Repeating past success is Rangers’ challenge

Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Forest Park’s Karli Kitten leads the way trailed by teammate Abby Hauser, left, and Jasper’s Kathryn McCoy, as they cross the finish line during the 2019 Tri-County Invitational cross country meet at Huntingburg.


Philip Wolf has had a good thing going with his girls cross country program in Ferdinand.

Wolf has guided the Forest Park girls to three consecutive sectional championships in cross country. Forest Park girls made it to semistate as a team last year, finishing in eighth place, with the top six advancing to state.

“I create a good, family atmosphere where the girls all want to be there and enjoy each other’s company, and they run for each other,” Wolf said.

However, replicating that success will be a challenge in 2020 if the summer is any indication. Wolf told The Herald by phone on June 30 that he only has about four or five runners who are for sure going to compete. Forest Park lost Josie Berg, Abby Hauser and Amber Theising to graduation.

Still, the ones who are coming back all competed at semistate last year. Sophomores Danielle Eckert and Karli Kitten, who are both serious candidates to be team’s No. 2 runner, return, and senior Sara Kitten does, too. Forest Park sent one female runner through to state last year: Ellie Hall, who is back for her junior season.

“She’s been looking very strong so far, from what I’ve been able to tell,” he said of Hall. “Then Danielle’s upped her mileage, and she’s feeling a lot better about herself and really gung-ho about the season. Then Karli Kitten, which was also in my top five last year, she’s looking like more eager to get into the season, then Sara Kitten, that’s my lone senior on the team, she’s been more committed to having a great senior year.”

Wolf envisions Sara will do well as a senior leader, since she knows what it means to come together as a group and bought into things at the end of last year. He believes she will bring unity and accountability to the team.

Hall will try to make it 3 for 3 this year, as she competed at state in her first two years at Forest Park. She finished 113th with a time of 20:11 as a freshman in 2018, and she improved her time as a sophomore, coming in at 19:56 and finishing 102nd last year.

“I think she has great potential of returning to state,” Wolf said. “She’s been working on a few things that we discussed going into her track season, and we were gung-ho about getting stronger and stuff, but once that track (season) got canceled, it kind of put a halt on what were doing, because we don’t have the weight room and stuff.

“But I think she has a vision of what she needs to do, and as a girls’ standpoint, and I know as Ellie’s standpoint is, she doesn’t worry about herself. She is more about the team and the team success. She knows her success will come with how well the team is.”

Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Forest Park’s Bryce Troesch high-fives teammates after competing in the 2019 cross country sectionals in Jasper.

The boys also had a state representative last year. Spenser Wolf, Philip’s son, qualified for state as a sophomore, and now he is back for his junior campaign. Spenser ran a time of 16:24 and finished 43rd on the boys side in 2019.

“I have the luxury of seeing him train every day,” Philip said. “So, I could see him making it back there because he’s been putting in a lot of hard work, and the thing is, he’s not just putting in hard work, he’s putting in a lot of physical work every day at his job during the summer. So, he’s doing both of those all at one time, but the only thing that will stop Spenser is he’s a dual-sport athlete (soccer). So, he’s not at every cross country practice. He won’t gain a lot of that additional training like my other boys will gain.”

Fellow junior Bryce Troesch joined Spenser at semistate last year. Junior Ethan Hall and sophomore Eli Berg both look to figure into the top five this season, but Philip isn’t sure who his fifth runner would be. However, unlike the girls, he is certain the Rangers will field enough runners to be competitive on the boys side.

“We surprised a lot of people last year by winning conference,” he said. “We didn’t win a single meet all year until we got to conference, and we snuck in and beat a great Tell City and Gibson Southern team.”

He noted his team gradually gets better as the season progresses because he preaches running for October, and not running for August. Philip focuses on getting faster during the middle of September, and that’s when things begin to pick up from a times standpoint.

Philip’s main concern above all else is his runners showing improvement throughout the year. Once track season was canceled, he told his runners that he wants them to go out and build a base — gradually building mileage each week. He didn’t have any specific workouts as much as he wanted his runners to work on improving their pacing and endurance.

Forest Park’s first race of the season is scheduled for Aug. 15 at the Towrace Invite at Borden.

“That first meet, it’s all about showing me where they are race-ready,” he said. “If my son runs a 16:50, well, we’re going to work from there and try to get better each race. That’s all that first race does. That’s what every race that we go to is, basically a stepping stone to get us ready for conference and postseason.”

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