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Highlanders athletic successes harken back to 1999

June 22, 2010

The sequel was 11 years in the making for the Homestead athletic program, but at least many of the same "stars" were back in their old roles.

That's what it felt like this spring for the Highlanders athletic program, as this star-studded, state championship-riddled season greatly resembled that marvelous fall of 1999.

And at its center were coaches who were just a little younger, no doubt a little lighter and absolutely a lot less gray in their hair color than they were back then.

In the fall of 1999, Dave Keel led a young football team to its first WIAA state championship, while just this last weekend, he led the veteran girls softball squad to a state runner-up finish.

During that same time in 1999, Rich Dorn paced the upstart Highlanders boys soccer team to a surprising WIAA state gold trophy effort. Fast-forward to last weekend, when Dorn took a youthful girls soccer unit all the way to the WIAA finals again where they just came up a little short against Verona.

Toss in tennis mentor Jackie Egelhoff, who back in the fall of 1999, had her first state individual champions, when the sister act of Lindsey and Stacey Brock took the Division 1 girls doubles crown.

And just a couple of weeks ago, Egelhoff had dual successes with the boys, earning a state team runner-up berth to four-time winner Marquette just a week after Alex Jesse earned the Homestead boys program its first-ever Division 1 boys state singles championship.

Meanwhile, back then, Dan Benson was an assistant to head coach and old friend Dan Claussen on the boys cross country team, where behind Kevin Williams and Tyler Fyock's individual top 10 efforts, the North Shore champion Highlanders took a strong third in the state meet.

Speed up the clock to two weekends ago, where Benson, as head coach, and Claussen, as the distance assistant, joyfully danced in the rain as Homestead won its first state boys track title in 46 years.

"What a spring," said Benson when recently wrapping up his highly successful season.

Indeed.

It was also no small wonder that when spoken to in back-to-back phone conversations last Sunday, both Keel and Dorn extended gracious and sincere congratulations to each other as well as everyone else who competed this spring.

That includes two-time state 100 high hurdles and now state record-holder Marissa Savitch.

Savitch just happened to be coached by interim Athletic Director John Krueger, who tried to be everywhere at once last weekend, getting wet on the Uihlein Soccer pitch in Milwaukee with Dorn's cardiac kids and also doling out meal money in Madison to the hungry and happy softball team on a sunny and warm Thursday afternoon.

"It's been a pretty special time for the athletic program," a tired Krueger said Sunday. "It's a good thing I'm a track coach so I know how fast things can move (laughs)."

And Krueger knows the value of having that veteran leadership, and he remembers a gathering at former Athletic Director Phil Puerling's house in that spectacular autumn 11 years ago, where he found himself staring at a myriad number of very large and very shiny state trophies.

Ironically, also included in that kitchen table mix was one for the state championship won by the girls golf team, then coached by Al Haacke. It was just a short time later that Haacke retired and Krueger took over that particular job in a very successful manner.

"I just remember that, looking at so many trophies, all for one program," he said. "I just thought to myself how fortunate I am to be here with all these terrific individual and team performers."

And now its déjà vu time all over again for Krueger.

"It's been fun, but hectic," he said. "No sooner would I text one coach congratulations, then I would have to flip my phone and text another. It's just too bad that the school year has been over for much of this even though we did have real good support for both softball and soccer."

And he knows why it all happened again, even though the "script" didn't always have completely happy endings.

"These were smart, veteran coaches leading good groups, giving them good chances to succeed. You couldn't have asked for anything more," he said.

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