Jared Zwettler will run track with UW-La Crosse this year. Taking part in the signing were, front row from left, Zwettler’s mother Amy, Zwettler and his father, Rob; and back row, coaches Laurie Levandoski and Jayme Wyss and Andy Wyss. —Photo By Jennifer West
Jared Zwettler will run track with UW-La Crosse this year. Taking part in the signing were, front row from left, Zwettler’s mother Amy, Zwettler and his father, Rob; and back row, coaches Laurie Levandoski and Jayme Wyss and Andy Wyss. —Photo By Jennifer West
The last race of Jared Zwettler’s career as a runner at Three Lakes High School came in the same venue where it’s likely his first collegiate race will take place.

As the Bluejays senior climbed on the podium as a third-place finisher in the mile run at the WIAA State Track & Field Championships earlier this month, he closed the chapter on his prep career which has been highlighted by a number of outstanding finishes.

He also opened the next phase of his running journey as he moved into the freshman ranks at UW-La Crosse, where last spring he signed his National Letter of Intent to run for the Eagles, who compete nationally in NCAA Division III.

“During his freshman year, Jared initially thought he wanted to play soccer in college,” said Three Lakes-Phelps coach Jayme Wyss. “After his first year of track, he was already thinking about running instead. Every year of his high school career, that goal of running collegiately became a lot more focused.”

Wyss said as his career progressed, so to did the decision to run at UW-La Crosse; a school with a very well-storied track record of success in the NCAA.

“He visited several colleges, even considering Division II before settling on La Crosse, which has a phenomenal track program,” said Wyss. “I think it will be a great fit for Jared. I know he has great things ahead of him, both with running and beyond. He is disciplined and focused. He is more analytical than any other kid I know.”

Wyss said Zwettler thrives on numbers and statistics which is what’s kept him competing so well over the course of his four-year career at Three Lakes.

“Jared is a person who can accomplish anything he sets his mind to, and I wholeheartedly believe that,” said Wyss. “But behind all the numbers, as fascinating as they are, is a story.”

Wyss and her husband, head track coach Andy Wyss, first met Zwettler when he was a freshman taking part in one of the most informal races in the North Woods, the Polish Square Run.

“With just a mile or so left, we heard footsteps behind us,” said Jayme. “I told Andy that if he wanted to win, he should go ahead without me. It took some pushing, but Andy finally pulled away, leaving me behind, but this young kid was right there going with him.

“By that time they were both pushing the pace until they were nearly sprinting the final downhill stretch to the finish, and Jared pulled ahead for the win.”

Then the question was, according to both Andy and Jayme, “Who was this kid?”

“We assumed he was from out of town, only to find out that he was a freshman at Three Lakes and planning to run track,” said Jayme. “At the time, Jared had no idea what he was capable of, but I knew this kid was fast. In fact, that winter when we were in the weight room I overheard him tell someone that he had run a six-minute mile. I just laughed and said to myself that he was way faster.”

And he was.

Zwettler is now a two-time Northern Lakes Conference (NLC) champion in the 800-meter, a two-time NLC champ in the 3,200-meter event and a three-time NLC champ in the 1,600-meter run.

He holds the Northern Lakes Conference record in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs as well as being a contributing member on the 4x800-meter relay team which also holds the NLC record.

On three separate occasions he was NLC All-Conference and twice named the NLC’s Track Athlete Of The Year. He completed the rare quadruple in the mile run at the WIAA Regional level, winning a championship there all four years of his high school career. 

His freshman year he was a Regional champ in both the mile and two-mile event. As a sophomore he was a NLC and Regional champ in both events once more, was a State qualifier and team MVP.

In his junior season Zwettler turned a big page as he was NLC champ in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs, Regional champ in the mile and took sixth place at State. He was NLC Athlete of the Year and also earned team MVP for the second consecutive year.

As a senior the pace continued as he was a NLC champ in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter events, was a Regional champ in the mile and runner-up in the two-mile, Sectional runner-up in the mile and earned a third place podium finish at the Division 3 State Championships just two weeks ago.

Wyss said one of the most impressive things about Zwettler was how he progressed as a runner across just four years. He began trusting in his training and learned that time off during the away season meant he had to keep with the miles in order to gain ground earlier in the year come spring.

After changing venues from soccer to cross-country in his junior year, Zwettler used the fall season to help him go into winter training mode and according to Wyss, he hit the ground running for his senior season.

“Going into this final season, he understood that he would need to get not only base miles in, but some work on the treadmill as well if he wanted to run better this year,” said Jayme. “He ran a few meets during the winter, and his mile time was down to 4:48 before the track season started this spring. This would be a fast year.”

Knowing the school record was within reach, and knowing he’d have to outdo former Three Lakes State Champion Nick Boehlke (4.25.50) to do so, Zwettler kept that time out there as a goal.

“Jared could go a couple weeks and maybe race the mile only once, racing over for endurance and under for speed, and several times ran the 3,200 to immediately turn around and run the anchor of the 4x400-meter relay to work on his kick,” said Jayme. “I would select certain meets for the 1,600, where I thought he’d have better competition.”

One of those meets came at UW-Stevens Point where Zwettler saw a lot of teams from the Division 3 Sectional.

“At that meet he qualified for the State indoor meet at UW-Whitewater, where he truly displayed his growth as a runner, not just by his times, but by his strategy,” said Jayme. “He used to be one of those foolish runners who would go out too fast, and then fade.”

Wyss said she and Zwettler worked nearly a full season on even pacing, making him check his pace what she said was an annoying number of times during a lot of races, but it paid off.

“He began to feel it, and he could run his pace without having to glance at his watch,” she said.

At Whitewater Zwettler was seeded with a group of athletes who had around 4:42 to 4:44 times.

“Jared expected them to go out too fast, and he let the whole pack go only to see a gap form between him and all of the other runners in his heat,” said Jayme. “Then he reeled them all back in as they faded and he felt strong still. He ended up second in that race, with an indoor PR and season-best of 4:36.

“He learned how to run smart, and to feel a lot stronger in the second half of a race,” she said.

From there it was the start of Zwettler’s taper for his final season, and both he and Wyss knew the times would drop. And drop they did as he made his way through Regionals, Sectionals and State, recovering from a slow pace at the start and running a 2:07 for his final 800, for a lifetime record of 4:26.13, a mere 0.63 seconds shy of the school record.

Wyss said she believes after his collegiate career is over, Zwettler will have much more to give to the sport of running.

“He will make a great coach someday, and then it will be his turn to take young, naive runners and develop them into disciplined and mature runners,” she said. “It’s a rewarding experience.”