How Ella Whiffen made history for Madison Country Day/Abundant Life in cross country

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WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Ella Whiffen enjoyed both running and volleyball growing up, but when she started high school at Madison Country Day, the senior was forced to make a choice.

Whiffen opted for the latter. But when the opportunity to compete in both cross country and volleyball came her second year, she jumped at the chance.

Landing a second fall sport was certainly a challenge, but one she was happy to take on, and it was her dual sport skills that took her to the podium Saturday at the WIAA State Cross Country Championships. Whiffen finished sixth in the women’s Division 3 race, becoming the first Country Day/Abundant Life medalist in program history at Ridges Golf Course.

“It’s really nice, especially since it’s my last time and my last meeting of the season finishing strong,” Whiffen said. “I didn’t expect this to happen, but I’m very happy it happened.”

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Coach Casey Green said, “It’s incredibly impressive to have an athlete who not only works so hard, but is willing to balance so many things: a dual-sport athlete and a high academic load.

Whiffen was narrowly edged out to Dodgeland’s Ava Raasch at the finish line, crossing in 19 minutes, 27.5 seconds, just three-tenths behind the junior Trojans. Cochrane-Fountain City’s Addy Duellman won the race in 18:58.1 to lead the Pirates to the team title with 132 points, ahead of Oshkosh Lourdes (138).

It was a close race throughout and a mad dash to the finish line as only 3½ seconds separated fifth to ninth place. To her credit, Whiffen hung on with the leading pack the whole way; this was not the case initially.

“We had to train him,” Green said of Whiffen staying with the front runners from the start. “Ella tends to hang back and move, but when the competition gets as fierce as it is, you don’t have as much time to do that.”

Green said they helped instill that in Whiffen by having her follow the lead of teammate Hannah Hallick, who finished 19th (20:16.4) in her first state championship appearance. While not inherent in Whiffen’s running skills, Green knows his other attributes cultivated through volleyball being the Prairie Hawks’ leading forward with 109 kills and second on the team in digs (151), aces (25) and the blocks (4).

“Her main skill is in two areas, one being that she has an engine that just won’t stop, and the second is that she is always ready to accelerate even when the going gets tough,” said said Green, noting that Whiffen usually directs her. third fastest mile.

Seeing everything fall into place for Whiffen in her third year of competition has been hugely rewarding, and the senior hopes it will help inspire the next generation of Prairie Hawks athletes.

“I think our program is continuing, hopefully upwards,” she said. “We had a small team, but big enough, we had enough space. We were really on the edge of that last year, so hopefully it continues to attract more people and spark more interest in the sport.

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