Jasper pair relishes return to healthy competitionAugust 22, 2014
By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer
BRETZVILLE — Of all the damages that could derail a cross country runner — a stress fracture, pulled hamstring, rolled ankle — Jasper’s Luci Hulsman found the one that didn’t even require running.
During the summer before her sophomore year, Hulsman came down with mono, hampering her for the entire season. She missed the first chunk of the year, and by the time she was strong enough to run, sectional rolled around and the season was nearly over.
Now, she’s back on varsity, and the Wildcats are more than happy to have her.
The junior finished eighth at the Forest Park Invitational on Thursday at Cedar Crest Intermediate School as six Jasper runners finished in the top 10, including overall winner Hannah Welsh (20:34). Jasper easily secured first at the eight-team meet with 15 points, followed by Castle (53), Tell City (85) and Forest Park (86). Heritage Hills, Crawford County, South Spencer and Tecumseh all finished without a team score.
On the boys side, Castle (42) slipped by Jasper by two points for first place. Tell City (52) placed third ahead of Crawford County (106) and Forest Park (108). The Patriots, Braves and Rebels all finished without a team score.
Hulsman ran as one the Wildcats’ top three runners her freshman season before the mono setback. When she did return as a sophomore, she couldn’t run without feeling like she was going to pass out.
Thursday marked her return to cross country as a fully trained and healthy runner, and already she bested her top time as a freshman with a 23:22.
“I’m just happy because that means if I can keep it up, I can be that good this year,” she said.
“I think she’s only going to get stronger as the season goes and her confidence grows since she’s feeling more back to herself,” Wildcat coach Kevin Schipp added.
It’s the same for all of the Cats.
Jasper nabbed four of the top five positions. Tara Cassidy (21:04) finished second behind Welsh, with the pair pulling away from third-place finisher Sienna Crews (21:22) of Heritage Hills after the first lap. Noelle Weyer (22:32) took fourth, Rachael Welsh (22:51) placed fifth and Grace Mehringer (23:14) finished seventh.
“They are competitors, and every meet we expect to go out and do our best, but to be that strong this early in the season, no, I didn’t expect this much,” Schipp said. “But they put a lot of work in. They’ve earned it.”
Schipp echoed that sentiment for the boys as well. Cale Kilian (17:43) was the highest Jasper finisher in fourth, and like usual, the rest of the team finished in a pack near the front. Nolan Kiefer (19:02) came in ninth, freshman Tristan Backer (who Schipp had penciled in as the team’s seventh or eighth runner) came in 10th in 19:09, Donald Bough placed 13th and Clayton Traylor finished 15th.
Traylor is cherishing his time on the course. As a sophomore, he developed Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition that causes pain in the knees during growth periods, and he struggled through most of the season. Traylor would run a meet and be barely able to walk afterward. He stopped running the summer before his junior season, and as he outgrew the condition, his times began to drop.
“It’s going to be great,” Traylor said about running pain-free. “I’m going to hopefully feel great in my races, not have that little guy in my head telling me I can’t anymore.”
Although, as far as runners surpassing mental blocks, Heritage Hills freshman Noah Hufnagel may have him beat.
Until a few months ago, Hufnagel played football in the fall. He ran track in middle school — he’s the mile record-holder at Heritage Hills Middle School — but he only joined cross country after enough people cajoled him to try the sport.
Before the race, Patriot coach Kurt Denning and Hufnagel estimated he could finish between 10th and 12th. He finished second — by less than a second. Castle’s Quentin Pierce, a state qualifier last year, inched past Hufnagel at the finish line.
“I heard the people screaming (Pierce’s) name behind me and I was like, ‘Man, he’s right on me,’” Hufnagel said. “But I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s speed it up here a little bit.’”
Sakuma Lahee finished 25th as the next-highest runner for the Patriots, who were without two runners away at a soccer match.
Not all debuts are equal, though. Forest Park’s Sarah Pund ran in her first competitive race in almost six months. The sophomore missed all of track season and all of summer workouts with a hip injury, and only started legitimate training a few weeks ago. She finished 18th and although it wasn’t her personal-best, just being there was half the victory.
“I’m a little sore still, but whenever you get around all these people, you completely forget about it and just race,” she said.
Emma Fraze (23:17) paced the Rangers in eighth and Elisabeth Miller ran to 15th.
Both the Ranger girls and boys were without their No. 3 runners with sickness, and coach Philip Wolf emphasized that even if the times didn’t reflect it, the progress was there.
Ranger senior Trey Dooley (18:20) led the pack in sixth. Caleb Hasenour cut three minutes from his preseason time trials — and almost 10 minutes from the same race last year— and Dacotah Deel dropped two minutes to 25:00 in his first cross country meet.
“We’re running to try and improve ourselves,” Wolf said. “They all exceeded my goals for them, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about hitting little goals and pushing for the next one. ... So the next race on Saturday, I’m going to push them a little bit harder so by the end of the year, we’re going to be where we want to be.”
Contact Joseph Fanelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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