Bounding Jeeps geared for more miles

Photos by Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Forest Park’s Trey Dooley maintained a slight lead on Northeast Dubois’ Luke Kerstiens during Tuesday’s Tri-County Invitational cross country meet in Huntingburg. Dooley held on to win the boys race while setting a meet and course record, as did Jasper’s Hannah Welsh in the girls race. Kerstiens was one of three Jeep boys to finish in the top 10, as Northeast Dubois claimed first place in the boys race. Jasper won on the girls side. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Justin Kahle has his eyes set on the weekend. The Northeast Dubois senior’s got big plans.

No, he’s not scheming to host some raucous party that would leave a teenager grounded for months. He’s looking to take a lengthy road trip. Ten miles, to be exact.

Ju. Kahle

After accumulating 320 miles altogether this summer, Kahle and cross country teammate Luke Kerstiens have wanted to knock off a 10-mile weekend run all season. However, a week’s worth of training and meets leave them both with one overwhelming desire come Saturday.

“We just want to relax,” Kahle said with a chuckle.

Even if the Jeeps are yet to delve into those extended excursions, the prospect for success shines brightly. As evidenced by its first-place finish in Tuesday’s Tri-County Invitational at Southridge, Northeast Dubois appears poise to take that next step.

“We haven’t had any high mileage guys since Josh Genet and Dustin Betz left the program,” Jeep coach Vic Betz said. “If you want to be a good distance runner, you’ve just got to put it some miles, and that’s what we’ve been trying to emphasize.

“A lot of that is getting them to believe what they can do.”

Ja. Kahle

Tuesday’s times should help. Behind Kerstiens (17:12, second place), Justin Kahle (17:55, fifth place) and Justin’s brother Jace (18:18, sixth place), the Jeeps (49 points) nipped second-place Jasper (56) and third-place Crawford County (83), while Forest Park (125) notched fifth and Southridge (140) collared sixth in the eight-team boys field.

On the girls side, Jasper (32 points) sustained its season surge, bursting past Forest Park (68), Northeast Dubois (70) and Southridge (82), which rounded out the top half of the field in the preceding girls race.

Jasper’s Sydney Berger kept her eyes down course en route to a seventh-place finish. Four Wildcat runners finished in the top 10.

After squads ran last year’s invitational in oppressive humidity coupled with mid-90s temperatures, Tuesday’s start times were pushed back an hour with concerns of heat simmering once again.

The decision seemed to pay off, as Jasper’s Hannah Welsh (19:52) and Forest Park’s Trey Dooley (17:09) each set meet and course records.

So what did teams do with the extra hour? Everything from handling hardware to flinging Frisbees.

With Jasper’s new gym completed, Wildcat senior Sydney Berger (21:09, seventh place) and her teammates helped stock the facility’s vacant trophy cases with the cross country team’s past spoils.

While she considered the exercise more chore than psychological stimulus, the Cat girls added one more to the collection by evening’s end spurred by four top-10 finishers including Tara Cassidy (20:17, second place) and Noelle Weyer (21:49, 10th).

While Berger lauded Welsh and Cassidy for “bringing the whole team up with them,” Jasper coach Kevin Schipp said a lot of the team’s wealth can be traced to Berger, who’s already shaved a minute off her personal record this season.

“She’s put a ton in to what she’s doing and it’s paid off. And I think the other girls see that and it’s easy to get them to put the bigger mileage and work in,” Schipp said. “They know what it’s going to do for them down the road, and she’s the one that definitely set that tone.”

Seniors also boosted both the Jeep and Ranger girls teams. Nicole Rahman (21:07, sixth place) “looked like the old Nicole Rahman that the team really needs,” Ranger coach Philip Wolf said. And Latesha Merkel (20:54, fourth place) once again paced the Jeeps.

The Rangers placed four in the top 15, including freshman Sarah Pund (22:28, 15th place), who blended self critiques with enthusiasm for the future as she dissected her race.

