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Hip doesn't keep Starck from 24th place at Midwest
Photo for the Times: Christopher Heimerman Dylan Starck finishes just ahead of Sun Prairies Tyler Hart at the Midwest Invitational on Saturday.
JANESVILLE - Dylan Starck took in a deep breath of fresh air Saturday morning at the Midwest Invitational cross-country meet.

The Monroe junior, who's suffered from hip pain for more than a year, put down a gutty 16:43.96 at Blackhawk Golf Course in Janesville, good for 24th place among 218 varsity runners.

The weather was cool, skies overcast, and the flat course couldn't have felt more perfect for Starck when he was pain-free after the first mile.

"Right there I knew I had to put one down," Starck said.

Starck admitted his hip was "killing him" leading up to the race, but when it finally acted up with 800 meters left, pain was just par for the course and wouldn't slow him as he held off a hard-charging Tyler Hart of Sun Prairie down the homestretch.

With 705 points, the Cheesemakers took 26th place out of 32 teams, as none of Starck's fellow hounds cracked the top-100. Brandon Mortimer, the only other varsity regular, took 132nd at 18:24.

Starck's mark, which tied his personal record, came at one of Wisconsin's most prestigious prep events. Thirty-five schools took part, including many in-state powerhouses, two Illinois schools, an Iowa school and yearly participant Houston MacArthur of Texas.

"Dylan put in a 40 mile week this past week," Monroe coach Dave Hirsbrunner said. "I didn't think he could run that fast this early. We're very happy for him. His mileage is now going to start to taper and he should start to get faster."

Lake Park, Ill., which had won the previous three girls' titles, kept its school's streak alive as the boys took the title with 61 points, less than half of host and runner-up Janesville Craig's 124. Abdou Seye of Madison LaFollette had the meet's best time of 15:52.23.

Underclassmen had the option of running the freshman-sophomore race, junior-varsity or varsity. Hirsbrunner elected to give his youngsters a shot at placing significantly higher and, in turn, building vital confidence.

Joel Henry shined in the underclassmen's division. In fact, the Cheesemaker sophomore led the bulk of the race and deep into the third mile before Noah Borchardt passed him as they made the turn for the homestretch.

Henry tried to hold off Lake Park's Tim Ehrhardt, but had no illusions about why he couldn't hold down runner-up honors at 17:22.12, less than a half-second behind Ehrhardt's 17:21.78.

"Sprinting is not my strong point," Henry said. "It got me pumped a bit, and I wish I could've kick harder because it was just us three neck-and-neck."

Henry bested his 2008 time by 1 minute, 3 seconds. Luke Peterson took 12th (17:54) as the Cheese underclassmen placed 12th.

"This was a very good finish for our young guys," Hirsbrunner said. "Six of the seven guys ran personal bests."

Of local interest, Albany took part and placed 23rd with 594 points and a very balanced pack. No qualifying Comet finished higher than 93rd (Reece Whitehead, 17:49), but none finished lower than 153rd.

Starck said his original peaking schedule has been pushed back, but he's just happy to be with a program, even if it's been altered. Saturday's massive event also gave him a new perspective that could provide invaluable experience during the postseason.

"I'm used to being in front of the pack, and when I'm surrounded by that many runners I'm like, 'I've gotta get going or these guys are going to pass me.' I'm not used to that," Starck said.

Starck thinks his team can compete for conference, but having a leader who took cues off former standouts Brett DeNure and Matt Barrett will be essential.

"I kind of need to be the shepherd showing the sheep around, teaching them how to do the things we sometimes take for granted," Starck said. "Me and Brett were best friends and over the years I learned a lot from him and Matt Barrett."

Monroe's junior-varsity runners finished last in 22nd place, and, while 420 middle-schoolers ran a 1,600-meter course, none of them, neither boys nor girls, bore Cheesemaker uniforms.

The 72nd annual event, hosted by Janesville Craig, featured more than 2,000 runners. Henry took in all the action, and admitted feeling the itch to run the varsity race once it was under way.

"It was so exciting," Henry said. "There was so much competition. But my time... it would've placed pretty low."