Homestead triple and high jump WIAA state track qualifier Blake Leeson is one of the really good stories of the spring.
Just ask his event coach Dan Benson, who noted that a year ago Leeson was in a cast after a disastrous accident on a bike too small for him left him with a 75 percent tear in one of his achilles tendons (he has a large bump of scar tissue as a reminder).
But the volleyball star, who is headed to Ohio State, did not pout or feel sorry for himself.
"Three hundred sixty-five days ago, he couldn't even walk," said Benson. "Most of his achilles was gone, but he did a really good job in summer of working with (Homestead head coach Todd) Brawner on getting his strength back. He kept at it and worked hard on his weaknesses."
"The goal was to get back back in time for volleyball in the fall, and I got back in time," said Leeson. "After getting injured like that, I'm absolutely thrilled to be going to state. I didn't think I'd be here, but here I am."
Leeson will be joined at this weekend's WIAA State Meet at UW-La Crosse's Memorial Stadium by Chris Mueller in the 400-meter dash and John Marita in the discus. Mueller himself is also a good story, because when he was 10 days old, he contracted the Infant RSV virus and was at Children's Hospital for two weeks getting his lungs scraped out every four hours.
Here he is 17 years later at the state track meet.
The state test will get going at UW-La Crosse's Memorial Stadium at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, June 6 with all trials and some finals. The remainder of the finals will be held on Saturday, June 7 at 10:30 a.m.
To get there, the Highlanders also had to overcome other adversity, as the day before the May 30 sectional qualifying meet at Hamilton, in a training accident, 4x400-meter relay runner Dan Held got into a collision with a member of the girls team that left him with a number of head, shoulder, knee and jaw injuries. He did not have to be hospitalized, but Held, a four-year member of the track team who was on the school record 4x400 squad of a year ago, could not run at the sectional.
Brawner said there was much disappointment and everyone felt bad for how things ended up for Held.
Things ended better for the girls team as veteran Homestead pole vault coach Jeff Mehring is retiring after 31 vastly underpaid years, and he is making one more trip to state with senior Elyssa Tracy in tow.
Tracy, one of numerous members of the successful Highlanders gymnastics team on the track squad, battled ankle injuries the last few years but succeeded in making it to state with a series of impressive late-season efforts.
Mehring is happy to go to La Crosse with her, as Tracy took second in the vault at 11-0.
"Exceptionally gratified is the term," he said. "I'm most impressed with her spirit. She's got a great spirit as a competitor and is a very classy young woman."
"I concur," agreed nearby Homestead girls head coach John Krueger.
Krueger, a class act in his own right, was busy giving out medals to the team in the twilight after the meet, when assistant coach Victor Vilar good-naturedly teased his boss about how emotional Krueger gets when he sees one of his athletes succeed.
"I just do that," said Krueger without a trace of irony. The success "is so gratifying to see."
This is true especially in another one of the Homestead gymnasts-turned-track-athletes. Monica Caputa earned her fourth straight berth to the state meet with a victory in the high jump. Caputa has twice advanced in the long jump, once in the triple jump and now in the high jump.
"I just think gymnastics as a whole turns you into a more well-rounded athlete," said Caputa. "Makes you a better track athlete."
"We're just a group of people who train together (almost all year-around) and we've become very close," added Tracy. "It's just nice to be here together. Nice to help the team succeed as best as possible." She cleared 5-2 for her win in the high jump.
Caputa and Tracy will be joined at state by freshman 800-meter runner Katie Wegmann, who earned third in a deep field with a clocking of 2:17.23. She represents a young, talented distance group coached by Vilar that will only get better.
"We're glad that we're contributing so well," said Wegmann. "The other girls work so hard too and we all push each other and coach Vilar is a great coach. I'm really looking forward to this (state). It's my first time at something that big. I'm really looking forward to it."
The boys are too. Leeson was third in the triple jump with an effort of 43-43/4 and was second in the high jump at 6-4.
Mueller, breathing freely and easily, took third for his spot in the 400 with a personal best of 49.87.
"It was hard," he said. "I had to stay tough in the beginning and stay tough at the end, then kick it home as best as I could. This is a good feeling."
Marita, who has been a steady performer for the Highlanders for the last two seasons, earned his spot in the discus with a third place toss of 143-7. He missed out on a second berth in the shot put by just a foot, when he took sixth with 47-2.
That 4x400 relay, despite the absence of Held, still competed well, turning in a season best of 3:26.41, good for fifth. The team consisted of Nick Allen, Patrick Curran, Patrick Minkin and Mueller.
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