Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Last year, Calvary Lutheran’s cross country team had five members. This year — seven.
It might not sound like a big difference, but it is. For the first time, Calvary Lutheran will field a varsity team, which will compete in Missouri Class 1 District 2. The Lions get started today at the Metro-Easter Lutheran Invitational in Edwardswille, Ill.
“This first meet especially is going to be really eye opening,” coach Kerri Morris said. “It’s not a typical meet for us. Being Class 1, it’s hard to find schools of a similar size that have a meet or are willing to host a meet.”
There will be 450 runners in the boys race, Morris said, and 49 teams in total.
“It probably will be more intense than our district meets,” she said. “So, you know what, go, and if you can handle the pressure here, you’re going to be good for some other meets.”
Last year’s team only had three runners that could make all the meets and one who ran varsity. That varsity runner, John Meyer, is now a senior and will be the leader for the Lions this year. He has qualified for sectionals twice in the 1,600-meter run for Calvary Lutheran’s track team.
“John has been very patient,” Morris said. “He has kind of waited and hoped we’d get cross country, and we got it last year, but we didn’t get into a district. So here we are his senior year, and we’re in a district, and he’s got teammates.”
Morris didn’t even know if she would have a cross country program at Calvary Lutheran last year. She found out the school was going to fund the team two days before practices began, though the Lions missed the deadline for joining a district.
Morris also coaches track and field for Calvary Lutheran, and she saw the potential for cross country crossover.
“We had some numbers in the distance program, and we talked about how financially it’s kind of feasible to add cross country,” she said. “There’s not a lot of cost. We don’t need equipment, we run various places, we re-use the track uniforms. It’s just a coach’s salary and entry fees, basically.”
The first season was a growing process.
“A lot of them were just new to the sport and had a lot of injuries and things they weren’t prepared for,” she said. “Cross country kind of wears you down.”
Besides Meyer, who often ran varsity solo next to full teams of seven, sophomore Silas Luetkemeyer is the only returner for Calvary Lutheran. Morris expects sophomore Cal Kolzow, who also plays basketball and baseball for the Lions, to be the No. 2 behind Meyer.
“Cal is going to be not far behind him,” she said. “Cal is just an aggressive competitor by nature, and he’ll push up there just because.”
Drew Collette transferred to the team from Jefferson City High School and can only compete in non-varsity events this season because of the transfer.
This year’s team — one senior, one junior, four sophomores and a freshman — has one edge over last year’s: the practice it logged over the summer. Because the 2013 program’s existence wasn’t confirmed until right before practices, the team didn’t get to take advantage of the 25 allotted summer meets. Morris also gave this year’s team a number of miles for them to run during the summer, and Calvary Lutheran held a cross country camp for middle and grade-school kids.
Getting the youth involved is one of Morris’s focuses. In addition to starting the Lions’ squad, she also began a cross country program last year at Trinity Lutheran School, which sends a lot of students to Calvary Lutheran. The inaugural Trinity team had 15 members. This year 41 runners came out.
Morris said building interest in cross country is an important part of both programs’ futures.
“You can do cross country, and you can do other things, and it gets you in shape if you’re going to be a basketball player. I think they see the benefit,” she said. “It’s just kind of a unique sport, and I think some of them just didn’t know what it was and now they’ve seen it and go, ‘Oh, I can do it.’ And at the middle school level, they run half the distance, so most of them probably run around on the playground more than that.”
She emphasizes keeping runners interested, even when they’re already on the team. Some days, they’ll play ultimate frisbee in lieu of another run.
And now, they have the first of their eight meets to pique their interest.
“I feel like it’s time for them to get a little taste of a competition and just experience it,” Morris said. “Because I think this year is going to be a lot of these younger guys getting experience and hopefully coming back next year and being a little more veteran.”