Eckman, VanMeter cap historic seasonsNovember 2, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Jasper officially began competing in cross country during the middle of August, but there was no guarantee how much of a season the Wildcats would have to begin with.
"It's something we talked about a ton as a team — just a blessing that we were even able to make it to the postseason because of COVID," Wildcats coach Kevin Schipp said. "When we ran on August 15th at Terre Haute, we didn't know if that'd be our last meet or if we'd only run a couple more and things could get shut down."
Instead, the Wildcats were treated to a full season, and all they did was make lots of history in 2020. Jasper won a sectional championship on both sides in the same year for the first time ever, made it to state on both sides in the same year for the first time ever and their top runners — juniors Abe Eckman and Andi VanMeter, cemented their seasons with legendary performances at Saturday's state finals meet.
Both VanMeter and Eckman made it goals of theirs to finish high at state, to earn all-state honors or possibly medal. VanMeter ran a time of 18:45.9 to finish in 16th place on Saturday the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course to have the second-highest place ever at state by a Jasper girls cross country runner behind Lacey Oeding's seventh place finish in 2007. Eckman, meanwhile, ran a time of 15:57.2, good enough for 12th place, the best state finish ever for a Jasper boys runner.
"That was way higher than I was expecting going into the race," Eckman told the Herald on Monday. "There were some polls ranking me around 20th, but to move up eight spots among the best runners in the state, it really means a lot to me. And I honestly didn't know that I was the best finish in Jasper history until yesterday, but it also meant a lot because we're just creating something new."
"Going up on the stage with all those other really good runners was super exciting," VanMeter said. "I never thought when I was a freshman that I would be up there getting a medal with those girls."
Eckman and VanMeter's triumphs at state both came following their progressions. Eckman finished strong the last three races of the season — taking the Oct. 17 Crawford County Regional race and getting a third place finish the next week at the Brown County Semi-State. Schipp believes Eckman's strong finish to his junior year came from peaking at the right time and believing in himself.
VanMeter, meanwhile, jumped 34 spots at state from her sophomore year to her junior year. She placed 50th as an individual at state last year before finishing in 16th place this year. Schipp told the Herald that VanMeter was a great runner last year, but she gradually improved this year after she increased her mileage and training level.
The two of them are currently getting ready for swim season, but both of them are also looking ahead to their senior cross country campaigns.
"I'll have to raise my mileage even more next season, and I may add some cross training, such as biking and swimming while I do running just to add to the workload to increase my fitness next year," Eckman said.
"I'm going to keep my training up, and my goal for this next cross country season will be to advance as a team again, win sectional and try to get top five — because the only way you really can go from here is up," VanMeter said.
Jasper will have some of its best runners from both sides back next year. Eckman will be a senior, while sophomores Jaryn Weinel and Harrison Hulsman, both of whom finished second to Eckman in some races among Jasper runners this year, will be juniors, and so will Will Gubbins, who finished in Jasper's top five this season.
The girls will be saying goodbye to seniors Kelsea Skorge and Amanda Schnell, but VanMeter herself will be a senior. Ally Wigand will be a junior, while Ari Wiseman, Emma Schipp and Kate Jerger will all be sophomores.
"Being that we have so many returning runners on both sides, if people continue to train and be consistent, the bar does raise," Kevin said.
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