Runners return from nationals with awards, mud on shoes

Runners return from nationals with awards, mud on shoes

Runners return from nationals with awards, mud on shoes

Hallie Hocker

Two Lions ran their way to All-American honors in cross country at the national meet in Evansville. The men’s team also placed 22nd at the meet.

Paul Koehler, senior, came in 33rd in the 10K race with a time of 33:18. While, in the women’s 6K race, Megan Russell, junior, came in 34th with a time of 23:04.6.

However, the athletes had to make their way up steep hills in the mud to gain these honors.

“In the lower parts, the mud was so thick that you would step in and have your ankle completely submerged in mud,” Koehler said. “At any given time, you’d have a pound of mud on each foot.”

The entire men’s team qualified for nationals, which Koehler said was a feat other coaches in the conference didn’t expect to happen.

“We worked hard to get there,” said Tom Rutledge, head men’s cross country coach. “But we did not have one of our better races. We’ll fix that; we’ll benefit in the future. Experience is always good.”

Running in the mud with Koehler were senior Craig Rhoads, junior Lucas Plocher; sophomore Dustin Miller and freshmen Brandon Wheeler, Anthony Reed and Kyle Davis.

Before the race, Rutledge told the men’s team to tape their shoes so they wouldn’t lose them in the mud.

“You have to be mentally and physically strong to run in bad weather,” Rutledge said. “It was one of the worst times I’ve seen in 30 years of coaching.”

To counter the disadvantage of the messy course, both Rutledge and women’s cross country coach Patty Vavra instructed the athletes to get in the front of the race as soon as they could to maintain good positions.

“You don’t have to look back to know they [other runners] are coming,” Koehler said. “I was disappointed last year at missing the All-American spot by six places.”

He said he decided to work harder this time to get into better position.

“It all came down to being more aggressive,” Koehler said.

The women ran on the same course after the men. Therefore, the course had already been treaded through.

Despite this, Vavra said Russell overtook four people in the last 600 meters of the race to gain 34th place. Russell, who was the only runner from the women’s side to make the national meet, said the hardest part of the 6K was the second mile in the woods.

She said the hard part was encouraging herself because there were not many people by the woods to cheer the runners on.

Her brother, nieces and nephews surprised her by painting their faces green and gold to show their support.

“Since my teammates weren’t able to be there, it was nice for my family to be there,” Russell said. “It was really nice because Indiana is only five hours away from home. Last year, my parents would’ve had to fly to the meet.”

Russell also went to the national meet last year. Her 34th place finish was an improvement from her 83rd place finish last year.

“I was not as overwhelmed this year as last year because I knew what to expect,” she said. “I had more experience and was a lot more confident.”

She did miss having the rest of the team there, though.

“I really wish the team could’ve come,” Russell said. “I knew I represented them as a whole and they were behind me. They were still with me in my heart.”

Vavra said Russell had an excellent and steady season.

“I can’t think of a better way to cap off her season as an athlete in cross country,” she said. “It was extremely well-deserved.”

In addition to being All-American, Russell also received all-conference and all-region honors earlier in the season.

Koehler won the MIAA individual race earlier in the season and also received all-MIAA and all-region honors.

“The overall season went really well,” Koehler said. “The talent level, although young, is really impressive. It’s one of the most talented teams Southern has ever had. The underclassmen will become more realizing of their talent because of their experience this year.”