LA CROSSE, Wis. — Experience, along with excitement best sum up the Marinette and Peshtigo track and field qualifiers for the the state tournament UW-La Crosse’s Memorial Field this weekend.

Marinette’s Katelyn Kitzinger — returning for the third straight year in the 400 meter dash, highlights a large group of Marines heading to state that head coach Bryan Lenzner is overwhelmingly proud of and pleased to see advance where they have.

“This is as big a group as we’ve had in the past three years since I’ve been the head coach,” Lenzner said. “ These kids have been hard for this and getting through a difficult sectional, they’re ready for the next challenge.”

For Kitzinger, an up-and-down grind throughout the season has been her driving force. Battling through some sickness mid-way through the season, she pushed through at both her regional and sectionals and had teammate Kim Carviou with her throughout the year pushing her to be at her best.

“Kim and I train together throughout the year and she’s just pushed me to be even better,” Kitzinger said. “Sectionals were really hard, but I’m proud of where I’ve gotten to. Now the goal is to break one minute and get to the finals. I really think I can do both.”

The rest of the Marines are littered with first-timers as two relay teams advanced to state, along with Alex Shaw in the 100 meter dash, Carson Polomis in the mile and Emma Wendt, who will be competing in the 300 meter hurdles.

For Wendt, who is only a sophomore, the opportunity to compete at the highest level against her peers is the ultimate prize for all the hard work she’s put in.

“I’m very excited. I’ve felt confident I could get here, but didn’t know if I would or not,” Wendt said. “My goal is the PR and make it to the finals.”

Another Wendt, senior Jeremy Wendt, is one of Marinette’s runners for its 800 meter relay team that recently broke the school record and will be competing at state. Wendt will be running with Shaw, Darrell Dufeck and Anthony Jardeen.

Marinette’s 400 meter relay team of Shaw, Jardeen, Dufeck and Sam Drees also advanced to the state tournament, something each athlete is proud of.

“For us to have two relay teams with five total guys between the two make it to state is pretty awesome,” Jardeen said. 

Though they may not all be the quickest runners on the track, though Shaw may beg to differ, what has separated Marinette’s relay teams from others is the cohesiveness among their group, along with their timing and excellent handoffs they consistently perform.

“We definitely make up time with our handoffs,” Jeremy Wendt said. “We’ve worked together a ton and know each other really well.”

For Dufeck, one of the Marine first-time state qualifiers, the experience is more than just a dream.

“I’m super pumped to be going to state,” Dufeck said. “It’s been a lot of work by everyone involved. Each person has been willing to put in the time and it’s going to be a great experience.”

For Peshtigo, a group of returning state qualifiers helped lead the Bulldogs to a second-place finish in last week’s sectional tournament in Freedom.

Leading the way are a pair of seniors in Max Rauch and Mitchell VanVooren. Rauch, who won the state tournament last year in the pole vault competition, is once again someone to beat after clearing 14 feet to take first in last week’s sectional.

“Max has been looking great and I expect another strong weekend from him,” Peshtigo coach Joe Nault said.

VanVooren returns after qualifying in both the 110 and 300 meter hurdles along with teaming up with Reid Marquardt, Cole Trimberger and Jerod Jandt in the 1,600 meter relay.

Competing in the finals in both the 110 and 300 hurdles,along with the 1,600 relay in last year’s state tournament, VanVooren earned valuable experience that he’ll be bringing with for this weekend.

“This is my second year in a row and there’s been a lot of hype leading up to it,” VanVooren said. “It’s really cool to have all of my friends coming along and competing again as well. My goal is to place even better in the finals and we feel as a team that we have a chance to finish near the top.”

Marquardt also will be competing in the 800, where he earned a bye from Friday’s preliminaries and will go right onto the finals on Saturday. Trimberger is also running in the 400, where he has excelled throughout the season.

“We’ve got a group of seasoned veterans and this is what they’ve been working for all season,” Nault said. “They’ve used the pressure of competing at state as fuel instead of intimidation. The kids are primed and ready to go and they’ll compete with anyone, no matter what the size of the team is. They’re peaking at the right time of the year.”

Representing Crivitz in Division 3 is Ezekial Lawrence in the 110 and 300 meter hurdles, along with helping anchor the 800 meter relay with Jayden Bemis, Tony Jopek and Kody Richlen. Bemis also made state in the 100 meter dash and Jopek earned a spot in the pole vault and Emalee Johnsen will be competing in the discus throw.

Suring’s Mitch Stegeman earned a state spot in the pole vault and Gillett was led by Sylvia Hansen, who made state in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs. Dylan Hanson also made it in the 1,600 for the Tigers, along with Aubrey DeBauch in the 300 hurdles and Bo Krueger in the discus.