For many schools, making it out of a cross country sectional isn't a big deal.
But when you're little LaCrosse, with fewer students than some Class 5A football rosters, the feat merits an escort around town, as short as the ride may be.
"The fire chief (Aaron Rust) is a good friend of mine," first-year Tigers coach Brian McMahan said. "He's a LaCrosse grad. They got all the trucks out Tuesday night. The guys were like, 'man, if we get this for cross country, I wonder what they'd do for basketball or baseball?'"
LaCrosse claimed the fifth and final spot at the Rensselaer Sectional by overtaking Morgan Twp., which had won the teams' dual and placed seven points ahead at the PCC meet. The Tigers bested the Cherokees by 25 points thanks to personal bests by all six runners, some as much as 35, 40 seconds.
"We peaked at a good time," McMahan said. "We're sitting in the bleachers hearing the countdown from 10th. I thought, 'man, I hope we're not sixth.' We had a feeling we made it, but Morgan has two really good runners so it wasn't for sure."
It was a particularly satisfying moment for sole senior Ross Warner.
"It's by far our best season ever," he said, noting the 8-4 dual record. "It's the first year we've actually had a team that wanted to win and wasn't thinking about running and just going home."
The Tigers were led by freshman Nate Rhodes and Riley Charlesworth. The mid-season return of Tyler Mack, last year's No. 1 runner and now the No. 3 man, was also a big boost.
"Nobody really cares (who's No. 1)," Rhodes said. "We're all just happy working as a team and doing well."
McMahan got a clue things might be looking up when the Tigers took third at the early-season 421 Invitational at West Central.
"We win maybe two, three, four meets a year and we were 4-1 at that time," he said. "I think that opened their eyes that they could actually do something."
The last time LaCrosse advanced beyond a sectional was 1998, when McMahan was its No. 3 runner. He was the top Tiger as a junior and senior.
"We actually had really good numbers, 14, 15 guys," McMahan said. "That was the Bill Berger era. Every basketball player had to either run cross country or go through his conditioning."
The Tigers are nine strong this season.
"That's been a big help," Charlesworth said. "Last year, we only had four or five, barely enough for a team. We've really pushed ourselves a lot harder to get better. Everybody's more encouraging to each other."
Thanks to their success, prospects for next season are looking promising.
"Other kids are like, 'man, I think I'm going to run next year,'" said McMahan, who's also the baseball coach. "Cross country can be a lot of fun. Even if you don't like to run, the bus rides are a lot of fun. The biggest thing is, the kids are starting to talk, 'can we run over the summer like some of the other schools?'"