Local teams find propulsion of youthOctober 15, 2013
By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer
Two months ago, at Forest Park’s season-opening invitational in Ferdinand, Amy Troesch finished fourth overall in a field of 38 varsity runners.
It’s a commendable finish for any runner, but especially for Troesch, who, as a freshman, was running her first varsity match ever — and only weeks after she picked up cross country for the first time. And the only people more surprised about Troesch bursting by them on the course was the freshman herself.
“I always kept in shape, I guess. I just never ran cross country,” she explained.
“I finished the race (at the Forest Park invitational) and everyone was like congratulating me,” she added. “It was pretty shocking.”
While Troesch’s case is more rare, freshman and sophomore runners contributing early on cross country teams — especially girls squads — is actually fairly common. In that race at the Forest Park Invitational, three of the top four finishers were either freshmen or sophomores. Today, all five area boys and girls cross country teams will descend upon Vincennes University Jasper Campus for the sectional, and it’s almost a guarantee that underclassmen will have significant contribution to the day’s results.
Forest Park coach Philip Wolf said that while it is atypical for freshmen to arrive and immediately take the top spot, there is a tendency for young runners to be successful early. Especially for girls who come in at much different developmental levels physically.
“(The underclassman runners) haven’t really peaked into young ladies yet,” Wolf said. “So they don’t have to deal with everything older girls have to fight.”
That’s certainly the case for Troesch, who isn’t going to scare any runners at the line because of her size. But don’t sleep on Troesch. Her sixth-place time of 22:09 at the Jasper Invitational was about a minute behind Jasper sophomore standout Hannah Welsh. Which, granted, is a large amount of time for a cross country race until you consider that Welsh has regularly been winning races by 20-plus seconds. Welsh — who was dealing with shin splints before the Big Eight Conference meet but is pain-free now, coach Kevin Schipp said — has finished first in nine of the 12 meets she has competed in.
Not all female runners peak at an early age, though. Northeast Dubois coach Vic Betz points to three of his seniors in Latesha Merkel, Lauren Betz and Rachel Breitwieser as girls who have improved. Merkel, especially, is enjoying a successful season. Her 20:20 finish at September’s Barr-Reeve Invitational is a team best.
Merkel said that she has seen young runners come in and be successful, but the easiest way to continue improving is just to put in the miles. She said this summer she made an extra effort to run more and build a stronger base before the season. But she’s also seen some improvements from fine-tuning her diet. She became a vegetarian about two years ago.
“I used to eat a lot more sugary junk,” she said. “(And now) I try to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and nuts and things. ... It definitely helped. I just feel a lot better.”
Southridge coach Leslie Denu said that there does tend to be a trend with underclassman runners, but points to one runner, junior Aubrey Main, as someone who is running very well right now. Main, who finished second at this year’s Pocket Athletic Conference meet, leads a Raider team with no seniors. Having such a young team could be a detriment, but Denu said her girls, especially the junior class, “have really stepped up.”
For her boys team, Denu also has had to rely on leadership from younger athletes. On a team with just one senior, sophomore Chase Bland is the No. 1 runner. Denu said being in the top position has allowed him to gain confidence throughout the season.
“He’s been able to really step it up and run with the juniors and senior boys from other schools,” she said. “Last year was hard coming in as a freshman learning his place and knowing who he can run with, and he’s starting to discover he can move on in the tournaments if he puts his mind to it and works hard.”
Underclassman boys don’t tend to be No. 1 runners as much as their female counterparts. Forest Park, for example, has been led as of late by senior Cody Flamion. After winning his varsity match ever at the Jasper Invitational (17:34), Flamion took first at the Pocket Athletic Conference meet four days later.
Northeast Dubois is another boys squad with strong upperclassman runners. Luke Kerstiens and Justin Kahle lead a squad that will contend in a crowded, but competitive boys sectional. Coach Betz has seen his runners improve and, unlike female athletes, where physical development in the high school years can hinder progress, he said there is no real excuse for boys.
“(For) guys, if you don’t improve as you get older, then, one, you’re not working or, two, you got hurt — because you should definitely improve throughout high school,” Betz said.
The Jasper boys team features a fast, young runner in freshman Cale Kilian, whose success has not been a surprise to Schipp.
“He’s an athlete,” Schipp said. “He’s a natural athlete. He has speed, and his endurance is just getting faster and faster.”
Jasper also will contend in a top five with several talented teams. To be successful today, it will come down to not only the top runners, Schipp said, but the bottom of his lineup as well. Caleb Dosch is a sophomore who guaranteed his spot on the sectional roster with a season-best 17:46 at the Big Eight Conference meet. Dosch said he understands that even if he can’t score for his team, the next-best thing is take points away from other teams by placing higher than them.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in the race, you just want to keep up to lower (your opponents’) score,” he said.
The boys race kicks off at 6:30 today with the girls race following. Regardless of age or gender or anything else, Kevin Schipp is predicting a competitive race. At the Jasper Invitational in early October, Jasper finished second and just four points behind seven-time consecutive sectional champion Perry Central. Northeast Dubois finished third with Forest Park only one point behind the Jeeps at fourth. Add in a talented Tell City team, and anything can happen.
“Northeast Dubois has been running really well,” Schipp said. “We beat them a few times, they beat us a few times. Tell City is probably the favorite, but you just never know what can happen in any race. We’ve been improving. ... We just have to bring our pep (today).”
Contact Joseph Fanelli at firstname.lastname@example.org
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