Taylor Winterton was on everyone’s radar as a middle school cross country runner.
The Sparta freshman showed a great deal of potential as a young harrier, but sometimes potential doesn’t pan out.
But that’s not the case for Winterton, who just last week qualified for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 2 State Cross Country Championships in her first year as a varsity runner.
While the trip to state may have come as a surprise to Winterton, it wasn’t to her head coach.
“When you have a great work ethic and bulldog attitude, it’s doesn’t come as a surprise that she has done well and improved throughout the season,” offered Sparta head cross country coach Jean Roddick. “She had great examples and role models on the team.”
Winterton, who led the Lady Spartan harriers in all but one race this season, finished fourth in a field of 94 runners at Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 sectional at Skyline Golf Course in Black River Falls.
Her performance earned her a trip to this weekend’s WIAA state meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
While Winterton is elated about qualifying for state, her first concern was with her team, which fell just two points shy of going to state as well.
“I thought it was really good,” said Winterton when asked about qualifying for state. “But I thought if I finished well, the whole team would go.”
It’s that kind of unselfish, team-first attitude that has driven Winterton all season.
“I didn’t really think I could make it to state,” she said.
“I thought we could go as a team, but I didn’t think I would go as an individual,” Winterton continued. “It’s kind of sad - the seniors don’t get to go and they really wanted to.”
Winterton led the Lady Spartan harriers in eight of nine varsity races this season.
Her best finish came at Black River Falls on Oct. 6, when she finished second overall to lead Sparta to third at the 13-team invitational.
Less than 10 days later, Winterton finished fourth at the Mississippi Valley Conference Championships to earn all-MVC first team honors with a personal-best time of 19:43 on the 5,000-meter course at Holmen High School.
“As a freshman, Taylor had the luxury of just going out and running and working hard in each practice and each race,” said Roddick. “Our leadership roles were handled by our juniors and seniors, who set good examples and pushed and encouraged all of our runners, including Taylor.”
Winterton’s Division 2 girls race will get underway at 12:40 p.m. Saturday at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
Earlier this season, Winterton finished fourth in a field of 114-runners on the very same course.
Roddick hopes competing at state will be a learning experience for Winterton.
“She needs to have confidence in her ability, focus on the race and enjoy the atmosphere at the same time,” she said.
“She needs to run as hard as she has all year to get a feel of what it’s like to compete at that level,” Roddick continued. “Hopefully, there will be more trips to state and big meets in her future.”
As for Winterton, her goals are very similar.
“My goal is to finish well and make everybody proud,” she concluded.