WIAA girls cross country photo: Middleton's Lauren Pansegrau

Middleton sophomore Lauren Pansegrau runs to the front of the pack early during Saturday's Division 1 race in Wisconsin Rapids.

WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Lauren Pansegrau has made great strides in the past year.

The Middleton sophomore relied on the experience of her first state cross country meet a year ago and the knowledge she’s gained about training and strategy in making marked improvement.

That was on display Saturday when Pansegrau finished second in the Division 1 girls race at the WIAA state cross country meet in windy and snowy conditions at the Ridges Golf Course.

“I’m really happy,” said Pansegrau, who finished 31st as a freshman last year. “It was a hard race. It was windy and snowy, but it was super fun. All my teammates did super well today, too. It was a really good experience for everyone.”

Onalaska junior Kora Malecek finished first in 17 minutes, 44.6 seconds on the 5,000-meter course, comfortably ahead of runner-up Pansegrau (18:14.2) and third-place finisher Roisin Willis (18:20.9), a Stevens Point sophomore. Pansegrau and Willis ran together much of the race, chasing Malecek.

“I just wanted someone to race next to,” Pansegrau said. “I didn’t know if I could hold on.”

Pansegrau was more at ease this year because her team also competed at state.

“I had a better mindset coming into this race,” she said. “With the whole team here, it just felt like another race.”

Sun Prairie junior Kate Kopotic finished seventh (18:34.6) and Madison West sophomore Genevieve Nashold, last year’s Division 1 champion, was eighth (18:39.3).

“I’m very, very excited,” Kopotic said. “The weather didn’t concern any of us. We all love a good challenge. I think it’s more just how hard it is to push yourself that hard for that duration of time. It really hurts, but it’s all worth it. It’s so worth it.”

Top-ranked Muskego defended its title, finishing first with 72 points. Onalaska was second with 111.

Kopotic and senior Hannah Ray, 24th overall, helped lead Sun Prairie to third place (134), ahead of fourth-place Middleton (147), led by Pansegrau and freshman Zaira Malloy-Salgado (21st). Madison West was ninth (246) and Janesville Craig was 16th (376).

“That was great,” Sun Prairie coach Matt Roe said. “I’m super happy with that (placing). We really were working to put it together at the end of the season. At sectionals, they were a different-looking team. … They had a little more pop in their step and more drive at the end of the season.”

Fort Atkinson senior Jenna Lovejoy was 19th (19:03.5).

Division 2

Wisconsin Dells senior Laura Beghin finished eighth (19:17.3) in the Division 2 race.

Beghin, who finished as runner-up as a freshman and as a sophomore and eighth last year, said she was happy to compete at state one final time with her teammates after battling injuries during her prep career.

“I appreciate the sport so much,” she said.

She said thinking about her prep cross country career ending made this week the most difficult since she began running.

“It’s been an amazing career,” said Beghin, who hopes to continue running in college.

Kayci Martensen, a sophomore from Southwestern/Benton/Cuba City, was the winner in 18:19.9.

Shorewood was the team champion with 61 points. Osceola was second (102).

Lake Mills finished 10th, Wisconsin Dells 11th, Mount Horeb 13th, McFarland 14th and Jefferson 16th.

Division 3

Weyauwega-Fremont sophomore Abby Bartel won the Division 3 race in 18:52.9, ahead of Wisconsin Heights/Barneveld freshman Samantha Herrling (second in 19:09.2) and Poynette junior Katelyn Chadwick (third in 19:30.2).

“I’m super, super happy with it,” Chadwick said. “I was hoping to finish in the top 10. To stay there the whole time (during the race) makes me really happy.”

Snow flurries that began in the second race — Division 1 — turned into blowing snow during the Division 3 competition.

“I just squinted my eyes and kept going,” Chadwick said. “I wanted to finish hard.”

Johnson Creek senior Hannah Constable was ninth (19:46.4).

Oshkosh Lourdes was the team winner with 112 points, 14 better than runner-up Gillett.