Tomahawk sports history: Girls cross country

By Bob Skubal

Retired coach, historian, author of “History of Tomahawk Sports”

According to this author, Tomahawk High School has a rich history of success in most WIAA-sponsored sports over the years. Some years are better than others for most sports, while some seem to find themselves in the top of the conference year after year.

To date, Tomahawk has had 10 male and seven female varsity sports. Recently the WIAA approved the addition of female wrestling programs, so we may soon see females able to participate in an 8th sport at THS without having to compete with males. As many know, Tomahawk has had females in the wrestling program since the 1981-82 season. Their impact on high school wrestling has been heard nationwide because of the opportunities given to them. Only time will tell just how successful THS will be if, in fact, they decide to form a team.

2020 is indeed a year of challenges none of us has ever seen and hope to never see again. Perhaps it is time to take a look at each of the sports offered at THS.

This 18-month-or-so journey will feature a particular sport each month where varsity coaching records, All-Conference honors, team awards such as conference, regional, sectional and state success will be identified as well as highlights of success.

With our girls cross country returning to state in 2020, this seemed like the most logical place to start.

Girls cross country

Girls cross country first started in 1975 with Gordy Erickson as the head coach. Gordy coached the girls for nine years. Over that period of time, Tomahawk earned three conference, two regional, six sectional, and seven state appearances. Most notable was the 1976, 1978, and 1979 teams that were state champions. Even though girls cross country was not an official conference sport until 1978, Gordy had 32 All-Conference runners. Most notable was Suzie Houston, who was state individual champ in 1975 (with only one division) and again in 1976 with a time 20 seconds faster than last year at state.

In 1984, Don Lintereur took over for one season as THS placed third in the conference. Following Don was Rich Steuernage, who was head coach for seven seasons. During this time, THS was second in 1986 and had 12 All-Conference athletes and one state-bound athlete.

In 1992, John Zuelsdorf became the 4th varsity coach and has held that position for the last 28 seasons. During this time, “Z” has produced 17 conference titles, 11 sectional championships (six runner-up team titles) , and 17 state team appearances, along with 125 All-Conference athletes. The most notable individual during this period was Meghan Lemke, who was state runner-up in 2004. Team highlights include a state team title in 2004, state runner up in 1996, 2005, and 2006, and third-place state finish in 1993, 1994, and 1998.

Following are highlights from the first official season and all four seasons where Tomahawk won state championships.

Members of the first girls cross country team in 1975 were Suzie Houston, Theresa Bassett, Linda Houston, Tammy Barr, Kathy Kluball, Joanne Cook, Carie Cook, Nettie Pintens, and Marlene Renn. They started their season at the US Track & Field Federation Meet at Nicolet College, where Suzie Houston was meet champion; to Wausau East, where Suzie was again meet champion; to Merrill, where THS was second; second at sectionals behind Antigo; and 6th at State, with Suzie winning the individual state title. This was an amazing start for a sport that continues to be successful to this date.

1976 team members were Suzie Houston, Tammy Barr, Marlene Renn, Theresa Bassett, Karen Brennan, Alicia Gamble, Delores Roberts, Bev Renn, Denise Leverance, Connie Rasmussen, Jessie Stiff, Jane Orcutt, Paula Myers and Lynn Rummel. The season once again started out at the US Track & Field Federation Meet at Nicolet College, where Suzie Houston again placed first. Next was the Rhinelander meet with THS placing first; to the Tomahawk Invite with THS becoming champions; to team titles at Wausau East, Merrill, Rhinelander, Antigo, and an unofficial conference title. With no regional competition, Tomahawk won sectionals with 49 points, compared to 110 for second place DCE. Tomahawk won State with 49 points and defeated defending state champion Prairie du Chien by 30 points. A notable highlight of these first two seasons was that Suzie Houston never lost a single competition throughout her high school career.

1978 team members were Marlene Renn, Bev Renn, Monica Schoone, Sheilagh Kenney, Delores Roberts, Paula Pintens, Debbie Swan, Virginia Amelse, Lisa Pflum, Sarah Lintereur, Ruth Eiche, and Joan Arnott. The season started out at the Nicolet College Track & Field Federation Invitational, where Bev Renn placed first. Next was a dual meet loss to SPASH 22-33. Tomahawk went on to win titles at Wittenberg-Birnamwood, Tomahawk, Lakeland, Wausau East, Merrill, Antigo and the Maple Birch Invite. THS then secured their first official conference girls cross country title. This was followed by their second-straight regional title, sectional title at Mondovi and state title. This was the first year of two divisions, and THS defeated Slinger 32-52.

