Northwestern's Tess Nelson, middle, is all smiles after receiving her medal for winning the 300-meter hurdles at Saturday WIAA Division 2 State Track and Field Meet at UW-La Crosse. (Photo Courtesy of Bob Burrows)

Tess Nelson claims Tigers’ first state track title in five years

Northwestern Middle School teacher Phil McGrath has a nice, cool hairstyle for the summer, and he didn’t have to pay a dime to get it.

The trim came courtesy of Northwestern High School sophomore Tess Nelson, the Tigers’ newest state champion.

Nelson won the girls 300-meter hurdles Saturday in the WIAA Division 2 state track meet in La Crosse, finishing in 45.02 seconds. Melissa Talbot of Freedom holds the Division 2 state record time of 44.03 seconds, set in 2002.

Nelson is the first Tiger girl to win a state title in the hurdles and the first in five years to claim a state crown.

“She’s focused,” said McGrath, the hurdles coach for the NHS track team. “She set goals and we just did whatever we could to meet those.”

McGrath said it’s a longstanding tradition for state champions to shave their coach’s head, so he endured his shearing Tuesday stoically.

Nelson laughed as she shaved off clumps of hair but worried that she was missing patches.

What started as a mohawk quickly became a buzz cut, and by the time Nelson set aside the razor, McGrath was left with no more than a centimeter of stubble.

“Tess, you could do this professionally,” said Lynsey Anttila, a fellow hurdler.

Other track and field athletes gave Nelson tips as she shaved McGrath’s head and recorded the event to post online.

“I appreciate everyone laughing,” McGrath said. But he had no hard feelings about the shave.

“It’s a tradition,” he said. “I hope she wins again next year.”

Nelson still hasn’t processed her victory from Saturday.

“It still just seems like another race, as of right now,” Nelson said. “It hasn’t really sunk in.”

This year’s state track meet was a first for the sophomore, although she competed in the state cross country meet this season and last. When she stepped onto the track Friday in La Crosse and looked around, she was awestruck by the massive scale of the state meet.

“My jaw just dropped,” Nelson said. “You couldn’t even take it all in. It was just so utterly big.”

Thousands of fans packed the bleachers and surrounded the track. Eric and Wendy Nelson, Tess’s parents, said the roar of the crowd could be heard blocks away at the end of each race.

“It’s incredible. You walk in there and it’s a huge grandstand, thousands of people,” McGrath said. “For prelims on Friday we were pretty nervous, both Mike (Naumann) and Tess. Once they got that first race under their belts, Saturday was pretty calm and focused.”

Nelson came into the state meet as the No. 1 seed in the Division 2 girls 300 hurdles. She qualified with a first-place finish at the Colby Sectionals in 45.50 seconds.

In the preliminaries Friday, she won her heat in 46.71 seconds, but her time was only the third best overall.

“It wasn’t intentional,” McGrath said. “Her prelim heat, she was so far ahead of everybody else that there was nobody pushing her.” The No. 2 ranked runner in the heat was disqualified because of a false start.

Nelson’s prelim time put her in lane four for Saturday’s finals, a position McGrath said was actually more suited to the sophomore’s style.

“She’s a competitor,” McGrath said. “She likes having girls out in front of her so she can chase them.”

From her lane position in the finals, Nelson was able to watch the competition in front of her. The primary challenger was Karlee Schneiss of Kettle Moraine Lutheran.

Schneiss led the field early, but Nelson steadily closed the gap.

“I was a little scared coming around the curve because it seemed like she was way in front,” Nelson said. “Then when I hit the straightaway I just focused and started sprinting and catching up.”

When the pair reached the final hurdles, they were separated by only a fraction of a second.

“It was really close. We didn’t really even up until the second to last hurdle,” Nelson said. “It was the most competitive race that I’ve had all year.”

Nelson crossed the line .18 seconds ahead of Schneiss to win the Division 2 girls title.

