It's October, which means we are heading down the home stretch of the fall sports season.
This is the time of year when teams are looking to hit their stride for a postseason run. Last season, Lakeland Union High School began its push to dual WIAA Division 2 sectional championships for the boys' and girls' teams, eventually leading the former winning the state title, at Tomahawk's Hatchet Invitational.
On Saturday, the Thunderbirds once again began October at the 41st Hatchet Invitational and they were looking to make a splash.
To put it simply, Lakeland dominated the meet, as the boys' and girls' teams obliterated the field. Not only did both teams win, but both varsity races were won by T-Birds, as Kav FitzPatrick won the boys' race and Ashley Peterson took first place in the girls' race.
"We ran very well today," LUHS head coach Kevin FitzPatrick said. "We talked to the kids about not that this needed to be a statement meet, but we ran really well at Smiley and then Griak didn't really reflect our team just because of the conditions. So we said to step onto the course and return Lakeland to where it's supposed to be and our kids responded to that."
The terrain at Edgewater Golf Course generally leads to faster times, and despite the rainy conditions, that held true once again.
Three Lakeland boys' placed in the top 15 on the school's all-time leaders in a 5K race, including all three falling in the top three in the top six in the school's history at the Hatchet Invite.
Meanwhile, six girls placed in the top 10 all-time in the history of the school running in a 5K race at Tomahawk.
"It was still a very fast course," Kevin FitzPatrick said. "There weren't any soft spots but there were some puddles on the course that probably slowed the race down about 10 seconds. When you look at our performances, the majority of our boys' varsity had PRs or season-bests and the majority of our girls' had PRs or season-bests."
Kav FitzPatrick ran the second-fastest time in school history, running 15:43.31, which nearly eclipsed his own record of 15:42 from the Smiley Invitational earlier this season.
Last year, FitzPatrick lost the race to Miguel Mathias of Port Edwards by nearly 30 seconds, but this time he returned the favor, besting him by 23 seconds.
"Last year (Mathias) beat Kav by 30 seconds and then he ended up fifth at state," coach FitzPatrick said. "In a sense, he and Miguel ran together for the first two and a half miles, with a half-mile to go, Kav took off and beat him by 23 seconds. He ran a pretty fast last mile."
Darius Diver finished third in the race, and his time of 16:08.95 was good enough for fifth-best in school history and third-best in school history at the Hatchet Invite.
Meanwhile, Jack Garcia's time of 16:33.05 not only earned him third in the race, but sixth all-time at Tomahawk and 14th overall on the Lakeland leaderboard.
Jim Drewry placed 15th, while Grant Gibson and Maquian Johnson took 22nd and 24th, respectively.
"Grant Gibson and Maquian Johnson haven't run varsity this season, but they stepped up to varsity and ran extraordinary," coach FitzPatrick said. "They had big PRs today, so we're looking for a lot out of those guys in the coming weeks."
While the boys' team won by 30 points, the girls' team was even more dominant.
Lakeland won the team portion of the race, scoring 28 points, which was 76 points better than the next closest team, Tomahawk.
The T-Birds took 11 girls to Tomahawk, including JV, and each won took home a medal.
Peterson spearheaded the effort by besting defending Great Northern Conference champion Alayna Franson of Rhinelander by nearly 44 seconds. Her time was also the fastest for a Lakeland female at the Hatchet Invite during the 5K era (since 2014).
"Alayna's the defending conference champion, a very talented runner, but Ashley's kind of had the year right now," FitzPatrick said. "Ashley's run extremely well. In that race, basically, Ashley went out at the gun and by the mile mark she had already gapped Alayna. The gap just continued to grow throughout the race."
Freshman Kate Melms placed fourth with a time of 20:54.42, while Aubrey Anderson was sixth at 21:00.15 and Maddie Nelson was seventh at 21:01.81. Katie Tharman took 10th, while Mia Case was 15th.
Melms's time was good enough for fourth all-time at Tomahawk, while Anderson's was sixth, Nelson's was seventh and Tharman's was ninth.
Riley Mauzer, who ran in the JV race, actually recorded the fifth-fastest time of the day for Lakeland, but wasn't eligible for the varsity score. Mauzer ran 21:16.34, which is eighth all-time at Tomahawk.
"I think the big surprise for the day was Riley Mauzer, who ran JV for us, and ended up being our fifth girl today," FitzPatrick said. "She didn't help us in the scoring because she was in the JV competition, but she stepped up big time today. I think she's going to contribute a lot to this team in the next few weeks."
The postseason officially begins on Saturday for the GNC Championship Meet, which is to be hosted by Northland Pines.
The Lakeland boys' team has won eight consecutive GNC titles, which is all but one since the conference was formed. Meanwhile, the girls' have won three of the last four titles, including the last two.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.