Photo courtesy of Laurie Mathes.
By Andrew Pantzlaff
The Brillion News
REEDSVILLE – Unexpected in some ways, and predictable in others. A journey of redemption. An exhilarating moment of validation. A continuation of greatness. A bittersweet finish. A triumphant ending.
Take your pick to describe a showcase that had it all.
But in simplest terms, it’s best to just call it what it is: the most decorated weekend in Reedsville varsity sports history.
Sophomore Faith Lubner hurdled fastest, and jumped further than anyone else. Meanwhile, senior Chloe Eckstein launched her discus past any of her peers.
And together, they collectively earned four Division 3 state championships at the WIAA State Track and Field Meet this weekend, garnering more gold at an event than has ever been done before in school history.
The four gold medals earned by Lubner and Eckstein gave Reedsville fourth place overall, as a team, in the WIAA D3 girls field. Cuba City won the meet with 53 points. Next was St. Mary’s Springs with 44 points, followed by Lourdes Academy with 41 and Reedsville with 40.
Lubner won the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump, while Eckstein won the discus throw.
On the boys’ side, Grant Wedepohl had a photo finish in the boys’ 800 meter run, taking second place after finishing a mere two-one-hundreths of a second – yes, just 2/100th of a second – behind first place. That strong showing helped solidify the weekend as one for the ages for Panthers’ athletics.
But that’s not all. The boys’ 3,200 meter relay team also earned a spot on the podium with a fifth-place finish – upping the Panthers’ medal count to nine.
That squad consisted of Andy Spatchek, Joe Shikoski, Trevor Frank and Wedepohl. The team finished the race with a time of 8:13.87.
Rounding out the Reedsville performances was Reedsville senior Brenton Ott, who took 14th in the high jump.
A victory parade in Reedsville was held on Sunday to help welcome back the Panthers’ athletes after their stellar showing.
For Eckstein, she’s thankful she got into discus. It was an unexpected choice for her heading into her high school life four years ago. But her throw of 125-feet and five inches on Saturday cemented her spot in Panther lore, becoming the first-ever girls’ discus champion in school history.
Eckstein admits it almost never happened, as she could have just as easily been putting on batting gloves this year instead of a gold medal.
She had played softball all throughout middle school, but decided in high school to test the waters with track. Her dad had a big background in cross country and track, Eckstein said, and with track starting practices a week earlier than softball, she figured it couldn’t hurt to try it and switch back to softball if it wasn’t the right fit.
Four years later, there’s no disputing she made the right decision.
“I decided to go out for track, and ended up really liking it,” Eckstein said, but noted it took a bit of time to find her niche. “I tried out for pretty much every event – long jump, pole vaults, sprints. I started doing discus halfway through freshman year.”
There was a connection to the event that hooked Eckstein in.
“I love the uniqueness of it, it’s so technical and precise, and just the mechanical nature of it. I just find it really cool,” Eckstein said.
She admits she’d daydream about winning a state title in the event, but wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible.
Still, with a lot of practice and patience, her technical and mechanical skills started surpassing those of many of her peers.
Her sophomore year, riddled with nerves she competed at state and took 12th.
Last year, she calmed down, improved and took sixth as a junior to earn a place on the podium.
This year, it was her final chance – and she seized the moment.
“I think attending state the past two years really helped. I was nervous, but it was more of a focused nervous,” she said.
That focus – and the tireless work that came in the years leading up to this weekend – helped her make her day dream of discus gold become reality.
“She has done a tremendous amount of work on her own … she put in an extreme amount of work in becoming a state champion,” said Chris Shimek, Reedsville head track coach. “It was very well deserved.”
Since her freshman year, Eckstein has competed with the Madison Throwing Club, refining her skills each summer and winter there. Next, she plans on attending Concordia University, where she’ll be throwing discus as well.
As she leaves her high school career behind, Eckstein walks away having beaten her own school record in discus four times, crushing her personal best by 10 feet from last year, marking in with the furthest girls’ throw in school history with 132-1.
While Eckstein has ended her high school career on top, teammate Lubner started there during her freshman campaign last year. Lubner won gold in the WIAA Division 3 hurdles last year, setting a school record in the process with a time of 45.15.
It might be hard to imagine this year being a tale of redemption, considering this success.
But in many ways, that’s exactly what it was for the young standout athlete.
Lubner was at the very least a state podium contender in 100 hurdles and long jump in her freshman year as well. But things didn’t pan out.
“I didn’t quite get to do what I all wanted,” Lubner said.
She scratched three consecutive times in the long jump in regionals last year, and didn’t advance to sectionals. It was over before it started.
In the 100 hurdles at state, she didn’t qualify for finals after falling in prelims.
“That was definitely disappointing,” Lubner said of her mishap. “You’re working all season to get where you are, and that happens, and it’s really a bummer. It’s kind of funny, because I hurt my knee when I fell, but I was more hurt not being able to move on to finals than hurting my knee.”
She turned this hurt into motivation.
“Not a day goes by that she doesn’t do her hurdle drills,” Coach Shimek said, calling Lubner a “wonderful” example of what a student athlete should be. Lubner also trained with the House of Speed to improve her mechanics.
All this work led up to Saturday, where her chance to redeem last year’s shortcomings was at stake.
Like Eckstein, she seized the moment.
Competing at state for the first time in the long jump, Lubner soared past the competition with a mark of 18-02.25 and broke her own school record in the process.
“I was really happy about that one. I PR-ed by almost a foot,” Lubner said of the personal record mark.
And in the event she fell during last year? Lubner earned dramatic gold in the 100 hurdles as she needed a late surge to fend off Luther’s Isabelle Kick. Lubner crossed the finish line in 15.72 seconds – about 2/10th of a second ahead of Kick.
“There were definitely nerves, and I knew I could not take it for granted. I got out in front of everyone in the race, but I was just trying to focus and stay on my feet,” she said.
Two down, and one to go – Last up was seeing if she could repeat as 300 hurdles champion.
She did just that, racing to a time of 45.05 – and, once again, breaking her own school record in the process.
Winning the event capped off a spectacular weekend for Lubner. It ended a year’s worth of waiting for redemption, and her “triple crown” came on an appropriate day considering she is also an avid horse rider.
“I got a lot of messages about Triple Crowns,” Lubner said with a laugh. Those messages from friends and family were linking her to American Pharoah, a thoroughbred racehorse that also won the American Triple Crown the same day at the Belmont Stakes. Pharoah was the first American Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and only the twelfth in history.
Lubner is Reedsville’s first-ever triple crown winner in school history.
Winning state gold in all three of her events is something Lubner will never forget.
“I was happy that I made it through everything, and did what I came to do. I think it was even better than last year. I feel it gets more amazing every time.”
Perhaps even more “amazing” things await in the future, if Lubner gets her way.
Despite winning four state titles already, she’s focused on getting back on top again – and still has two years to go in her high school career to add to her legendary totals.
“Moving forward, I’m just hoping to keep breaking my records and keep getting up on the podium, hopefully in first place. Everyone wants to be in that spot, and we’re all just kind of fighting for it. I’m just going to keep working hard, and maybe – maybe break a state record, you know,” Lubner said.
Either way, she’s already helped redefine the school’s history books.