Area runners refuse to wilt under heat

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper's Alyssa Skorge finished fifth with a time of 22:38.28 during the Jasper Invitational cross country meet at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Tuesday. For more photos from the meet, click here.


JASPER — Depending on which website is consulted, the average September temperature in Jasper is listed anywhere from 75 to 83 degrees. According to the Weather Channel, the city’s high temperature has exceeded that range in 10 of the previous 12 days.

That included Tuesday, when 118 varsity runners descended upon Vincennes University’s Jasper Campus for the Jasper Invitational. All athletes were treated to clear skies and no wind, with the boys race being held in 88-degree heat and the girls event kicking off at 86 degrees.

While some local runners said a scorching temperature impacted the races, it couldn’t stop Heritage Hills’ Mitchell Hopf from capturing the boys title and the host Wildcats from sweeping the team chases.

“Half the course is in the shade, so obviously that helped a lot. But you could feel, just coming out in the sun, the heat was pretty brutal,” Hopf said after clocking a time of 17:12, topping Patriot teammate and race runner-up Noah Hufnagel by two seconds. “What we ran today definitely wasn’t a bad effort, especially with the heat on this course.”

Hufnagel said the duo wasn’t looking to push the pace, aiming instead for the 1-2 finish it achieved. Some motivation for that came from what Hufnagel described as “a tough meet” at Tell City on Saturday, when Hopf said he collapsed in the finish chute as a result of dehydration.

“You’ve got to have that proper hydration and the right amount of rest just to be adapted to these conditions,” Hopf said.

The Heritage Hills pairing was followed by Jasper’s Jackson Miller in third (17:56). Miller’s result, combined with a sixth-place showing from Tristan Backer (18:48) and an eight-place effort from Drew O’Neil (19:01) propelled the Cats to a team win on Senior Night. They finished with 41 points to the Patriots’ 77 in second place.

Southridge’s boys took fourth in the eight-team field, paced by Cameron Giles in ninth (19:06), while Northeast Dubois secured fifth thanks to top-10 finishes from Nathan Schnell (fifth, 18:27) and Jaydon Arnold (seventh, 18:55).

But Hopf and Hufnagel blew away the boys field while also preparing for the sectional meet, which will be held at the same course on Oct. 7. One early weather projection offers 79 degrees and rain in Jasper that day.

Of course, that’s not the only difficulty faced on the Cats’ home course. The hilly, wooded layout offers runners plenty opportunities to feel concerned about their race, especially since the five kilometers is contested over two similar laps.

“The most difficult part of this course is the last hill, coming out of the woods on the second lap,” Hopf said. “It’s a steep, winding incline. You really start to feel it in your quads coming up that hill.”
Hufnagel had a different take.

Heritage Hills' Mitchell Hopf glanced behind him as he neared the finish line during the Jasper Invitational cross country meet at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Tuesday. Hopf finished first with a time of 17:11.87. For more photos from the meet, click here.

“Whenever you go off the start here, when you get to the second lap, you kind of go up this winding hill here and it’s a little bit uneven,” he said. “So as you’re making those turns and going up the hill, it’s kind of rough to keep your footing without twisting an ankle or something like that.”

Not even those who traverse the course more frequently are immune to its intricacies, as Jasper’s Alyssa Skorge pointed out after leading the Wildcat girls with a fifth-place time of 22:38.

“There’s roots everywhere sticking out,” she said. “I fell last year at sectionals.”

Skorge and teammate Leah Schnell, who took sixth for Jasper in 22:53, agreed with Hopf about the late-course rise in elevation being a top barrier for athletes.

“That gradual hill, you turn and you get up it and you’re just completely dead,” Schnell said. “And you know ... you have to sprint (to the finish) after that.”

Skorge, Schnell and the Cats overcame that obstacle and more en route to the girls team crown with 48 points, 30 clear of Vincennes Lincoln. The leading local finisher was Heritage Hills’ Caitlin Lueken, whose third-place clocking of 22:05 secured the Patriots third place as a group.

Southridge took sixth out of nine squads behind Cheyanne Motteler in 13th place (24:18) and Brooklyn Tretter in 16th (24:32). Northeast Dubois, which notched ninth, saw Shelby Livingston cross the line in eighth place (23:22).

Skorge said she the Cats weren’t concerned about not having a runner in the top four, as the team opts for a more packed approach.

“There’s not a frontrunner, but we’re all close together and I think that’s what matters, (especially) when it comes to sectional and regional,” Skorge said.

That strategy provided Jasper with a key advantage on a day when abnormal warmth could have thrown even the best-laid plans into disarray. Both Skorge and Schnell said there’s not nearly as much worry about such conditions once the hear the starter’s gun go off, however.

“You’ve kind of got to block it out and focus on the run more than the weather,” Skorge said.

“Once you start getting to the race, it’s basically about, who’s the next person I’m going to pass,” Schnell added. “You can’t really think about how hot it is.”

The girls’ minds will soon turn to the sectional meet next weekend. But with Jasper celebrating its upperclassmen after the meet, the two juniors were pondering the further future as well.

“Next year at this point, we’ll be the seniors,” Schnell said. “So hopefully we’ll have some younger kids able to step up for us, too.”

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