Her parents watched the finish from the bleachers — where the head index was in excess of 100 degrees. From their vantage point, Eric and Wendy Nelson didn’t have a clear view of the runners crossing the line.

They waited a few breathless moments after the race to see where their daughter had placed.

“I actually thought she got second until I saw her name on the screen,” Wendy Nelson said.

“She’s a hard worker, and she’s stubborn,” Eric Nelson said. “She doesn’t like to get beat.”

Tess Nelson said her parents have been at every one of her meets this year, and she enjoyed sharing her state championship moment with them.

“They were going crazy,” Nelson said. “It was just awesome.”

Nelson hopes to make a return trip to state next year, with her sights set on the state record. Her 45.02 finish at state this year — a personal best — is one second behind the current Division 2 record.

“I really hope that I keep getting faster,” Nelson said. “This year I cut three seconds off my times from last year, so if I keep getting faster, it should be really good.”

TIGER TALES: Northwestern’s Mike Naumann also qualified for the finals in the boys 300 hurdles. He finished ninth in 41.94 seconds. … The NHS boys 4x100 relay team of Jeremy Magnuson, Zak Anttila, Max Biser and Dee Burse improved upon their time to move to No. 2 on the school’s all-time chart. The relay team placed 11th in 44.37 seconds. … Jordan Johnson broke her own school record in the girls 800 with a time of 2:22.10. She placed 11th out of 16. … The last individual from NHS to claim a state track title was Nikki Hughes, who won the 400-meter run in 2006. Like Nelson, Hughes also finished third in the prelims but went on to win in the finals. The girls 4x200 relay team of Hughes, Kristina Anderson, Naomi Nelson and Laura Johnson also took first at state that year, and the Tiger girls finished third overall as a team.

WIAA Track & Field

State Championships

June 3-4 at UW-La Crosse

Northwestern Girls Results

300-Meter Hurdles — 1 Tess Nelson, Northwestern, 45.02; 2 Karlee Schneiss, Kettle Moraine Lutheran, 45.20; 3 Marissa Mahr, Stanley-Boyd, 45.91; 4 Chelsey Arendt, Sparta, 46.80; 5 Grace Brunette, Rice Lake, 46.83; 6 Taylor Olson, Aquinas, 46.90; 7 Amanda Markham, Oostburg, 47.33; 8 Brittany Dulak, Mosinee, 47.94; 9 Victoria Ortgiesen, Belleville/New Glarus, 48.55; 10 Katie Croney, Oconto, 53.05.

800 — 1 Madeline Haupert, Aquinas, 2:14.61; 2 Molly Hanson, Dodge/Mineral Point, 2:15.63; 3 Kellie Greenwood, Two Rivers, 2:16.19; 4 Tricia Serres, Platteville, 2:16.61; 5 Ali Olson, Bloomer, 2:17.95; 6 Kristen Linzmeier, Chilton, 2:17.98; 7 Liz Bloy, Freedom, 2:18.35; 8 Allie Woodward, Notre Dame, 2:19.89; 9 Kelli McKenna, Madison Edgewood, 2:20.58; 10 Haley Swanson, Sparta, 2:21.27; 11 Jordan Johnson, Northwestern, 2:22.10; 12 Monica Emerson, Somerset, 2:22.31; 13 Brittany Kozlowski, New Berlin West, 2:23.55; 14 Rachel Sudbury, Tomahawk, 2:24.03; 15 Amanda Brom, Jefferson, 2:25.68.

4x800 Relay — 1 Platteville, 9:23.21; 2 Dodgeville/Mineral Point, 9:32.69; 3 Bloomer, 9:33.87; 4 Madison Edgewood, 9:34.90; 5 Chilton, 9:35.15; 6 Clintonville, 9:37.43; 7 Denmark, 9:42.84; 8 Freedom, 9:44.03; 9 McFarland, 9:44.11; 10 Lodi, 9:49.63; 11 Pewaukee, 9:51.79; 12 Lakeside Lutheran, 9:55.47; 13 Shorewood, 9:58.16; 14 Prescott, 9:58.53; 15 Osceola, 9:58.74; 16 East Troy, 9:59.45; 17 Northwestern (Beth Gurske, Angela Snow, Jessi Morris, Jordan Johnson), 10:00.51.

