Inside Eckman's riseOctober 21, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
JASPER — Abe Eckman flipped another gear towards the end of the Oct. 17 Crawford County Regional race to be the first to cross the finish line and win the event.
The Jasper junior came in first place after he edged fellow junior Spenser Wolf of Forest Park, 15:32.3 to 15:34.1. It was the latest chapter in the rivalry between the two runners. Wolf and Eckman have often placed in the top two overall when they've gone head-to-head this season.
However, it was Wolf who previously got the best of Eckman. They finished first and second, respectively, Aug. 20 at the Forest Park Invite at Cedar Crest Intermediate; and while the two ran neck-and-neck much of the way Oct. 10 in the sectional race at the Vincennes University Jasper Campus, again Wolf came out on top by 12 seconds.
"He’s been faster than me nearly my whole life," Eckman said of Wolf. "So, beating him meant a lot.”
Eckman had a mindset to stay tough towards the middle and end of the race when competing against Wolf, and he sprinted as hard as he could the last 200 yards to pull off the win.
“‘I just did what I never thought I’d do,’” Eckman thought after his victory.
Eckman’s junior campaign while running for the Wildcats has seen him rise to stardom. He often finished in the top three as a sophomore in 2019 behind a pair of NCAA Division I runners in Jackson Miller, now at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Drew O’Neil, now at the University of Evansville.
Eckman finished in the top two for Jasper last year at state, but this year, he’s gone from being in the top two or top three on his own team to being Jasper’s clear No. 1, and one of the best runners in the area from any program.
“He’s self-driven, he’s self motivated, he works his tail off,” Jasper coach Kevin Schipp said. “But it has been very gradual — big leaps, but gradual leaps. As a freshman, he was running anywhere from the 17:40s to in the 18:00s a little bit. So — decent times, average. And then, as a sophomore, he took a big leap, just really being pushed by his teammates…Jackson and Drew. He worked really hard last year.
“And then he took his mileage and his workouts to another level this year,” Schipp continued. “He increased his mileage up to 60 and did it gradually, and has been healthy. He’s seen improvements throughout the season from last year to this year and throughout the season.”
Eckman credited his rise to a consistent effort on his end. He recalled when track season got cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he started putting in the work for his junior cross country season from that point. Eckman started reaching his base mileage — sometimes putting in 60 per week, but usually averaging 50-55 miles per week. Said consistency has been paying off for him now.
The two also described Eckman’s evolution as a runner, and the technique he has found that has made him as successful as he is.
“Last year, when he made the big jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year — what he’s capable of — he changed his stride and how he struck with his foot to the ground on his own on a treadmill during the wintertime,” Schipp said. “And then, (he) came in a much improved runner in track his freshman year, and sophomore year in cross country, it paid off big time.”
“The most efficient way to land is to land on the flat of your foot,” Eckman later said. “I used to always land on my heel, which is essentially putting on the breaks during your running process, I guess. So, I kind of fixed that where I kind of land, I guess, on the flat of my foot. So, it’s more efficient — I can turn over better.
“I also had to control my arms because you’re supposed to keep them below your heart because that’s more efficient,” he continued. “It helps blood get there faster, and just stuff like that.”
Schipp has lauded Eckman for leading by example, and feels he has made a big impact on the other runners of a young team. He asked Eckman when quarantine began to be a leader and encourage his teammates to run and put in the mileage he was putting in. Schipp noted that sophomores Jaryn Weinel and Harrison Hulsman have pushed towards Eckman this season, while another sophomore, Will Gubbins, has been running in Jasper’s top five.
Eckman knows, though, that he has one job to do, and that’s to perform to the best of his ability to help the team and himself as an individual.
“I really don’t feel any extra pressure going from third to first,” Eckman said.
Schipp will have the opportunity to coach Eckman and the rest of Jasper’s runners to their second consecutive berth in the state finals Saturday at the Brown County Semi-State meet. The top six teams will advance, and Jasper is competing as a team on both the boys and girls sides, but he also knows the quality of competition the Wildcats will be competing against.
He knows Brown County is going to be a big race — with Jasper competing against the likes of Floyd Central, Columbus North and teams from Bloomington and Terre Haute. Schipp said some of the best runners in the state will be there, but the Wildcats are ready, and they don’t show any nerves at the line.
Eckman wants to do what he can to get his team to state, and he also would like to possibly win the race — two things Schipp is open to.
“They’re both possibilities,” Schipp said. “You just have to come out and run your race — ready for anything…all we can control is how we perform. If we go up there, and everybody has their best race, we have a really good shot, and so does he.”
“It’d be a really big deal,” Eckman later said. “Last year, we made it to state, we got fifth at semi-state, but really one of the main reasons we got there was because of Jackson and Drew, our two seniors that were fast pushing us up there to get there. Without them, it would mean a lot because we have to close the gap on what we used to be in order to make it there. So, me as an individual leading us to state would be a lot, and mean a lot to me.”
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