Jasper cross country spans generationsOctober 29, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Jasper’s runners have been getting ready this week for the state finals Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute. When the Wildcats compete on Saturday, some of them will be on a familiar stage trying to better themselves from years past, while others will be in uncharted territory when they compete at state for the first time.
But all of them will be part of something that hasn’t been done before.
Jasper’s boys and girls runners will compete in the state finals as teams in the same year for the first time ever — a breakthrough that runners dating back generations before them didn’t manage to do. Many runners who are competing on Saturday are children of former Wildcat runners themselves — and two of those Jasper alums have the best seats in the house.
“As a parent, I’m super-proud of my daughter,” said Jasper head coach Kevin Schipp, a 1996 graduate who will be coaching his daughter, Emma, on Saturday. “She’s a freshman and she gets to experience going to state. For me, I think it was my junior and senior year, we made it to regional. That was a victory for us. So, I’ve think we’ve come a long way since that.
“The first year I coached cross country in 2003, our girls team made it to state, and our boys team didn’t make it out of sectional,” he continued. “So, I’m glad that we’re getting consistency on both sides on the boys and girls teams.”
Kevin is in his 18th season coaching cross country for the Wildcats, and Emma has grown up with the program through the years. She has known and has been part of this her whole life, and she is excited to finally be here and competing for the program that her dad has coached since before she was born.
“I’ve gone to the meets, running around with the runners — running around with my dad while he’s coached,” Emma said. “They’re some of my earliest memories.”
Emma remembers Kevin telling her stories of the Jasper runners who have done great things and have gone to state. Those runners have been influences for her to look up to, and she dreamt of being part of that someday. That someday is now here, and Emma is part of more than just the program — she’s part of the program while it’s making history. This year, the boys and girls both won the sectional championship in the same year for the first time ever, too.
“It’s pretty cool to see something that I’ve watched people doing my whole life to finally be there and be running for the Wildcats,” she said.
Kevin isn’t the only former Jasper runner-turned-coach who will have a child competing on Saturday. Assistant coach Tara Eckman (née Brames), a 1992 graduate, also competed for the program back in the day, and she will be making the trip to state with her son, junior star runner Abe Eckman of the current Wildcats.
“I just try to support him as a mom,” Tara said. “I really, as a coach, don’t engage a whole heck of a lot with Abe. If I do, it’s around nutrition. He and I spend a good bit of time thinking through his nutrition — what he’s going to eat, when he’s going to eat it and that’s probably the biggest impact I have on him personally.”
Tara said she wasn’t the best runner in her day, but she got to be part of a couple of semi-state teams when she competed for Jasper.
Abe told the Herald that his mom has told him to work his hardest and that his high school days go by quickly, and the Jasper cross country program strengthens the bond Tara and Abe have together.
“It gives us more middle ground between each other because we both love to run,” Abe said. “The fact that we both have a connection through running helps us out because it builds a relationship even deeper.”
Others can relate to the bond that Tara and Abe have through the Jasper cross country program.
“We have such an interest in running, so it’s incredibly strong and something we talk about constantly that I think just about everything throughout the day involves what we’re eating, what we’re going to run next, ‘Are my running shorts clean?’” said Andrea Hulsman (née Jenkins), a 2000 Jasper graduate and mother of sophomore Harrison Hulsman, the No. 2 boys runner. “Just everything right now is based solely around running and diet and just preparing for the next race. So, it’s become pretty much 24/7 at our house a bonding event (laughter).”
An evolving program
Like just about anything in life, the Jasper cross country program has seen its changes and evolutions from the time Kevin and Tara ran for the Wildcats until now as coaches leading Jasper to state.
“Numbers are definitely improved, and a lot of that comes through having a middle school program, which we didn’t back then,” Kevin said. “That came around like the second or third year after I started coaching. Audrey Werner, who’s still one of the coaches at the middle school, was the driving force behind getting that started, and that was a huge thing for our program.”
Kevin took over the program at 23, and he coached runners who never competed in cross country before, but worked hard, and had athletic ability to make it to state on the girls side. The boys were also willing to work, but Jasper has built for this through time. This year is the seventh time Kevin is taking the girls team to state, while it’s the second time — and second year running — that he’s taking the boys.
“Hopefully, we’re making it a consistent thing,” he said. “I think that’s the thing — just building the program up. It’s because of the coaches we’ve had and because of the athletes we’ve had willing to do the work. It’s cool to look back and see what’s happened — where we’ve come from, where we’re at now.”
Andrea told the Herald on Tuesday that cross country is a more competitive sport now than when she ran for Jasper. The Wildcats began their training back then right before the cross country season, but no such thing is true today.
“They’re training all year-round, and that’s something we never did when we ran,” she said. “Most of us did track in the spring, of course, but we didn’t do year-round training. So, it’s definitely gotten more competitive, and I think it’s more of a popular and serious sport now.”
The advances in technology and the internet has also increased knowledge among runners and coaches within the program.
“There’s just been so much more understanding of the science of running than there was 30 years ago,” Tara said. “So, I think that’s the biggest thing — and we’ve all kind of become students of it.”
Not everything has changed, though.
“The thing that has stayed the same that I just love, love, love about cross country is that it’s family-like,” Tara said. “We’re such a close-knit team and it was like that back then. Those girls I ran with are still people I enjoy meeting up with and catching up about old times with.”
Andrea echoed that same sentiment.
“Everybody’s always like, ‘Well, how can you like running?’” she said. “Running is, while you’re doing it, it’s not fun, per se, and you’re always telling yourself, ‘Gosh, why do I put myself through this?’ But then when it’s all done, you just can’t wait to get back out there, but it’s your friends and your family and your teammates that bring you back because it truly feels like a family.”
Goals and expectations
Different Jasper runners and their parents who used to run have certain expectations for them as they get ready to compete in the state finals.
“I’d like to place top 20 to get a medal,” Abe said. “As a team, I think we could all get top 15.”
“Last year, I placed maybe around 190 out of maybe 250,” Harrison said. “This year, I want to go for top 75. It’s a big jump, but I feel like I can do it.”
INCCStats.com currently has Harrison ranked at No. 102 in the state among individual boys runners. Andrea has full confidence that he will at least attempt to make top 75, if not get it. However, she has another goal for him.
“Usually, this is how it goes down — he sets a goal that I think is attainable, and then I usually set the bar a little bit higher,” she said. “So, if he said he’s going to get top 75, I’m going to tell him he can get 65. And then, he usually tries to push it a little bit more, but that’s just the mother in me trying to push him a little bit more.”
Amy Wigand (née Lorey), a 1993 graduate, shared her advice for her sophomore daughter, Ally, as she gets ready for state.
“I told her she was lucky to get to enjoy going to state,” Amy said. “When I ran, our team never made it to state. So, I want her to work hard, but enjoy this moment because not everybody gets to participate in the state meet.”
“I want to try to get a personal best, and just run as fast as I can,” Ally told the Herald earlier on Tuesday.
Kevin thinks Abe and fellow junior Andi VanMeter are capable of medaling and/or being all-state. He told his runners that they’re never afraid of competition — he didn’t think they acted that way Oct. 24 at the Brown County Semi-State, and doesn’t think Saturday will differ. Kevin told them this an opportunity to prove themselves.
INCCStats.com has Jasper ranked No. 28 on the boys side, and 29th for the girls.
“We’re not going for a team win,” Kevin said. “We’re not in that ballpark right now, but we definitely want to achieve more than what the stats say we can.”
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