet.
“My goal coming into this race was to make it to state, and if I stuck with Julian (Gary) of Madison West, I knew I could do it,” Manning said.
Middleton ran away with the sectional title with 35 points after placing all five of its runners in the top 10. Madison West (73 points) edged Verona (86) for the second state team berth.
“We tapered for this meet,” Verona coach Randy Marks said. “We knew if we weren’t totally ready, we had no chance to beat Madison West or Middleton.”
Manning and DiMaggio are the Wildcats’ first state qualifiers since 2017. The last time Verona qualified for state as a team was 2007.
“This team is better than a lot of teams that will go to state out of weak sectionals,” Marks said.
The start of the sectional race came out at a slower pace than Manning was expecting.
“We came through the mile (mark) at 5:05,” he said. “It definitely slowed up and it picked up after the two-mile (mark).”
Manning is looking forward to the state meet and having a teammate and other familiar runners from the Big Eight Conference to set the pace.
“If you have a teammate there, it just makes the whole experience even better,” he said.
Marks likes Manning’s work ethic and drive to get better.
“Aidan is a sophomore who wants to be great and he pushes himself and trains to that level,” Marks said.
Advancing past the sectional was a long time coming for DiMaggio, who had batted illness the past two years. He capitalized on being healthy and raced past Middleton’s Griffin Ward down the stretch.
“All I was thinking was how Ryan Nameth, one of our coaches and the best runner of all-time, told me there was a Middleton runner right behind me. These are key points. I couldn’t let anyone outkick me and I had to give us a chance.”
DiMaggio said qualifying for state means everything to him.
“My freshman year, I didn’t even know what cross country was and my PR was an 18:51,” he said. “I progressed steadily over my career and put in over 500 miles this summer. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders to actually make it and be considered one of the greats in school history.
Marks was excited to see DiMaggio break through to the state meet.
“He has some stick-to-it-nerves. He had some goals and he’s dreaming big,” Marks said. “You have to dream big, but also have the training to back it up.”
Verona freshman Blake Oleson took 17th (17:05.4), and senior Nathan Neitzel placed 29th (17:23.9). Freshman Ryan Cassidy finished 31st (17:25.7).