Pole Vault — 1 Bonnie Draxler, Wrightstown, 11-3; 2 Kim Stonewerth, Whitewater, 11-3; 3 Mikayla Laue, Richland Center, 10-9; 4 Shaundra Rasmussen, Whitewater, 10-9; 5 Linsey Wacker, Boscobel, 10-3; 6 Sabrina Wolter, Xavier, 10-3; 7 Casey Schilling, Lakeside, 9-6; 8 Stephanie Piparo, St. Thomas More, 9-6; 9 Lacey Fema, Viroqua, 9-6; 9 Nicole Hanson, Clintonville, 9-6; 11 Logan Holly, Northwestern, 9-0; 11 Brooke McCauley, Northwestern, 9-0; 13 Katrina Von Arx, Aquinas, 9-0; 14 Sarah Krig, Somerset, 9-0; 14 Andie Friberg, Elk Mound, 9-0; 16 Leah Kasten, Oconto Falls, 9-0.

Northwestern Boys Scores

800 — 1 Jake Schimenz, Brown Deer, 1:57.68; 2 Michael Peterson, Nekoosa, 1:57.78; 3 Nick Erickson, Platteville, 1:57.88; 4 Dylan Starck, Monroe, 1:57.90; 5 Dennis Haak, Belleville, 1:58.16; 6 William Peasley, Black River Falls, 1:58.30; 7 Eric Sajdak, Freedom, 1:58.60; 8 Rudy Botz, Little Chute, 1:58.73; 9 Dawson Miller, Whitewater, 1:59.19; 10 Alex Zangl, Lomira, 1:59.31; 11 Sam Wallace, Fox Valley Luth., 1:59.85; 12 Ross Seiler, So. Door, 2:01.91; 13 Austin Berube, Northwestern, 2:02.12; 14 Bryan Livingston, Ash., 2:02.88; 15 Cody Goll, Kettle Moraine Luth., 2:04.10.

300-Meter Hurdles — 1 Thurgood Dennis, Notre Dame, 38.12; 2 Jordan Schmidt, Kewaunee, 38.14; 3 Rich Mork, Northland Pines, 39.91; 4 Kenneth Walker, Big Foot, 40.03; 5 Ray Callaway, GET, 40.58; 6 T.C. Smith, Dodge, 40.61; 7 Bo Casper, Freedom, 40.85; 8 Josh Amys, Chetek/Weyer., 41.20; 9 Mike Naumann, Northwestern, 41.94; 10 Doug Clark, Wautoma, 43.48.

4x100 Relay — 1 West Salem, 42.48; 2 Tomahawk, 43.20; 3 Winneconne, 43.28; 4 Two Rivers, 43.43; 5 Milw., 43.60; 6 Turner, 43.61; 7 St. Croix Falls, 43.92; 8 Catholic Memorial, 44.19; 9 Platteville, 44.52; 10 Notre Dame, 47.75. Preliminaries — 11 Northwestern (Jeremy Magnuson, Zak Anttila, Max Biser, Deontae Burse).

Pole Vault — 1 Brent Samuelson, Edgerton, 14-3; 2 Kyle Novack, Mishicot, 14-0; 3 Austin Kenefick, Richland Center, 13-6; 4 Windsor Molnar, Columbus, 13-6; 4 T J Schlice, Kewaskum, 13-6; 6 Jeff Hill, Monroe, 13-6; 7 Adam Ruiz, New Berlin West, 13-6; 8 Jeremy Knase, Northwestern, 13-0. Justin Knase, Northwestern, no height.