1979 team members were Ruth Eiche, Sheilagh Kenney, Carmen Schoone, Monica Schoone, Chris Morren, Sarah Lintereur, Dana Halverson, Marie Renn, and Bev Renn. Sheilagh Kenney led THS at the Nicolet College-sponsored US Track & Field Meet with a second-place finish. Tomahawk was then second at Rhinelander, won their own invite, placed third at Merrill, and won the Ashland, Smiley, Antigo, and Maple Birch Invites before winning their second-straight conference title. This was followed by their fifth-straight year going to state with their fourth-straight sectional championship. At state, Tomahawk won their third state title with 54 points, defeating second-place Slinger by 11 points.

2004 team members were Meghan Lemke, Megan Johnson, Naomi Lindsay, Corissa Beck, Mary Ussery, Heather Deitz, Celia Hagar, Amanda Bauman, Jessica Powers, Chloe Lintereur, Vanessa Barr, Sarah Sudbury, Emily Niese, Anne Jones, Amanda DeNamur, Becky Lechleitner, Alyssa Lampe, Jessica Verbist, Brittani Bostwick, Molly Bishop, Tara Bostwick, and Celie Koth. The season started out with a team victory at Rhinelander and was followed by team victories at Lodi, Fall Creek, Smiley, and Colby. These team victories were followed by a victory at Lumberjack Conference Meet #1, where Lemke, Lampe, and Sudbury went 1-2-3. THS followed with a home invitational victory, and then won Lumberjack Conference Meet #2. Tomahawk was first at sectionals and state, scoring 99 points and defeating second place Dodgeville/Mineral Point by seven points.

Now let’s take a look at runners who went on to run cross country after high school and honors bestowed on various teams.

Thus far, Tomahawk has earned 21 conference, two regional, 17 sectional and four state team titles. They have had 24 state qualifying teams with two individual champions (Suzie Houston in 1975 and 1976) and three state individual runner ups (Bev Renn in 1978 and 1979, and Meghan Lemke in 2004). In addition to their four state titles, Tomahawk was team runner ups in 1996, 2005, and 2006.

Individual coaching honors include Gordy Erickson, who was Conference Coach of the Year in 1981 and inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.

John Zuelsdorf was Conference Coach of the Year in ’94, ’96, ’98, ’99, ’02, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09,’10, ’11, ’12 and ’14, and in 2003 and 2004 with Dan Lemke. He was District 2 Coach of the Year in 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003 and Division 2 Coach of the Year in 2004. He was also voted Wisconsin Coaches Cross Country Association Coach of the Year in 2008 and inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012.

In 1993, Suzie Houston was inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame.

Conference Runner of the Year honors have also come Tomahawk’s way with Meghan Lemke in 2003, Alyssa Lampe in 2004, Sarah Sudbury in 2005 and 2006, Michelle Kuber in 2007 and Rachel Sudbury in 2008 and 2009.

All-State honors have also been awarded to Meghan Lemke-1st Team in 2004 and Rachel Sudbury-2nd team in 2009.

Some of the athletes continuing their running after high school are:

Suzie Houston, UW-Madison; Shery Renn, UW-River Falls; Lisa Radosevich, UW-Stout; Erin Potts, Mankato State; Kate Foley, St. Cloud University in Minnesota; Meghan Lemke, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Tex.; Kersten Wilson, UW-Stout (Kersten ran in college but not in high school); Maureen Ruka, UW-Stevens Point; Sarah Sudbury, St. John’s University, New York City; Molly Bishop, University of Minnesota-Duluth, then Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Tex.; Amanda DeNamur, UW-Eau Claire; Rachel Miller, UW-La Crosse; Rachel Sudbury, Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.; Michelle Kuber, South Dakota State; Stephanie Welke, Gustavus-Adolphus, Minneapolis; Dani Whiting, Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla.; Haley Voermans-Dean, University of Minnesota-Duluth; and Megan Berg, UW-Superior.

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