Gillett trio to run at UW-Oshkosh

Peterson brothers, Kaczmarek all will compete in cross-country, track
Morgan Rode
Sports Editor

Gillett seniors Carleigh Kaczmarek and Alex and Evan Peterson all took the next steps in their athletic careers when signing letters of intent during a signing day event on April 28 at Gillett Secondary School in front of family, coaches, teammates and all of the school’s students.

All three long-distance runners will be headed to UW-Oshkosh, where they will further their education along with competing on the cross-country and track teams.

Coach Bill DeJung, who serves as Gillett’s cross-country and track and field head coach, said the trio has accumulated 17 state appearances, with seven podium finishes during high school. All three have academic all-state awards in cross-country.

“I can’t tell you three how God has blessed me with the opportunity to work with you guys,” said DeJung while choking up. “You are unbelievably coachable, dedicated, and all your success is so well deserved …”

Carleigh Kaczmarek

Kaczmarek began her high school career at Oconto Falls before coming to Gillett as a sophomore. Since that time, she’s won numerous races and appeared at state several times.

She was on the fourth-place-finishing girls cross-country team at state in 2020, placing 47th as an individual.

Kaczmarek made it back to state as an individual in 2021 and 2022. She placed 40th in 2021 and capped her high school cross-country career with a 43rd-place finish this past fall.

In track and field, Kaczmarek was on the fourth-place-finishing 4x800-meter relay team at state in 2021.

“It’s a really special moment to know that I’ll get to compete four more years than what I already have and continue to build the success that I have been building,” said Kaczmarek on what signing meant to her.

Kaczmarek, who is a WIAA Scholar Athlete this year, also was a standout basketball player while at Gillett. This past winter, she was named the Player of the Year in the Marinette & Oconto Conference.

Despite her ability on the basketball court, Kaczmarek always knew she’d be running at the college level in some capacity.

“I always loved running and I knew that if I didn’t do the team in college, I’d run on my own because it was just like an emotional — it was good for me to run and I always felt much better (after),” said Kaczmarek. “I really like the coach, he was really involved with not just cross-country and track but he knew everybody from everybody else’s sports and he just made it feel like home.”

While UW-Oshkosh offered up many similarities to Gillett for the three senior runners, having familiar faces close by should make the college transition that much smoother.

“It’s nice. It’ll be more welcoming to know that I have familiar faces to work around and be with,” said Kaczmarek.

Alex Peterson

Alex Peterson made his first state track appearance in his sophomore year when he placed sixth in the 3,200. He was also on the second-place finishing 4x800 relay team that spring.

He returned to state in the same two events as a junior, taking sixth in the 3,200 again, while the relay claimed third.

Peterson was on the seventh-place-finishing cross-country team at state as a freshman, leading the team with a 38th-place finish.

He made it back to state as a junior in 2021, taking 10th place. Peterson capped his high school career this past fall with an eighth-place finish as an individual, while helping the team take eighth as well.

Peterson recalled being introduced to cross-country in middle school and then falling in love with the sport in sixth and seventh grade. He enjoyed how everyone on the high school team bought in and had the same mindset, which led to a great team atmosphere.

“That’s what I found in Oshkosh is that great team atmosphere,” said Peterson. “Just being able to grow and make connections. Today was just kind of a culmination of all that hard work.”

Peterson said that while he had a few options of schools to run at, including some at higher divisions, the team camaraderie at the Division III level more closely resembled what he was familiar with at Gillett.

“The team has a great mindset and the coach — he’s relatively new — but he’s really into building a great team,” said Peterson. “They’ve had success recently, which is exciting, it’s cool to be a part of that. Just being able to go somewhere where I felt comfortable, that it was kind of like Gillett where we got along really well, was important.”

Alex said the Peterson brothers knew that they were headed to Oshkosh before their senior year even began and were hoping that Kaczmarek would also be joining them. He’s thrilled to get the chance to grow with them and continue their friendship and chances to compete with each other for the next few years.

Evan Peterson

Evan Peterson made it to state cross-country in all four years of his high school career.

He was on the seventh-place-finishing team his freshman season, placing 95th as an individual. Peterson made it to state as an individual in 2020 and 2021, taking 41st and 68th, respectively.

Peterson was on the eighth-place-finishing team this past fall, taking second on the team with a 32nd-place individual finish.

Like his brother, Evan Peterson also has made it to state track in each of the two seasons he could have so far.

He was on the second-place-finishing 4x800 relay team as a sophomore and third-place-finishing 4x800 team as a junior.

“It’s surreal. It’s really awesome to see everything come together and have this opportunity to run at the next level,” said Evan Peterson. “It goes to show that if you put in the work, dedicate, and have fun doing it too, you can make great things happen…”

He said that while every runner’s dream is to run at a big school, the Peterson brothers were deterred away from Division I and II schools because at those levels, running consumes your life.

“What Alex and I really wanted is a good balance of team, having fun. We’re still running and being competitive, but not it being your entire life and consuming you. So I think that’s what drew us to Division III,” said Evan Peterson.

He added that “Oshkosh really checked all the boxes,” noting both academics and what they were looking for athletically.

Peterson is also thrilled to have a couple familiar faces taking the journey to Oshkosh with him.

“We grew up together, doing all this running together. And then to be able to do it all together again for another four years is just really awesome,” said Peterson.

“It’s really cool to be together again and just enjoy the experience together.”