The Franklin boys track program hadn't won a WIAA state title of any kind since 1975, and that last crown, won by all-time great Sabers athlete Terry Cruikshank, came in an event that has long ago disappeared, the 180-yard low hurdles.
So, to no surprise June 3 and 4 in the latest WIAA state meet in La Crosse, when the Sabers saw an opportunity to not only win individual crowns but even an outside chance at a first team title, they went after it with great gusto.
It came up just a little short with a fourth-place team finish with a disappointed 4x400-meter relay taking ninth in the last race of the meet and the season. But it was a memorable run.
Everyone did their part, starting with Brady Snelson claiming the 800-meter title on June 3 with a time of 1:54.59 after coming in as the top seed and running from the front for most of the race.
'It still doesn't feel like I've won state,' he said. 'I was just waiting for someone to pass me on the final stretch. I was looking up at the big screen (the live scoreboard), and I said to myself 'Holy ... it's (the finish line) right there.'
'And when I crossed the finish line, I was so tired.'
Then there was brilliant jumper Tri Pham, who, in his third state meet, 15 pounds stronger and free of the taxing duties of hurdling, fully reached his potential.
He finished a close third in the long jump (22-7) on June 3, and on his last effort of the day June 4, he beat Southeast Conference rival Armani Carmickle of Kenosha Indian Trail by the slimmest of margins to take the triple jump title with an effort of 46 feet, 93/4 inches.
'He and I kept going back and forth,' said Pham of Carmickle. 'It was just too close for comfort. I tried to put some pressure on him. It came down to the last jump. I just couldn't let him win, and it wound being enough by about three-quarters of an inch.
'I wasn't going to settle for a second today, not after taking third yesterday (in the long jump).'
Coach John Troy was stunned by the outcome.
'I was watching with the jumps coach, and we knew that last one of his was huge, but we thought it was short,' Troy said. 'Then Tri went nuts, and we knew we were OK.'
Also included were the efforts of sprinter Josh Iraci, the most steady of performers for Franklin this season. He earned two state medals with a fifth in the 100 dash (11.14) and a school-record fourth in the 200 (22.04).
'I knew there was going to be a lot of good competition out there, so I just had to go out there and give it my best,' he said.
Iraci's attitude after claiming his 100 medal epitomized the Sabers attitude.
'We're all trying really hard to give ourselves a chance to win it (the team title),' he said. 'We just open up and feed off each other. We had a meeting yesterday (on June 3), and we all talked about our chance.'
It was not a pipe dream, and it came down to the 4x400 relay after a two-hour storm delay late on Saturday. Middleton was in the lead with 41 points but did not have a relay. Kettle Moraine and Brookfield East were tied with 39 apiece, and both had relays in the race.
The Sabers had their 35 points, sitting in fourth, and their relay came into the race seeded sixth with the team of Chris Rafalski, AJ Catarozoli, Max Fassbender and Snelson (3:21.98 in preliminaries).
'We knew going into the meet that we would need a little luck on Saturday in order to make this work,' Troy said.
But luck was not quite with the Sabers in this race. The relay gave it a game effort but could only earn that ninth-place spot with a solid 3:22.28. East ran a sensational race, winning its fourth state title in six years and taking down the 26-year-old state record with a 3:15.87 clocking in the process.
'I still think we squeezed out every last point that we could,' Troy said. 'And what could we say about that (4x400) race? That was without a doubt the fastest 4x400 race in state history.'
He couldn't say enough about his state champions.
'With Tri, about halfway through the season we changed up his training, changed everything,' Troy said. 'We had him focus everything on the jumps, and he didn't run a hurdle race after the conference relays (in early May).'
'This is crazy,' Pham said. 'This hasn't sunk in yet. Last year, I didn't do so hot out here, but over the winter, I just got into weightlifting, doing Olympic (style) lifts, getting bigger and stronger.'
Troy was proud of the way Snelson handled the pressure of being the top seed going into state.
'He ran the perfect race,' Troy said. 'His coach had a perfect game plan for him. The plan worked; he worked his butt off and just took care of business.'
Snelson added, 'I was really nervous. The night after the sectional, my Dad called me and said, 'Do you know you're the No. 1 seed?' I said, 'What?'
'I mean, my times were OK all year, 1:58s and 1:59s with a few 1:57s thrown in. I was a little disappointed at conference, so I didn't have that great of expectations. Then, I started to taper, and I felt really good.'
Michael Gorman took 21st in the 1,600, Mike Hennig placed likewise in the 110 high hurdles, and the 4x200 (Rafalski, Jack Wadzinski, Catarozoli, Iraci) took 12th with the 4x800 (Gorman, Cale Pliska, Bryce Tome, Snelson) in 13th (season-best 8:01.59).
Seniors include Iraci, Snelson, Pham, Gorman and Fassbender.
Troy is still stunned at all that has been accomplished.
'At the beginning of the year, if you'd have told me going into the last race of the season we'd have a chance to win it all, I don't know what I would have said,' Troy said. 'We just couldn't have asked for anything more out of the guys. They ended on a real high note.'