“I’ve been wanting to break 21 (minutes). And I’m hoping to get there,” Pund said. “I’m disappointed I didn’t get there tonight and so far cross country’s just been really fun for me. And I want to keep doing it for the rest of my high school career.”

The next month appears equally promising for the Wildcat boys, led by Kyle Knies (17:45, fourth place). Knies, who devoted the extra prerace time to mental preparation as the sounds of AC/DC rang through his headphones, represents a young Jasper squad that’s had four different top finishers on the season.

Knies sees his results as correlated to a bump in mileage. Between his 7- to-8-mile runs and Sunday speed training, the focus is there for himself and teammates.

“That you know, and they know, that you can all do better,” Knies said. “You’ve got to push yourself harder than you normally would if you didn’t have that depth.”

Merkel has welcomed the host of performers on the Jeeps’ squad as well. While the senior noted a drop in numbers the past two seasons, the Jeeps now have a bevy of capable runners. All five Jeep girls earned top-20 finishes, including Lauren Betz (13th) and Rachel Breitwieser (16th).

Southridge’s Louis Dubon talked strategy while huddling with his teammates before the start of Tuesday’s Tri-County Invitational. With Chase Bland placing seventh, the Raider boys were sixth while Southridge earned fourth place in the girls race.

With Tuesday’s delay, the Jeeps kept things light by tossing a Frisbee. While Justin Kahle considered himself and Kerstiens to be the top male disc throwers, Merkel found it difficult to pinpoint a standout on the girls’ side.

“Most of the girls kind of suck at Frisbee, including me,” she joked.

As for Carson Haake (20:30, 28th place) and the rest of the Forest Park team, the school day could have helped them acclimate to the heat. With the high school’s air conditioning system temporarily busted, it didn’t take Haake long to regret wearing jeans.

“I was sweating all day,” he said, similarly soaked after the race.

Nonetheless, Haake said he was happy with a time 40 seconds off his personal best. And along with his self-effacing attitude, the sophomore’s character and effort have been praiseworthy, Wolf said.

“He always jokes about not running, but when he gets out there, he will give what he can,” Wolf said. “And as a coach, that’s all I ask for. Win, lose or draw, that’s all I want.”

Along with Dooley, who was neck-and-neck with Kerstiens until the final 200 meters, Sean Verkamp (15th place) supplemented the Ranger cause.

Aubrey Main (21:03) anchored Southridge with a fifth-place finish, while Casey Lamb (21:43) followed in ninth place. The sophomore Lamb, who ran alongside teammate Lauren Meyer (11th place) for the race’s majority, finished the course’s first half 90 seconds faster than she’d run it previously, and ended up besting her overall time by 10 seconds.

“We were like, ”˜Oh man, we’re going really fast!’” Lamb recalled her and Meyer thinking at the midway point.

Lamb, whose extra hour consisted of toiling through homework — “I still have a lot,” she said glumly after her race — is clocking times she didn’t see until the postseason last year.

“She’s a lot more determined this year just because she knows she had a lot more competition,” Raider coach Leslie Denu said. “She’s more motivated, comes to practice wanting to work hard, on the weekends always doing her workouts. ... Anything to improve.”

While Denu said the girls are still searching for better times out of their fourth- and fifth-place runners, she expects Judith Ott (23rd place), a German exchange student, to help. Ott had never run a 5K before joining the team, but “has done a fantastic job jumping in, wanting to improve, doing anything that we ask of her,” Denu said.

The Southridge coach spoke similarly about Chase Bland (18:27), who merited seventh place. He also shaved 40 seconds off his personal record on the Southridge course, leading him to think “there’s no way (my time) is going to be that fast,” he joked, when he concluded the race.

As was the customary response Tuesday, Bland stressed the importance of maintaining mileage in realizing postseason aspirations. The notion was reiterated by Kahle, Merkel, Berger and Knies.

Betz assured his team that the increased distance “will make us great,” Kahle said.

“We’re going to try to make him proud.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at

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