Burlington boys, girls start strong at county invite

Jake DeRosier (middle) pushes hard at the finish line of the Racine County Invite. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk


For the past decade, Matt Nie has been waiting in the wings, soaking up nuggets of information about running and how to run a program from longtime coaches Rick Koceja and Wally Bradford.

Last spring, Koceja decided to move over to coach cross country and track at Catholic Central High School, to coach alongside his son, James, and Bradford retired.

So Nie, who has volunteer coached for the past 10 years, eagerly stepped up to take the head coaching position at Burlington, and he’s bringing another former volunteer coach, Nick Brooks, with him to form co-head coaches.

With Nie in Burlington and Brooks living in Racine, it works out well.

“He’s handled the logistics of getting the team to and from places, I write the workouts and we both run the practices together,” Brooks said.

Brooks, now in his third year at Burlington High School, said he and Nie met in Brooks’ first season with the cross country program, and the two hit it off.

Nie, who had just won the “old man” race Saturday at the Racine County Invite in Racine, joked immediately after winning about his love for the sport.

“The County Invite always has an Open, and I ran a 14:50 and got first place,” he said with a triumphant laugh Saturday. “I can’t have the kids complain about that last hill and not experience the pain myself.”

Nie said it’s fun to see Koceja on the other side, as the two shook hands at Saturday’s event.

“I’m so excited to be a part of this program,” Nie added. “This is the regret run, but pride gets in the way, and it’s fun to be out here with the kids.”

Nie said he and Brooks always thought they’d take over some day. But they didn’t know it would come this soon.

“It was a great opportunity since Wally decided to step down. They were a legacy. They did it for 30 years. There will never be another Rick and Wally,” Nie said.

“There are very few sports you can take with you for your entire life. It’s one of the very few sports where you can run in the same path that Olympians can run. You can’t do that in other sports. It’s a passion and a lifestyle, not just a sport.”

Nie is referring to the Boston Marathon, a race he recently ran.

While many must hang up their uniforms or their shoes at a certain point, Nie said it’s nice to be able to run your entire life.

Nie, who lived in Alaska before Burlington, was embraced with open arms by Koceja and Bradford, and he has now become ingrained in the city’s running community. He said he was treated like family, and he immediately asked to help out with Koceja and Bradford.

Nie encourages everyone to run, especially first-timers. He said it’s not unusual to go from eating chips on the couch to running a 5K.

Brooks, who teaches history, said coaching cross country isn’t much different, as you can refer to greats from the past to teach a modern lesson.

“It’s all about instilling work ethic, personal responsibility and trying to push kids further today than they went yesterday,” Brooks said.

Brooks began running seven years ago based on a bet with a friend.

They made a deal that if his friend ran an Ironman Triathlon, Brooks would run a marathon with him.

“I didn’t run at all, I couldn’t make it around my block,” Brooks said. “I started training, and two years ago we ran the Wisconsin Marathon together.”

“I caught the running bug and enjoy it, and you can be competitive with others and yourself at the same time. You’re racing who you used to be, and making yourself better today.”

Nie agreed that running benefits every aspect of life.

“Running is great because there’s so much room for growth,” he said.


Plenty back for girls, boys

“As long as my athletes are happy and enjoying running, that’s the goal,” Brooks said. “Then the victories will follow.”

On Saturday, at Johnson Park Golf Course, it was the first time at the venue for Burlington runners.

While the boys and girls squads must replace all-conference performer Ashlyn Barry along with Dakota Taylor and Coi Hansen, a host of Demons proved they’ll be in the mix in 2017.

Junior Kyle Derosier nabbed fourth overall in the junior/senior run, with a time of 13:58, but was the fastest junior.

Kelsey Gelden won the junior race, and senior returner Jessa Burling was fifth among seniors.

For the sophomores, Joel Fisher placed fourth.

“It’s a continuation of the family feel we’ve always had,” Nie said. “The leadership from our senior girls is very exciting. There’s a sense of culture and family that motivates everyone.”

Nie added that solid performances from underclassmen makes him excited for the future of the program.

Other boys battling for varsity spots will be Sean Safar, Declan Kipp and Ben McDermit, all returning seniors.

Ben Ewald and Quinn Adamek should also play roles for the squad.

Brooks was impressed by senior Becca Ehlen, who kicked into another gear on the final stretch of the 4K course Saturday.

Senior Jackie Garwood and junior Anya Kolano round out the upperclassmen, while sophomores Kate and Meghan Harris and Payton Kretschmer round out the squad.



September – 7: SLC Relays at Fox River Park, Silver Lake. 16: at UW-Parkside Invite. 23: at Nagawaukee Invite. 30: Burlington Invite. October – 14: SLC meet at Badger High School.