Ever since the seventh grade, when Isaac Wegner began running competitively, he preferred to hang near the front but not take the lead early on and then pounce on competition that maybe got out too hot in the later stages of the race.
Wegner, a senior at defending WIAA Division 3 state champion Durand, has always had a superior set of lungs that allowed him to come close to evenly splitting a race, in turn picking off a lot of kids in the process.
But he’s coming off a year in which he placed third at the state meet, and he upped his mileage up to about 50 miles per week in the summer.
In order to go after some of his big goals this fall, Wegner knew he’d have to make a little change.
Now he’s the one out setting the pace and daring others to try and stay with him.
“My racing mentality has changed,” Wegner said. “This year it is getting out front more and trying to cook to pace.”
He’s sizzled to some solid times already this fall, going 2-for-2 at invitationals. Wegner won the Boyceville Invite by over a minute on Aug. 23 and then the St. Croix Central Invite on Thursday, dipping under 17 minutes at 16:47.23. According to the Durand coaching staff, Wegner didn’t break the 17-minute barrier until the week before conference — so early October — a year ago.
On two hillier courses, Wegner has gotten out in a 5:25 and 5:20 and held on to a similar pace throughout the race.
As an established veteran who will battle the clock almost as much as opponents this fall, Wegner was ready for the challenge of front-running and embraced it so during his summer runs.
“It was something I recognized I needed to do,” he said.
Shortly after his third-place finish — not to mention hoisting the team title — at state on Halloween weekend, Wegner ran in a Foot Locker regional meet in Kenosha, putting himself up against some of the best competition in the Midwest.
It was a good learning experience for him. Not only did he extend his training, but he was right in the mix with elite high school runners.
“The biggest thing was recognizing how good of runners there are in the area and just how hard you have to work,” Wegner said.
And so off to work he went.
Wegner played basketball in the winter, and in the spring time he fell just short of qualifying for state track in both the 1,600 and 3,200 in a loaded Division 2 field.
Coming up short at sectionals lit even more of a fire, which is always a lethal element to pair with an already motivated kid.
Wegner stopped playing basketball over the summer months and doubled down on his running training.
In addition to hitting the pavement for the half-century mark in weekly miles, Wegner went to work in the weight room, doing lunges, squats and box jumps to improve muscular endurance while going at it heavy at times to improve the overall speed.
Having that front-running ability is one thing. Having it with speed to burn is another, and that became a big part of his focus.
The Panthers, while they look a little different from last year’s golden team, still have some nice pieces that will make them contenders at season’s end.
Amanual Bauer and Riley Radle were on last year’s state team, and freshman Parker Schneider has already ran a race at 19 minutes.
The key will be for Durand to develop its fourth through seventh guys.
“The biggest thing is to recognize that this team is a lot different,” Wegner said. “We have a lot of new faces. It’s mainly about developing that and seeing where you at.”
But coach Ingrid Husmoen proved last year that she can peak her team at the right time, and Wegner is proof of that.