Denmark senior wins two state titles
Leah Kralovetz’s running journey for Denmark High School is a non-traditional one.
That’s putting it lightly.
Kralovetz, an All-Conference soccer player just two years ago, walked away from the sport to join track for her junior season.
During her sophomore year, it was cross country that she chose over volleyball.
That’s where the story began. This past weekend is where the high school portion of that story came to a happy ending.
Entering the 2019 WIAA State Track & Field Meet as a heavy favorite in both the division two 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs, it was only a battle against herself. Just last year in the same events at the 2018 meet, it wasn’t that clear-cut.
Dana Feyen of Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School was a double state champion in those events last season, while Kralovetz was the double runner-up. Feyen also captured the 2017 division two state cross country title in fall. Kralovetz was in her first season in track in 2018 and the margin was already razor thin.
Kralovetz returned for her senior year with preparation and confidence. It began with a state title in cross country, hedging Feyen by roughly 30 seconds. That’s where the focus on track titles really began after falling just short a year ago.
“It really drove me, especially after my cross-country championship,” said Kralovetz. “Winning that, that really helped me to persevere through it.
“Just knowing that I have a greater plan ahead of me, that God set. It just gave me a lot of calm confidence coming into this.”
Kralovetz wasn’t quiet about her goals entering Friday’s 1,600. There were two: to break the five minute mark and to win.
It came full circle with a state victory on Friday, where Feyen shortly pulled ahead halfway through the third lap of the four lap race. Kralovetz didn’t waiver.
“I knew my first lap was a little slower than I normally run. So, just knowing that I knew I had it in me to and I could keep going through,” Kralovetz said. “I just really wanted to stay in front the whole time.”
Everybody in Kralovetz’s camp echoed that same confidence at a moment in the race where most would get butterflies in their stomach.
“I was not worried when Dana went by her there, but Dana is an amazing runner with a lot of wins on her resume,” said Denmark long distance coach Terry Wetzel. “Quite frankly, I was confident in Leah today and her abilities.”
Composure paid off as Kralovetz, an Iowa commit, rattled off a dominant final lap and achieved both of her goals, finishing with a time of 4:56.84, defeating Feyen, an Iowa State commit, by eight seconds. With that, Kralovetz became the only two-sport state champion in the history of Denmark High School.
“We were expecting that time, I was expecting her to get under five [minutes] today,” said Wetzel. “But I was not expecting her to win by so much. She beat a defending state champion.
“Our strategy was to just go hard, we were going to run to the best of our abilities regardless of what anyone else did. We were not going to play any sort of strategy.”
In the final 200-meter stretch, the future Iowa Hawkeye heard the crowd of over 8,000 explode and was able to see the separation she created from a video board. She couldn’t help but smile ear to ear.
“That was at the moment when I knew I had it, and I saw the time and that was my goal, was to break 5, and I did,” said Kralovetz. “I was really happy.”
Fast forward to late Saturday afternoon, as the sun began the settle, Kralovetz’s nerves followed suit. It was go time in the event she was more confident in.
It wasn’t close.
Kralovetz won the 3,200-meter title by 19 seconds and almost lapped two runners as she smiled past yet another finish line. Three state championships in one year is not too shabby. Once the now-graduate of Denmark stepped off the podium and walked toward her family and coaches, tears began to flow and she was embraced by Terry Wetzel, Denmark’s distance coach.
This story wouldn’t be written without his contributions.
“He is the one who convinced me to go out for cross-country my sophomore year,” Kralovetz said of the moment. “Since then, it’s just been going up from there.”
Back in 2016, Wetzel noted that Kralovetz had made a comment about potentially joining cross country instead of volleyball, which she did. And looking back on it, it was a great choice.
“I didn’t see this level of talent initially, I just knew she had the potential to be something very special,” Wetzel recalled of the initial recruitment. “She got a lot of confidence in cross country this year, earning the scholarship [from Iowa] gave her a lot of confidence.”
Wetzel has had some incredible success coaching long distance runners. Chris Rombough, a 2005 graduate of New London, held the state record in the 3200-meter run at the division one level up until last weekend. That’s 14 years atop Wisconsin thanks to his former track coach, Terry Wetzel.
Wetzel isn’t one to pick favorites, but said Kralovetz is definitely one of the most premier athletes he’s coached.
“She ranks right up there,” said Wetzel. “She’s been a neat story starting the sport kind of late, but I’ve been blessed to get some really good athletes over the years.”