Arrowhead boys track coach Chris Herriot is a busy man these days, honing the skills of his powerful Classic 8 Conference champs for a run at the WIAA state championship.
And he knows he will get sturdy preparation in his chase for the gold ball when his team takes part in the withering crucible that will be the WIAA sectional meet at Homestead on Friday, May 29, the final qualifying test before state in La Crosse on June 5 and 6. The top three in each event, plus all those whose efforts are among the top eight of all sectionals statewide, will advance to La Crosse.
As has been the case for the better part of a decade, this particular sectional will likely be one of the dominant ones in the state.
Herriot verified that heated assertion, when over the cold of winter, he prepared a spread sheet comparing the strength of various sectionals statewide based on state meet results from 2004-2008. The results, which showed the point total of each division I team at state over that time period and then averaged them out, demonstrated that this northwest Milwaukee suburban sectional is a gold standard of undisputed proportions.
The results, based on the average point total has Milwaukee Vincent (2005 state champ) in first, with Arrowhead second (2004 champ), Germantown fourth (2006 champ) and Watertown fifth. Just for good measure, Menomonee Falls is 12th, Port Washington 14th and Whitefish Bay 16th.
The only other sectional that comes close to it is the Waukesha/Middle Surburban, which has five in the top 20 statewide, but none higher than sixth (Bradley Tech).
Herriot sent the list out to close friends in the coaching community, including Homestead's Dan Benson, and let them disseminate it at will. It's a tremendous testament to the prep talent pool in this corner of Wisconsin, Benson said.
"It's amazing to look at that and then remember all the incredible athletes who have come through these sectionals," he said. Homestead, a long time track power which spent the better part of the decade in Germantown's shadow before winning this season's North Shore triple crown, will host the sectional for the first time in several years.
It will try to match up to the heady and dazzling meets this group has contested at Arrowhead and Germantown in past years.
The number of indvidual state champions that have been produced is remarkable. In 2004, there were four, while in 2005, there were seven, including three of the four relays. That same number held form in 2006 too. In 2007, there were four and last season, there were five.
Further, a closer examination reveals no gerrymandering, so sudden transfer of powerful schools in and out of the sectional by the WIAA. All those institutions that were mentioned in the top 20 have been by and large in the same sectional grouping for many years. This year reveals only one change as Port Washington moves north to Beaver Dam, while Grafton, a long-time Division 2 power, has as a reward for its increase in enrollment a transfer to this extraordinary test of skill and will.
This caliber of meet is not a good thing for nervous coaches, but it is a grand thing for fans and followers of the sport, because they are in for a treat.
Heading into tonight's regional meets, the Homestead sectional is looking to be a sprint and hurdle powerhouse, as returning state 100 and 200 champ Centrell Minter of Vincent has overcome knee problems suffered in the indoor season to again own the top times in his two specialties (10.69 and 21.48, respectively).
But he will get pushed, as Washington Farrington of Falls is fourth in the 100 (10.83) and fifth in the 200 (22.02) while first-year track athlete, senior Gavin Robertson of Nicolet, has recorded a second-best in state 200 of 21.82 and Homestead senior Ian Thompson has moved up to ninth in the 100 (10.90).
Arrowhead itself will likely make a lot of hay in the distances, with the likes of well-rested Tim Hucke (800), John Simons (1,600 and 3,200) and Kevin Emmerich (3,200), all owning top 10 state honor roll times.
In the 110 high hurdles, Falls junior Matt Widule owns the state's top time at 14.33, but Germantown's Dexter Schleis, who has beaten Widule once at that distance already this season, is ninth (14.82). Both Widule (third) and Schleis (ninth) look to be in the mix of a highly contentious 300 intermediate hurdle competition, as there are 10 times in state Division I between 38.92 and 39.8.
But as difficult as that sounds, however, one look at the relays, and you realize why coaches in this sectional quaff Pepto-Bismol like its iced tea on a 95-degree day.
Four of the first six (Arrowhead, Vincent, Falls and Nicolet) in the 400 relay will likely be running hard on Friday, as will two of the top four in the 800 relay (Vincent and Oconomowoc). In the 1,600 race, Arrowhead (first), Homestead (fourth), Falls (sixth) and Oconomowoc (seventh) will all be vying for one of the three coveted state slots.
Falls coach Mike Burling consoled a concerned Herriot at a recent meet about the likely intensity of the relay races at sectional.
"He said to me 'You figure you've got it all set and then something like this (a whole new set of fast times) happens,'" Burling said. "But I told him 'Look at it this way, you come out of this sectional (to state) and you're likely to be on the podium when it's all done'"
That's likely to be the case in the 3,200 relay too as Homestead has the groupings top time (8:05.96, good for fourth) while look for Arrowhead to drop an enormous amount of time from its current 12th place slot (8:12.73).
In the field events, top performers include Justin Barber of Homestead in the shot put (11th) and discus (17th); Chris Pendergast of Arrowhead (first) and Wes Heupel of Germantown (eighth) in the pole vault; returning state runner-up Danny Schiller of Homestead (fourth) as well as Nick Hughes of Milwaukee King (ninth) in the high jump; Rashad Morris of King (eighth), Widule of Falls (ninth) and Brad Pelisek of Homestead (15th) in the long jump; and Darius Feaster of Homestead in the triple jump (17th).
Benson, the host coach, said the Homestead facility has been upgraded and is ready to host a meet full of speed and thunderous applause.
"I think it's as good as anyone else's around here," he said, "and we can turn around the sprints (to get the favorable wind), even in the 200. We're looking to put on a good show."
Just like this sectional always does.