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You have to go back to the mid-1990s, to the days of Valerie Niese, Laura Grimm and a whole pack of other highly-motivated runners working under Wayne Bohlmann, to find another moment similar to the one the Menomonee Falls girls cross-country team enjoyed the afternoon of Oct. 22 at Lake Park Golf Course in Glendale.

Because the Indians are going back to the WIAA state meet for the first time in about 20 years after a remarkable second-place sectional finish earned by a team made up largely of freshmen and sophomores.

"We haven't really been known for doing anything for years," said sophomore lead runner Kylee Wunschel. "Now people are getting to know us. Everyone just works together so well on this team."

Veteran coach Tom Shannon knew his team had a chance going into the sectional but kept the pressure off the team heading into the meet.

"We didn't talk about it all," he said. "I didn't want to put any additional pressure on these kids. We had a good feeling going in. We'd beaten everyone in the field except Whitefish Bay (the meet champion), and we knew we were capable; we just had to go out and do it."

And they did. Falls will toe the line in the WIAA D1 state meet at 3:05 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, on the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids with a team that has only one senior, Emily Poffinbarger, and will enter the race with an immense amount of confidence.

"We're just super, super excited about this," said junior Amber Kivisto. "The cross-country team was not known for anything at all; now we get to enjoy something like this."

A very large and impressive "this."

The Indians scored just 61 points for their spot in the 10-team field as the 17-team North Shore Conference champion Bay squad won with 47.

Wunschel, who was an individual qualifier for state last season, led the way, taking fourth on the 5,000-meter layout in 19:09. As has been the case all fall, she was followed closely by freshman Eileen Tocco in seventh (19:42) and sophomore Emma Weber in ninth (20:03). Other scoring runners included Kivisto in 19th (20:36) and freshman Maggie Grant in 22nd (20:38). Also running were sophomore Olivia Robinson in 36th (21:05) and Poffinbarger in 56th (22:18).

"I knew Eileen (Tocco) from middle school, so I knew what she was capable of," Wunschel said. "She was a little nervous, but she handled it well, and Emma (Weber) improved so much this year."

"We knew what we had with our first three," Shannon said, "but we needed our four and five to come through."

A major factor in that happening was Grant's effort. She had missed a few weeks in the middle of the season with an injury but has been in fine form the last few weeks. She dropped close to 40 seconds from her previous best time to give the Indians a strong fifth at the sectional.

"This is just awesome," she said.

Yes, it is, Wunschel noted.

"The coaches didn't talk to us about going to state, but we knew ourselves that we had a good chance," she said. "We had no fear. We're such a young team, and we have such a bright future because we really believe in one another."

Shannon added, "We really wanted to get the whole team to state. I know how hard they worked over the summer. We're just so very proud of them."

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