When his Menomonee Falls boys 4x400 meter relay fell to sixth after the second leg at the May 26 WIAA sectional track meet in Watertown, Indian junior Matt Nienow had just one thought in mind.
'We weren't going to lose,' he yelled after his blistering 48.9-second 400 split vaulted the Falls group from sixth to first in the space of 200 meters, paved the way to a state-qualifying runner-up finish in the race and led to his being mobbed by the rest of the team.
'This group was put together not too long ago, and we've really come together,' he said. 'We know when to have a good time and when we have to get to work and go.'
It also said something about Nienow, said coach Bobby Regent-Smith.
'That race showed how much of a competitor he was, how much he really cares,' Regent-Smith said.
Nienow's race also epitomized how much Falls cared as a team as the Indians were in go mode from the start at this sectional. They stunned the 16-team field by qualifying five individual entries and three relay crews for state.
The runner-up finish by the 4x400 relay also sealed a surprising team victory for the Indians in the 16-school WIAA sectional field.
Falls' victory broke a remarkable run of eight straight major meet runner-up finishes this season. It led to a remarkable sight of the team gathered together afterward on the track, waiting for the final results to be announced.
They turned their heads to the press box as the team scores were called out. Their joyous roars indicated they had broken through and won their first sectional title since 2009.
The title was the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of perseverance, as this was a team that had lost one key performer after another due to injury, disciplinary issues or personal reasons.
That they still had enough talent, determination and character to push through stunned Regent-Smith.
'I just couldn't be prouder of a team,' he said. 'The way they handled adversity this season. I just have to give all the credit to the kids and to the assistant coaches who did such a great job.
'It was just so nice to see them do what we knew they could do all along.'
And it was also a nice touch to see top sprinter Brandon Kivisto, who the Indians lost to an Achilles injury back in April, front and center in the celebratory team pictures afterward.
His smile was as wide as anyone else's in the shot.
Falls scored 81 points to outdistance host Watertown and Pewaukee, which tied for second with 68 points.
The Indians' entries will head off to the WIAA state meet at UW-La Crosse's Memorial Stadium this Friday and Saturday, June 3 and 4.
State place-winning senior hurdler Bryce McMurtry, who advanced as part of the 4x200 relay and also in his specialties, the 110 high and 300 intermediate hurdles, is looking forward to being part of a state contingent that is both new and old, experienced and still finding a way.
That includes Nienow, who also made state in the 300 hurdles.
'The experience does help,' McMurtry said. 'Once you've been there, you're not caught by surprise by anything, and it's a blast having a (hurdles) partner like him (Nienow), who helps push you to get better and who you can help get better too.'
All told, the Indians will send to state senior McMurtry in both hurdle races, senior Ben Perdzock in the shot put, Nienow in the 300 hurdles and junior Cameron Jemison in the pole vault.
In addition, they will send the 4x400 relay team of Nienow, Cross Wilson, Patrick Doyle and Tyler Jackson; the 4x200 relay of McMurtry, Amari Hackett, Mason Jansen and Doyle; and the 4x100 relay of Hackett, Jansen, Doyle and Vincent Zimmermann.
All are peaking at the right time, like the 4x400 relay, which hadn't broken 3:30 all season until the regional meet on Monday.
Propelled by Nienow's amazing third leg, the team came across in a season best of 3:22.54 for its runner-up spot. Milwaukee Riverside won in 3:22.26.
The intense race had five teams all within 0.76 of a second of each other.
Nienow gave the stick to anchor runner Doyle with the lead, and Doyle held off some intense surges by a number of runners, maintaining his runner-up spot at the end.
'I knew I just had to go,' Doyle said, 'because these are good guys who work hard every practice and who are talented enough to make state.'
The 4x100 relay team knew it had the talent to make state. A botched hand-off in the May 23 regional nearly cost it a sectional berth, but the Indians cleaned things up in the sectional, coming out of lane one to record a winning season best of 42.72.
It was the only victory of the meet for Falls.
'We worked on that hand-off enough over the last few days,' said lead-off runner Hackett with a laugh. 'We're swinging right now because even through all the ups and downs this year, we never stopped believing in ourselves.'
Taking a second for Falls was Jemison in the pole vault at 13-6. The junior had cleared a school record 15-0 in the regional and is looking forward to his first state trip after resolving his love/hate relationship with track.
'Last year was my first year pole vaulting,' he said. 'I did it because I hated sprinting, and I was forced to do track.
'Now I like it. It's my favorite thing.'
McMurtry was second in both hurdle races, covering the highs in 14.72 and the intermediates in 39.63. Nienow was right behind him in the intermediates in 39.89.
Senior Perdzock is a great story, said Falls weight coach Jordan Shull. Perdzock barely made finals of the shot put and then moved up into a state-qualifying position with one of his last throws. His best toss of 47-1 was good for third.
'It was awesome for him because it was such a struggle for him in the prelims,' Shull said. 'He just moved himself up, and his last throw solidified it. Just great for a kid who has worked so hard for four years.'
The 4x200 relay turned in a season best of 1:28.1 in earning its runner-up spot.
All part of a strong effort by a team that really cares.
'I'll have a couple of butterflies,' said Nienow, who is making his first state trip, 'but I'll be ready to go and do my best.'